Curb Your Xenophobic Politician

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Pennsylvania Commonwealth legislator, was interviewed on National Public Radio about his website, During the interview he delivered a diatribe against undocumented immigrants, saying that they do not pay taxes, that they take jobs away from U.S. citizens, that they are causing a crime wave, that they are an economic drag on the Commonwealth, and that they are disease-ridden. His website makes the following statement:

Increasingly documented incidences of homicide, identity theft, property theft, serious infectious diseases, drug running, gang violence, human trafficking, terrorism and growing cost to taxpayers are just some of the most detrimental ‘imports’ being brought across America’s unsecured borders by illegal aliens.

Metcalfe’s statements are so wrong on so many issues it would appear that he is deliberately trying to mislead the public. Just as Adolf Hitler cast blame on the Jews for Germany’s economic problems in the ‘30s, Metcalfe is scapegoating immigrants. Metcalfe is no mental mega-star, but he is not so stupid that he can not see the circular nature of his own arguments:

A) A person who enters the United States without legal documentation is breaking the law.
B) A person who breaks the law is a criminal.
C) Criminals commit murder, rape, and larceny.
D) Therefore, all undocumented immigrants are murderers, rapists and thieves.

Most people will not be fooled by Metcalfe’s Mendacious Myths, but in the absence of counter-arguments others will wonder if he is telling the truth. He is not telling the truth. Here is why.

Undocumented Immigrants Pay Taxes

The undocumented immigrants that concern Metcalfe are not those who slip across the border for a few days and then go back. He is concerned about long-term undocumented immigrants who stay in this country for years. No one lives in this country for any appreciable period without paying taxes. Immigrants–legal or not–citizens, tourists, diplomats, envoys, and every one else pays taxes while in this country. Has Metcalfe never heard that nothing is inevitable but death and taxes?

Every time an undocumented immigrant buys a battery for her flashlight, she pays sales tax. Part of each rent payment is for property taxes. When she rides on a bus, she is paying motor vehicle taxes.

Those who work “under the table” avoid some employment taxes, but the jobs are usually low-paid and the taxes would not be very much, anyway. Besides, the largest amount of tax on low-wage employees is for Social Security and Medicare, from which the undocumented immigrant will never draw benefits. Let’s assume that Daryl, an undocumented immigrant from Lower Slobbovia, is working for Holiday Hosts Hotel, cleaning rooms for $5.00 per hour. He has to work for such a low wage to motivate the employer to risk the penalties for skirting the law and because he is in a poor bargaining position. Even though his wage is nominally higher, he ends up working for $5.00 or less because the job translates into piece work and it would be impossible to complete the assigned tasks for one hour in less than an hour and a half. For tax-reporting purposes, Daryl has to give HHH a bogus Social Security number.

If the undocumented worker is using a bogus Social Security number, taxes are withheld, but the worker will never be eligible to draw benefits. Those taxes directly benefit the Social Security and Medicare systems. Some undocumented immigrants avoid some taxes, but there are also many citizens who get paid under the table or avoid taxes in other ways–and they are not all low-income.

Undocumented Immigrants Do Not Take Jobs Away from Citizens

How often will a citizen–someone like Samuel Wurzelbacher, a.k.a. Joe the Plumber, for example–get turned down for a well-paying job so the employer can hire an undocumented Somali or Haitian? According to a 2009 report by Linda Levine, Specialist in Labor Economics, the influx of lower-skilled immigrants into the United States has had only negligible effects on wages for lower-skilled native-born residents. She was talking primarily about legal immigrants and concluded that the influx of non-native workers in a specific region and occupation may displace some native-born workers, who move elsewhere or seek different jobs, but the overall effect is to depress low-wage pay rates by less than three percent. High-skilled native-born workers are not adversely affected by immigration, legal or not. The real causes of the decline in real income for workers who lack post-secondary education are automation and the export of jobs overseas. Levine, “Immigration: The Effect on Low-Skilled and High-Skilled Native-Born Workers,” Congressional Research Service (2009). The claim that immigrants displace native-born workers is xenophobic nonsense.

Undocumented Immigrants Are Not All Criminals

Apart from the fact that they either enter without documents or overstay their visa, undocumented immigrants are generally law-abiding. They have to be; the last thing they want is to attract the attention of the minions of the law! This is not to claim that no undocumented immigrants commit serious crimes. Hardened criminals cross the border for the precise purpose of committing murder, robbery, drug transactions, and other serious crimes. However, a huge majority cross the border for the sole purpose of getting a job and making money.

Working “under the table” is illegal, but who is more culpable? The employer who lures workers across the border with job offers not available in their home countries, or the worker who gives in to temptation? Undocumented immigrants are not solely to blame.

Furthermore, many undocumented immigrants were brought into this country as children. If there are blameless victims in this situation, it is the children and young adults who were brought into this country before the age of 16. Many of them have high school diplomas and college degrees, but cannot work legally and are subject to deportation. The first step in immigration reform should be to offer a path to citizenship for anyone who entered the country before a certain age, has a clean record, and completed high school.

Undocumented Immigrants Benefit the United States Economically

If undocumented immigrants are a drag on the US economy, why is there an underground labor market willing to hire them? Face facts, employing workers who cannot enforce their rights and who work for substandard wages is very profitable. Congress could pass laws that would stamp out the employment of undocumented workers in weeks, but too many people make huge profits from the undocumented labor market.

This is not about day laborers who congregate in front of certain bodegas hoping to get casual jobs. It is about large corporations like Wal*Mart and Tyson Fresh Meats that use undocumented workers for the dirtiest, most dangerous tasks, under unsafe conditions. They do not have undocumented workers on their payrolls; they contract with labor suppliers so they can maintain a curtain of deniability.

The motive is, of course, greed. It is profitable to delegate dangerous tasks to contractors at the lowest possible price. To get the lowest possible price, these contractors find the cheapest possible labor–undocumented workers. That these workers are so profitable that employers are willing to break the law belies the contention that they are an economic drag. Studies have shown that undocumented immigrants are an economic benefit to the country, at the local, state, and national levels. Neil Bhatiya, “Immigration, Jobs, and the American Economy, Re-visited,” March 30, 2010.

Laws like Arizona’s are ridiculous. The law is largely unnecessary and ineffective, but was proposed by political opportunists to appeal to their xenophobic conservative base. I am ashamed as a Michigander that Michael Cox, the Attorney General, proposes to file a brief in support of Arizona in the Supreme Court. I am ashamed as a Pennsylvania attorney by Daryl Metcalfe’s pernicious pandering to right-wing bigots.

Stop using undocumented immigrants as scapegoats to make political points with TEAbaggers. We need rational immigration laws that give undocumented residents who have been contributing to society for years a path to a work permit, if not citizenship. We also need to crack down on the employers who lure undocumented workers into the country with jobs. Finally, we need to recognize politicians like Daryl Metcalfe and Michael Cox for the pandering hacks that they are.


John B. Payne, Attorney
Garrison LawHouse, PC
Dearborn, Michigan 313.563.4900
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 800.220.7200
©2010 John B. Payne, Attorney

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