Strict immigration law enforcement would encourage undocumented workers to “self-deport” and leave behind jobs for unemployed U.S. citizens to fill, says the architect of the nation’s toughest immigration laws.
“If you really want to create a job for a U.S. citizen tomorrow, deport an illegal alien today,” Kris Kobach told a cheering audience of hundreds Feb. 11 at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, D.C.
Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State, is best known for authoring Arizona’s and Alabama’s immigration laws that have resulted in economic boycotts, lawsuits by the federal government and hundreds of Hispanic families fleeing those states.
He recently endorsed and signed on as immigration advisor to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a move critics say damages Romney’s chances of attracting Latino voters. Romney already had been criticized by human rights advocates and even some other Republicans, including Sen. John McCain of Arizona, on his plan to resolve the national dilemma by encouraging undocumented immigrants to “self-deport.”
During a CPAC panel discussion on immigration Feb. 11, Kobach said there is evidence to prove that Arizona’s and Alabama’s efforts to crackdown on illegal immigration have been working. He said Arizona’s verification system exposes employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers and Alabama’s tough immigration enforcement measures have led thousands of undocumented immigrants to “self-deport.” He also attributed Alabama’s unemployment dip as a sign that undocumented workers are leaving the state and that U.S. citizens are taking their jobs, but didn’t offer evidence to prove that.
“When people recognize that the costs of breaking the law are getting higher and the benefits of breaking the law are getting lower, they follow the law,” he said.
Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), said Kobach’s “self-deportation” theory is “ridiculous” and said there is nothing that proves it would actually help solve the issue of illegal immigration.
“That is just an attempt to exploit a down economy and to inspire more people to support his point of view,” Saenz said.
Labor Council for Latin American Advancement Executive Director Héctor Sánchez also disagrees with Kobach’s proposal saying it’s certainly no practical solution.
He called Kobach and other anti-immigrant voices “disconnected from reality and from what makes sense for the nation.” A better solution would be to integrate undocumented immigrants to the economy through legalization, he said.
“These undocumented workers are part of our society and are an economic engine…,” he said. “It’s unrealistic to keep talking from this perspective because it’s just hurting our communities, and it’s creating hate.”
Immigration critics argue that low-skilled U.S. citizens could easily replace undocumented workers. In 2009, a Pew Hispanic Center report estimated that of the nation’s 154 million workers, 8.3 million, or 5.4 percent, are undocumented. It also found that undocumented immigrants are overrepresented in lower-skilled job sectors, including agriculture, construction, leisure/hospitality and services.
Center for Immigration Studies research director Steven Camarota agrees that while it would be impossible to have the 11 million undocumented residents self-deport, encouraging at least half a million of them to leave the country would open up job opportunities for the nation’s 12.8 million unemployed.
“There is a huge pool of less educated native-born people, especially those under 30, who would move into some of those jobs,” he said.
But for agribusiness, which relies heavily on undocumented workers, that wouldn’t be the case.
U.S. Rep. David Rivera (R-Fla.) told Hispanic Link that agriculture industries, like the ones in his state, have been struggling to find legal U.S. residents to resolve their labor shortages. Following passage of Alabama’s and Georgia’s immigration laws, farmers in those states saw the exodus of workers that left crops rotting in the fields. Undocumented farm workers comprise a quarter of the nation’s agriculture work force, according to the Pew Research Center. Researchers say a majority of agriculture workers in Alabama and Georgia are undocumented.
When Rivera asked members at the CPAC conference how many of them have worked in agriculture jobs, only a dozen out of the hundreds raised their hand. “These industries are having a difficult time hiring workers who are willing to do this kind of work,” he said.