Like any president, Donald Trump likes to brag about low, low unemployment rates. Who can blame him? Even his least-favorite paper—what Trump habitually calls "the failing New York Times"—says it literally "Ran Out of Words to Describe How Good the Jobs Numbers Are." In May national unemployment stood at just 3.8 percent, the lowest figure in more than a decade.
That tight labor market makes it particularly unnerving to read this AP story from Sandusky, a resort town in the northeast corner of Ohio:
More than 100 workers at an Ohio gardening and landscaping company were arrested Tuesday when about 200 federal officers descended on the business and carried out one of the largest workplace immigration raids in recent years….
The 114 arrests occurred at two locations of Corso's Flower & Garden Center, one in Sandusky, a resort city on Lake Erie, and another in nearby Castalia. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said it expected criminal charges including identity theft and tax evasion.
The Sandusky raid wasn't a one-off. It's part of an explicit strategy to crack down on businesses suspected of hiring workers with phony documents. Workplace raids are not distinctively Trumpian, of course; they were conducted under both Barack Obama and George W. Bush. What's different is the rapid increase in the number of business and document audits taking place. More audits mean more raids. More raids mean more prisoners, more family separations, and so on.
But it doesn't necessarily mean less immigrants. That's because migrants, especially those willing to operate outside the law, are more motivated by economic opportunity than by fear of punishment. Except in highly authoritarian countries—which are usually trying to keep people from leaving, not from coming in—it has proven nearly impossible to tightly control borders. If we have a good economy, people will want to move here by any means necessary. (That's the point of the magnet image above. Taken from an early-20th-century issue of Judge, it laments that immigrants are "the only bad feature of our prosperity.")
The AP continues:
Immigration officials have sharply increased audits of companies to verify their employees are authorized to work in the country. There were 2,282 employer audits opened between Oct. 1 and May 4, nearly a 60 percent jump from the 1,360 audits opened between October 2016 and September 2017. Many of those reviews were launched after audits began at 100 7-Eleven franchises in 17 states in January.
The audit that preceded the Sandusky raid was based on squeezing a vendor who sells fake documents. Here, according to the AP, is what the feds found:
Of the 313 employees whose records were examined, 123 were found suspicious and targeted for arrest and criminal charges of identity theft and, in nearly all cases, tax evasion. [Steve Francis, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations unit in Detroit] said the identity theft targeted U.S. citizens who had no idea their information was being used at the Ohio business.
Opponents of illegal immigration will seize on ubiquitous charges of identity theft and tax evasion as signs that illegal immigrants are criminals and thus should be kicked out of the country for breaking the law. And indeed, they are breaking the law.
But there's a better way to resolve this situation, especially in an economy that is everywhere starved for workers, particularly when it comes to manual labor. If more people were allowed to come here legally, that would shred the whole reason for identity theft and cut down on tax evasion too. (It's noting, incidentally, that even illegal immigrants pay FICA taxes and sales taxes.)
American employers have already used up this year's quotas for H-1B and H-2B visas (for skilled and unskilled workers in short supply). Our birth rate is falling and our average age is rising. Our unemployment is at record lows, there are more job openings than job seekers, and small businesses say finding workers is a bigger concern to them than taxes and regulations. And the response is to round up 114 people at work?
That's not going to make America great again. It's not even going to stop immigrants desperate for work from coming here. There's a simpler, pragmatic solution that allows the economy to grow, reduces identity theft, and tosses more coins into public coffers: Allow more people to legally enter and work in the United States. This is the immigration issue we need to be debating, not whether all immigrants are animals or just the members of MS-13 (many of whom are actually American citizens).
Related: The 5 Best Arguments Against Immigration—and Why They're Wrong!
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