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Our economy needs illegal immigrants

Published on Sun, Jun 12, 2011

By STEPHEN M. NeSMITH JR.

As an immigration attorney, I highly favor immigrants coming to this country legally. There is no question illegal immigration is a major issue in this country and the United States needs a strong enforcement policy. But no matter what side of the debate you're on, Alabama's immigration law will only worsen our already struggling economy.

The authors of House Bill 56 claim illegal immigration causes economic hardship. Naturally, during tough economic times, we want to blame someone else for our problems. Illegal immigrants are an obvious target since there are negative consequences to their presence, such as increased education and medical costs. But what I don't understand is why my fellow Republicans ignore the benefits they bring.

The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates illegal aliens cost Alabama $112 million. However, the Immigration Policy Center estimates illegal aliens in Alabama pay a total of $130 million in taxes (personal, property and sales). So, whatever "economic hardship" illegal aliens cause by their presence, they easily offset with the money they pay back into the system.

We are a nation of laws and must enforce those laws. But the hard truth we must face is, at this moment (and until we fix the broken immigration system), our economy is dependent on illegal immigrants.

It is simple supply and demand. Before an enforcement-centric policy would be prudent, we must ensure we have a sufficient supply of workers to meet our needs. The governor of Georgia realized this, albeit too late.

After signing a similar anti-immigrant bill into law last month, he now asks for an expedited report on how the new law impacts Georgia's agricultural industry. Farmers are losing millions of dollars because migrant workers, even those here legally, are avoiding the state. And what the governor has come to learn is there are not enough Georgia workers to work the jobs left by immigrants.

Consumers will soon see the consequences. If the consumers' demand for a product stays the same or increases while the farmers' supply decreases (due to not having enough workers to harvest the crop), the price of those goods will go up. The governor of Georgia now admits: "The best answer is a good, enforceable, legitimate guest worker program."

It's ironic our state legislators would be so concerned with the legality of a person's immigration status, yet turn around and pass a bill of questionable legality. Several groups stood ready to file a lawsuit as soon as the bill became law. What our lawmakers didn't tell us is how much it will cost to defend this arguably unconstitutional law, and that Alabama taxpayers will pay the bill. That's not exactly the boost our economy needs.

It was for this reason that Colorado Republican state Rep. Randy Baumgardner killed his state's Arizona-style bill. He said, "We felt like at this time it would be a prudent thing for the taxpayers of the state of Colorado for this bill to just kind of go away."

Another problem with HB 56 is it will greatly increase law-enforcement costs. When a similar bill was proposed in Yuma County, Ariz., in 2006, County Sheriff Ralph Ogden figured the costs to law-enforcement agencies from the moment of arrest to the point of conviction, sentencing and incarceration. He estimated that processing expenses, jail costs and attorney and staff fees alone would be anywhere between $22 million and $98 million. Additional facilities would have to be built, and there'd be an increase in costs to the courts for additional court staff, interpreters, administrative staff and pretrial services.

These figures are for one county (Yuma County), which had an estimated population of 200,000, only slightly higher than the estimated illegal immigrant population in Alabama. Again, Alabama taxpayers will be responsible for these increased costs.

Other problems with the new Alabama law include the potential for racial profiling, the discouragement of Good Samaritan acts for fear of prosecution and the attack on illegal immigrants' children (who are neither illegal nor an immigrant by any choice of their own).

But even ignoring all those factors, the law is bad for Alabama because of the harm it will do to our economy. Alabama taxpayers will be responsible for increased costs in the millions of dollars, not to mention the effect on the different industries that rely so heavily on immigrant workers. By signing this bill into law, Gov. Robert Bentley will not only be known as the governor who made Alabama's economy worse, but the governor who didn't even take a salary for it.

Published in the Alambam.com | Read Article