Illegal Immigration and the United States’ Labor Force


Upsurge of illegal immigrant in the United States has led to increased pressure on federal government to take decisive measure to address the issue. Members of public and lawmakers who are calling for strict border control and deportation of illegal immigrant have not critically analyzed the role played by undocumented immigrants to the U.S. economy. Who benefits from illegal immigrants workforce? Which sectors of the economy grow or fail to grow as a result of illegal workers? How the hiring of illegal immigrants by businesses affects employment and recruitment of the U.S. citizen workforce? This paper seeks to show that other major factors besides immigrants are to blame for the upsurge of illegal immigrants in the United States.

Who Is an Illegal Immigrant?

Any person living in any country illegally is referred to as an illegal immigrant. The term “illegal immigrant” encompasses a wide spectrum. Some enter the United States legally but end up being illegal resident as a result of overstaying the period stipulated in their visas. Others enters the country legally and violates the terms and conditions of their visas, green cards or wok permits. The others group of illegal immigrant comprises those who enter the U.S. illegally. This category comprises the vast majority of illegal immigrants (U.S. Immigration Support).

Many people confine the debate over illegal immigrant to the migrant alone. This leaves out complex illegal network and trafficking channels operated by large underground organizations that bring immigrants to the United States. Most of these immigrants do not enter the country voluntarily nor do they initiate the entry process. Take for example young girls and women who are smuggled into the country in the lucrative sex slave trade. Girls from poor families in Asia, Africa, and Caribbean are approached and offered jobs in the United States. Members of organized trafficking cartels deceive them that they will get decent jobs that offer strong financial opportunity in the U.S. To these girls and women, such a proposal is very attractive due to the possibility of helping their family get out of poverty. It’s a rude awakening once they arrive in the country only to discover they were brought in for prostitution purposes. As such, making a clear judgment about the criminality or humanitarian nature of the illegal immigrant becomes hard due to the extreme range of illegal immigration.

Regardless of how immigrants get to U.S. and make it their home country, the main objective is to search a better life (Tapinos). The process involves a lot of risk and sacrifices as some leave behind families and valued processions. There are those who come to U.S. to escape political oppressions in their countries. United States technological advancement and vast resources attract people from all over the world. Many believe that they will be able to offer their children a better life when they work here in the United States.

Employer Choice and Privileges

The “underground” economy forms the main job base for most illegal immigrants. This does not mean that illegal workers have led to the creation of underground economy, although this sector of economy increases opportunities accessible to illegal immigrants. A number of factors like heavy operation taxes, government regulations and social attitudes have been cited as the reason behind the continued existence of underground economy. The need for cheap and unregulated labor forces this economy to depend on desperate illegal immigrants.

According to George Tapinos, political professor at Washington State University, “Being illegal is seldom the migrant’s deliberate choice. When the opportunity to get authorization occurs, most of those meeting the criteria are only too eager to file an application”(Tapinos). Studies have shown that employers benefits most from a workforce consisting of illegal immigrants. Most employers have been found to take advantage of illegal workers who are eager to work. Most of these workers will accept poor pay, way below the federal set minimum wage. The employer will also benefit from contributing little or no payment for insurance, social security and other required payments. The bargaining power of illegal immigrant is low and hence they often end up working for long hours, under terrible working conditions. In most cases, employers will openly discriminated and humiliate the illegal worker. So by the end of the day, it’s the employer who ends up benefiting most from illegal workers.

Effects on Pay Levels for U.S. Legal Workforce

According to a past study by Douglas Massey, the legality status of a worker does not necessary affect his/her pay, but the status has an indirect influence (Douglas 153). Most illegal immigrants tend to limit their job search to general labor sector. This brings the pay level in the underground work force down. Contrary to popular believes that illegal workers make pay level in the real economy to decline, study have shown that only the pay levels in the underground sector that are affected.

Access to Social Services

The issue of illegal immigration cannot be confined to job access without looking at other sectors of the U.S. economy. Regardless a person’s migrant status, everyone have access to capital services and goods which includes; public school, road, welfare services etc. Illegal Immigrants also spends money on goods and services in both the public and private sectors. As such, they are not a drain to economy.

Boarder Control Cost

There are those who claim that the illegal immigrants put a lot of economic pressure through expenditures to control the border. While it’s true that U.S. have put a lot of resources in border control programs, it’s important to put remember that every country spend money to protect its border. Illegal immigration will only be a burden to the U.S. economy only if the cost of border control exceeds the fiscal expenditures already set aside for boarder protection.

The Way Forward

How can the contribution of illegal immigrants be harnessed to contribute to the growth of the real economy. In accelerating the pace of growth of U.S. economy, immigrants provide the power that runs the economy (Nicholson and Orrenius 14). Both illegal and legal migration contributed over 50% increase in labor force in the U.S. economy in the last decade. Studies have shown that migrant workers will continue to play a significant role in the growth of the economy as the baby boomer workforce retires in the near future. Data from Social Security Administration shows that over 80 million baby boomers will leave the “U.S. workforce over the next two decades”(Gallagher).

Business Lifecycle

In terms of business lifecycles, immigration is an integral part to the growth. When there is an increase in demand in labor force, immigrants come to the U.S. in greater number and when that demand is low, most immigrant are willing to move to other area where demand for labor is high. This movement helps to accelerate economic growth while resolving jobs shortages in areas experiencing declined growth. There is need for lawmakers to join force with business sectors to analyze and determine how such accelerated growth benefits citizens in terms of jobs. Such honest assessment backed up by tangible data will help law makers come up with legislations that are beneficial to the business sectors, citizens and hardworking immigrants who are contributed economic growth.

Solving the Issue of Underground Economy

The underground economy has an annual output of $970 billion, this represent 9% of the U.S. real economy. Over 8.5 million of construction workers, nannies, landscapers etc working in this economy are paid “off the book”. Workers and employers don’t pay taxes to the government. As we noted earlier, illegal immigrants are not the reason why underground economy has continued to grow, although illegal worker play a significant role in their growth. Lawmakers have a greater role to play in addressing the root cause of the sprawling underground industry. If the issue of “underground” economy is solved, the Internal Revenue authority will benefit most in that it will collect taxes estimated at $300 billion dollars annually. The government will also be in position to document all undocumented workers in these industries making it easier to control immigrants. These and a host of other measures will lead to accelerated growth of the real economy (McTague)

Documenting all illegal workers, collecting income taxes from them, and affording them benefits like all workers in the U.S., illegal immigrants will have a better bargaining power. Their purchasing power of both private and capital goods and services will increase. This will result into injection of money to the economy as consumer spending is what drives the economy. Immigrants will also contribute revenues needed in provision of capital goods and services such as roads and schools. All these will lead to improved standards of living for both migrants and U.S. citizens.


As lawmakers continue to debate about immigration reform, it’s important to take an honest look at the effect of illegal workers to the U.S. economy. Regardless of the motivations and status of migrants living in the U.S., most immigrants are hard-working and have continued to make huge contribution to the growth of the economy. Most illegal workers are ready to legalize their status and play by the rules in the workforce. There is a need for lawmakers to solve the problem of underground economy. This way, the IRS can collect revenues from this sector of economy and collect taxes from undocumented migrants. These will lead to economic growth and improved standards of living for both citizens and immigrants.

Works Cited

Douglas, Massey. ““Do undocumented migrants earn lower wages than legal immigrants?” International Migration. 2008: 123-176.

Gallagher, John. “Retirement of baby boomers may reverberate in workplace.” 2005. The Seattle Times. Web.

McTague, Jim. “The Underground Economy.” 2008. Wall Street Journal. Web.

Nicholson, Michael and Mark Orrenius. “Immigrants in the U.S. economy: a host-country perspective.” Journal of Business Strategies (2009): 7-19.

Tapinos, Georges. Illegal immigrants and the labour market. 2010. Web.

U.S. Immigration Support. Illegal Immigration. 2009. Web.