Illegal Aliens and the Economy

March 11, 1986

Recently, Beryl Sprinkel, the chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers, announced his findings that illegal aliens benefit the economy. On that basis, he says, we'd be better off letting employers continue to hire illegal labor with impunity.

After reading the report, my impression is that if the Council on Economic Advisers had done a study of the plantation system in South Carolina in 1855, they would have concluded that the system was economically sound, that the slaves were doing the jobs that Americans wouldn't do, and that there was no job displacement.

Sure, illegal aliens in a given labor market may drive down wages. And sure, they are less likely to demand compliance with labor standards laws. On the classroom blackboard, the graphs drawn around unlimited cheap, exploitable labor look great.

The President's economic adviser even think we need this exploited group to make us "competitive" with overseas products. Sound familiar? It should. Prior to the Civil War, South Carolina Sen. John C. Calhoun attempted to boost his political career in the South making just that argument, calling slavery "good--a positive good."

Did that conclusion settle the question? Obviously not. Nor should it today. Assuming for a moment that Sprinkel's economic arguments are sound (which they're not), we know that there is more to consider.

Slavery ultimately drove this nation to civil war because it also raised moral and ethical issues. South Africa is in flames today for precisely the same reasons--sustained unfair exploitation brings the resentment and, ultimately, rage and violence. We kid ourselves if we do not recognize the same potential situation in illegal immigration today. Let us not fall into a fool's complacency.

To recommend policy in a total ivory-tower vacuum, as Sprinkel has done here, is to render a disservice to the President and his other advisers who are concerned with the broader social, political and economic picture.

President Reagan initially wanted to abolish completely the Council of Economic Advisers. Now it's easy to see why.



Conner is executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

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