We took their jobs after they took our jobs. The American demand for cheap labor slowed down and the supply of Americans eager to labor for cheap picked up. The old refrain, “Immigrants do the jobs Americans won’t do,” seems particularly preposterous in the new economic climate. The employment rate for 18 to 24 year olds, the demographic traditionally competing for low-skill, low-wage work, is 54.3 percent—the most anemic figure since the government began compiling the metric in 1948. It’s not just increased competition within the fields that immigrants traditionally dominate but a diminished supply of jobs in fields, such as construction, in which foreigners have been overrepresented. With the U.S. unemployment rate above eight percent for thirty-eight months and counting, what, precisely, are the jobs that Americans won’t do?
The colossal repatriation certainly does not stem from the enforcement of immigration laws. The number of border apprehensions reached 1.7 million in 2000, when immigration from Mexico not coincidentally peaked. Border apprehensions, reflecting America’s declining interest for immigrants and the American government’s declining interest in illegal immigrants, fell to just 286,000 last year. Deportations have increased, and Pew cites the enactment of several state laws cracking down on undocumented workers and the businesses that hire them. But the hostility of a few of the fifty states, and the deportation of a tiny percentage of illegal aliens, doesn’t add up to a reversal of a forty-plus-year trend. Declining American economic fortunes do.
The Pew Hispanic Center determines that “the trend lines within this latest five-year period suggest that return flow to Mexico probably exceeded the inflow from Mexico during the past year or two.” Obama didn’t slow the rise of the oceans or heal the planet. But he may have accomplished something even more miraculous: reversing the migration stream toward America from Mexico into a migration stream from America toward Mexico.
Americans will decide in November whether they approve of the policies that have led the United States here. Mexicans have already voted with their feet.
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