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Special Project: America's Wall: Decades-Long Struggle To Secure US-Mexico Border

What Are True Costs And Benefits Of Illegal Immigration?

Your browser does not support this object. View the original here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0eK4EoVyyM

Video published August 20, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: Who truly benefits from the work of illegal immigrants? Reporter Alison St. John brings you a story about the costs and benefits of illegal immigration.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

THE DEBATE OVER THE VALUE OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT WORKERS IS ESCALATING. WHO BENEFITS MOST FROM THE WORK PROVIDED BY ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, AND WHICH U.S. WORKERS LOSE OUT AS A RESULT OF THE ADDED COMPETITION FOR THOSE LOW-WAGE JOBS? WE SPOKE TO BOTH SIDES OF THE DEBATE.

AN ESTIMATED 200,000 ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS WORK IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY. THEY BRING COSTS AND BENEFITS. ECONOMICS PROFESSOR GORDON HANSON SAYS THE PROBLEM IS THOSE COSTS AND BENEFITS ARE NOT EASILY DISTRIBUTED.

THOSE BENEFITS GO PRIMARILY TO ONE GROUP, EMPLOYERS AND INDUSTRIES THAT HIRE ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS INTENSIVELY, AGRICULTURE, TOURISM.

Reporter: AGRICULTURE IS A $5 BILLION A YEAR INDUSTRY IN SAN FRANCISCO. ONE SAYS 5,000 FAMILY OWNED FARMS IN THE COUNTY WOULD NOT SURVIVE WITHOUT MIGRANT LABOR.

WE GROW THESE SPECIALTY CROPS THAT TAKE A TREMENDOUS AMOUNT OF LABOR TO HAND-PLANT, HAND-CARE AND HAND-A VERY VEST. IF WE DON'T HAVE AN ABUNDANT WORKFORCE OF LABORERS, WE CAN'T HAVE THE CROPS, AND THE FARMS WILL JUST GO AWAY.

Reporter: LARSON SAYS SAN DIEGANS BENEFIT FROM FRESH, LOCALLY GROWN PRODUCE AND OPEN SPACE THAT MAY OTHERWISE TURN INTO HOUSING DEVELOPMENT.

SO WITHOUT IT, THE AVOCADO TREES WILL BLANKET THE HILLS, THE NURSERIES OF SAN MARCUS, VISTA, CARLSBAD, THE FLOWER FIELDS. IT GOES ON AND ON. WITHOUT FARM WORKERS, THOSE ALL GO AWAY.

Reporter: CONSTRUCTION AND TOURISM ALSO BENEFIT FROM THE POOL OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT LABOR. THERE ARE LOWER LABOR COSTS TO BOOST PROFITS AND CUT PRICES FOR CONSUMERS. SO WHO ARE THE LOSERS?

AMONG THE LOSERS, WHAT WE HAVE ARE WORKERS WHO COMPETE WITH ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS FOR JOBS, AND THAT'S A MINORITY OF WORKERS IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY, THE WORKERS WHO FACE THE MOST COMPETITION FROM ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS WOULD BE U.S. WORKERS WHO HAVEN'T COMPLETED HIGH SCHOOL, AND SO THOSE WORKERS ARE LESS THAN 10% OF THE TOTAL LABOR FORCE.

CONGRESSMAN BRIAN BULLBURY SAYS THAT'S A PROBLEM. HE SAYS THE LOSERS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE ECONOMIC HEAP AND DON'T HAVE MUCH POLITICAL CLOUT.

IF ILLEGALS WERE COMING TO THE COUNTRY AND TAKING THE PROFESSOR'S JOB AND THE LAWYER'S JOB, THERE WOULD BE A LOT MORE OUT CRY IN WASHINGTON AND SACRAMENTO TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Reporter: BUT HE SAYS TAXPAYERS ARE THE BIGGEST LOSERS, BECAUSE THEY'RE FOOTING THE BILL FOR ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS.

THE FACT IS YOU HAVE A FEW WHO ARE MAKING THE MONEY OFF OF THIS, AND THEY'RE EXPECTING THE GENERAL PRESCRIPTION TO CARRY THIS, AND THAT NEEDS TO BE A VERY --NEEDS TO BE BROUGHT UP, BUT THE FACT IS YOU'VE GOT TO STOP THAT. THE TROUBLE IS, THE VERY WEALTHY AND POWERFUL ARE THE ONES THAT ARE MAKING THE MOST OUT OF THIS, GETTING THE MOST PROFIT OUT OF THIS.

Reporter: THE WEALTHY USE IMMIGRANT LABOR TO MAN CURE THEIR MANSIONS AND ESTATES. HANSON SAYS THEY'RE WINNERS BECAUSE THE COST SAVINGS OF USING THE LABOR MORE THAN BALANCES THE COSTS THEY PAY.

COMPARE THAT WEALTHY FAMILY WITH AN UPPER MIDDLE-CLASS FAMILY, THAT BEING UPPER MIDDLE- CLASS PUTS YOU IN A HIGHER INCOME TAX BRACKET, BUT YOUR INCOME DOESN'T MAKE IT POSSIBLE FOR YOU TO PAY FOR ALL THE HOME CARE, CHILD CARE, YARD CARE SERVICES THAT THAT WEALTHY FAMILY IS GETTING. FOR THAT FAMILY, THEY MIGHT BE NET LOSERS.

Reporter: IN FACT, SOME ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS PAY TAXES, TOO. THIS MAN, WHO DID NOT WANT US TO USE HIS NAME HAS LIVED AND WORKED IN SAN DIEGO FOR 20 YEARS.

THIS IS THE ACTUAL DOCUMENT THAT THE IRS SENT ME, AND THROUGH THIS NUMBER, I'VE BEEN DOING MY TAX REPORTS EVERY YEAR SINCE 1993.

Reporter: THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ASSIGNS WORKERS AN OFFICIAL NUMBER CALL AN INDIVIDUAL TAXPAYER IDENTIFICATION NUMBER SO EMPLOYERS CAN DUCT TAXES FROM THEIR WAGES.

AND A I AM MORE THAN WILLING TO PROVE THAT I'VE BEEN PAYING TAXES LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

Reporter: BUT HE WILL NEVER SEE ANY EARNED INCOME TAX CREDITS OR SOCIAL SECURITY BECAUSE HE IS NOT A U.S. CITIZEN.

THE PAYROLL TAXES GO TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT, WHO KEEPS IT. AND YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT SOMETHING ON THE ORDER OF 40 TO $50 BILLION A YEAR.

MATTER HOW LONG I'VE BEEN HERE, HOW MANY TAXES I'VE BEEN PAYING, THERE IS NO LAW THAT SAYS, "YOU CAN BE LEGAL."

Reporter: PEOPLE OF ALL POLITICAL STRIPES MAY AGREE THE SYSTEM UNFAIRLY CREATES WINNERS AND LOSERS, BUT DISAGREE ON HOW TO FIX IT.

THERE'S A BUILT-IN INWE CAN ITTY IN THE SYSTEM. WE HAVE TO DO A BETTER JOB OF SPREADING THE BENEFITS FROM IMMIGRATION AROUND THAN WE DO CURRENTLY.

IF YOU'RE LEGALLY HERE, YOU HAVE RIGHTS AND WILL HAVE A BETTER LIFE. IF YOU'RE HERE ILLEGALLY, YOU'LL NEED TO GO HOME.

THE COMMUNITY WILL HAVE TO MAKE A CHOICE, REALLY A COMMUNITY CHOICE. IT'S NOT THE FARM WORKER'S CHOICE. DOES THE COMMUNITY WANT THE AGRICULTURE HERE, AND DOES THE COMMUNITY WANT TO EMBRACE IMMIGRANT WORKERS TO COME HERE AND DO THE WORK?

WE HAVE PEOPLE THAT ARE AGAINST US, AND I DON'T BLAME THEM. YOU KNOW, THEY HAVE THEIR OWN POINT OF VIEW. THEY SEE THINGS THEIR OWN WAY, AND I RESPECT THAT, AND ALL I ASK IS TO RESPECT MY OWN POINT OF VIEW, AND THE PEOPLE THAT HANDLE THE LAW, ALL I ASK THEM IS JUST TO BE.

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