Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Meet the Parasites

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, April 4, 2006 --  

Nasty public grandstanding about immigration reform in the United States has led to many ugly accusations. A maverick house bill by anti-immigration zealot Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) was passed in December, calling for such outrages as making unauthorized immigration a felony, and building a 700-mile long wall on the Mexican border. While there is no chance these provisions will become law, competing bills in the Senate may yet user in destructive changes in U.S. immigration policy. The debate over these bills has already kicked up some ugly accusations in the public debate - accusations that do nothing to lessen the global image of Americans as head-in-the-sand xenophobes.

Since Mexicans are largest group of illegal immigrants in America, they have borne the brunt of the accusations: Mexican immigrants are a bunch of criminals. Immigrants refuse to assimilate. Illegals steal Americans' jobs. Perhaps no accusation is so audacious, however, than the charge that immigrants are freeloaders and parasites.

The reasoning goes like this. Because most Mexican immigrants are in the country illegally, they don't pay taxes. Yet they continue to use government services, especially schools and hospitals, thereby serving as a drain on the system. Some, it is noted ad nauseum, even go on welfare.

Can opponents of immigration back up their claim of illegal immigrants being a drain on the system? Reliable statistics on any illegal activity are hard to come by. While 11 million is the most widely reported figure for the number of illegal immigrants in the Unites States, the reality is that this is just a guess. Nobody really knows how many illegal immigrants there are. One report last year estimated the number at 20 million(1) So if we don't have any idea how many millions of illegal immigrants there are, then how can we have good figures about what their net contribution is to federal, state, and local governments? The obvious answer is that we can't.

Smear stories about Latinos refusing to pay hospital bills and not paying to support schools for their children are anecdotal sideshows. This doesn't mean there aren't cases of public hospitals whose budgets are stretched by a large migrant population in the community. It just means nobody knows to what extent these costs are offset by the larger public contributions of Mexican immigration.

It was the same issue of immigrant freeloading that led Californians to pass Proposition 187 back in 1994 to deny public school access to illegal immigrants. The law's implementation was blocked by court challenges, and died four years later. For all its problems, Proposition 187 had one great merit. When immigrants are denied public services, anti-immigrant activists are deprived of their most powerful rhetorical weapon. Since the vast majority of new immigrants come for hard work, not handouts, immigration would be little affected by such a law. In the end, America would receive exactly the kind of immigrants that benefit the country so much.

And for the most part, these are the same kind of immigrants America is getting now. Most new Mexican immigrants are men who come to America alone to do the back-breaking jobs Americans refuse, earn modest wages and send their savings home to their families. Such immigrants put no burden on the public school system. Younger males, being disproportionately healthy, put very little burden on Medicaid and public hospitals. Meanwhile, to the extent that immigrants indirectly pay property taxes through any rent they pay, they end up funding local school systems. And the many illegals who use fake Social Security cards to get jobs end up putting payroll taxes into Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as well.

So who are the Americans who are so threatened by illegal immigrants? Native born Americans have tremendous opportunities available to them. Compared with others in the world, the sky is the limit for upward mobility and economic opportunity. While not all Americans are made out to be professionals, anybody who is honest and isn't mentally handicapped has a very good shot at learning an in-demand vocation that can pay the bills for a comfortable life.

After being given such great opportunities, nothing is more pathetic than Americans who fail so miserably in life as to be marginalized by illegal manual laborers unable to speak the national language. It is these people - the native-born chronically unemployed and underemployed - who are the real parasites in American society. To even dare apply the term to Mexican immigrants is to insult hard working people of every nationality.


1. Business Week, Embracing Illegals, July 18, 2005