Elites Framing Immigration Issue Don’t Feel Its Impact

Americans in occupations with the most influence face the least competition from foreigners 

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz unveiled a provocative ad during his ill-fated presidential campaign, showing well-dressed men and women with briefcases wading across water and desert to cross the nation’s southern border.

The message was clear: If America’s bankers, lawyers, and journalists faced competition from immigrants, maybe the government would take the issue more seriously.

“The newspaper reporter, he just doesn’t face a lot of competition from immigrants. That might help us understand some of the politics of immigration.”

Census Bureau data backs up Cruz — American workers with the most influence over public policy are in occupations with the smallest number of immigrants. The occupations with the most immigrants tend to be the lowest-paid. Americans with those jobs, as a result, lack the megaphone of journalists and lawyers.

“The newspaper reporter, he just doesn’t face a lot of competition from immigrants,” said Steven Camarota, a researcher who prepared a lengthy report based on census information from 2014 and 2015. “That might help us understand some of the politics of immigration.”

The Center for Immigration Studies released the report Monday. It shows that immigrants — legal and illegal — make up 14.4 percent of all reporters. But among reporters who speak English at home — indicating they likely work for publications and outlets that serve English-speaking audiences — immigrants are just 4.8 percent of the workforce.

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Lawyers — who make up a disproportionate share of America’s lawmakers — are in the same boat. The census data indicate that just 6.9 percent of the country’s lawyers were born outside the United States.

Government workers are also relatively insulated from foreign competition. Immigrants make up 9.9 percent of the public sector workforce, compared with 16.7 percent of the private sector.

Camarota said jobs requiring superior English skills — such as a journalist for an outlet serving America’s English-speaking residents — are difficult to break into for immigrants who speak other languages. That excludes not only less-educated immigrants but also those with a great deal of education but not English language skills.

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Immigrants with math and science training, on the other hand, can more easily find employment in the United States — even if they do not speak English as well as a native, Camarota said. That may be why a much higher-than-average share of computer programmers and developers were born in other countries.

Chris Chmielenski, director and content and advocacy for NumbersUSA, said some professionals not only do not face competition from immigrants but actually benefit. He said immigration lawyers, for example, stand to gain financially for liberalized immigration laws and measures to confer legal status on illegal immigrants. Other lawyers and members of many other professional occupations simply do not have a personal stake in the debate.

“It doesn’t hurt them at all,” Chmielenski said.

The census information also offers another window into the politics of immigration: Competition appears to hurt lower-income American workers the hardest. Although computer programmers, architects, engineers, and financial specialists all have a relatively high percentage of immigrants, the unemployment rate among U.S. citizens in each of those fields is 3.5 percent or less.

[lz_table title=”Immigrants by Occupation” source=”Center for Immigration Studies”]Occupation,Immigrants
Reporters (English lang.),4.8%
Farm workers,50.7%,
Construction laborers,34.7%
Grounds maintenance,35.5%
Private sector,17.8%
Public sector,9.9%
All civilian workers,16.7%

By contrast, the native unemployment rate tends to be higher in low-paid occupations with high shares of foreigners. For farm workers — where roughly half are immigrants — it is 11.8 percent. For maids and housekeepers— also about half foreign-born — the native unemployment rate is 11.7 percent. The native unemployment rate is 15.3 percent for native construction laborers, an occupation where immigrants make up 34.7 percent of the workforce.

Chmielenski said it is harder for low-income, less-educated Americans to make their concerns hard by policymakers.

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“They are the very Americans who are getting hurt the most by immigration,” he said.

Many advocates of higher immigration levels argue that the newcomers are needed because they are willing to do jobs that Americans will not do. But the census figures show that even in immigrant-dominated occupations, there are plenty of Americans working in those jobs. About 470,000 American are employed as non-supervisory farm workers, almost half the total. There are 889,000 American maids and housekeepers, slightly more than half of the total number.

“It kills the argument that they’re doing jobs Americans won’t do,” Chmielenski said.

If the ramifications of mass immigration on working-class Americans are remote to most people in influential jobs, the geographical disparities also obscure the issue for many people. Immigrants are spreading throughout the entire country, but they have not yet reached a critical mass in most places.

Just six states account for 64 percent of the nation’s foreign-born population — California, Texas, New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Illinois.

“For most people, it’s not an issue, and for many, many people, the concept of immigration is romanticized,” said Joseph Guzzardi, a spokesman for Californians for Population Stabilization.

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