Sunday, April 02, 2006

Welfare and Illegal Immigration

In the whole debate on illegal immigration here in the United States, one factor has been mentioned time and again: illegal immigrants are often doing dirty, unpleasant, and low-paying jobs that Americans do not want to do. Several areas of the economy, such as slaughterhouses, poultry processing plants, janitorial services, car washes, and certain construction trade depend disproportionately on illegal immigrants to meet their labor needs.

It comes as no surprise to most Americans that the vast majority of illegal immigrants here are from Mexico. I have a number of friends in Mexico, all of whom are well educated and middle class. In fact, many Americans who travel to Mexico are surprised to see the modern freeways and nice cars and learn that many Mexicans live quite well in Mexico. Of course, those Mexicans have no interest in sneaking off across the border and working as a janitor. Typically, the ones we see here are the poor, unskilled, and uneducated ones - the people who could not get a decent job in Mexico.

One major factor that is not discussed much is the welfare system. Here in the United States, we have a generous welfare system. If a person does not have a job (perhaps because he/she does not want one), the government will give that person money, food stamps, subsidized housing, and other benefits. In some cases, someone may earn an equivalent living standard on welfare as he/she would working in one of these dirty unpleasant jobs that are often left to illegals.

By contrast, in Mexico, there are very little in the way of welfare programs. You work, or you and your family go hungry. This is precisely why many poor Mexicans are willing to risk their lives to sneak across the US border to find work, since they are able to find work that pays more than similar work would in Mexico.

As a taxpayer, I don't enjoy the concept of paying people to sit on their butts and do nothing, while businesses are having to resort to hiring illegal workers to do these unpleasant jobs these folks don't want to do. Allowing unskilled immigration is fine, but we should try to make full use out of our own unskilled workforce first before resorting to it.