Who Loses Most from Illegal Immigration? America's Poor | Opinion

No one likes to admit that their team does something badly, but conservatives have long done an inadequate job informing Americans about just how good conservative policies are for poor Americans. And as is well known, our poorest fellow Americans are disproportionately minorities.

Did you know that the nation's poverty rate reached an all-time low at the end of 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic struck? It was the result of higher wages and spectacularly low unemployment. And while that sounds simple enough, we have to ask: How was this achieved?

There are a host of driving factors behind these successes, including President Trump's common-sense economic policies, which slashed red tape through deregulation and cut taxes for working families, unleashing the American spirit of innovation and unlocking the American dream for millions of previously-forgotten Americans.

But one of the greatest boons for low-income Americans under President Trump was his administration's immigration policy. By actually enforcing immigration law and reducing the influx of illegal, low-wage labor that directly competes with America's poorest workers, President Trump helped the long-neglected working class to see their highest pay raises in 20 years and lowest unemployment in 50 years, including the lowest Black and Hispanic unemployment ever recorded.

Whether you liked President Trump or not, a working-class coalition elected him in 2016 to end the open-borders policies of previous administrations. He followed through on his promise, and not only did American workers benefit, but the poorest Americans benefitted the most of all. And as I have noted, they are disproportionally minorities.

President Trump recognized a reality others refused to acknowledge: Our broken immigration system has hurt poor Americans most of all. Decades of low-skill, low-wage immigration had depressed wages and employment for workers on the bottom rung of the economic ladder.

This is not a phenomenon that was recently discovered. Numerous studies from the General Accounting Office, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, the National Research Council, and more agree that high numbers of illegal immigrants hurt wages. In 2016, an estimated 7.8 million illegal immigrants were working in the U.S. while 7.6 million Americans were unemployed.

It's common sense, really; maybe that's why Washington struggles to understand it. When millions of low-skilled illegal immigrants are allowed to break the law and compete for jobs, it increases the low-skill labor supply. Economics 101 tells us that when supply increases, prices—aka wages—decrease. Of course, many special interests want wages depressed, because it helps the bottom line of their business. But there is no question it hurts America's poor.

President Trump came into office and immediately began working on the problem. His first week in office, he made it easier for law enforcement to deport illegal immigrants convicted of crimes and expanded enforcement of long-standing immigration laws, including laws for which then-Senator Joe Biden voted.

Trump worked to fix eight years of broken Obama-era policies at the Department of Homeland Security, rolling back "catch and release" policies, deporting criminals, and enacting common-sense reforms both at the border and in the interior.

In addition, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services rolled back many of the "pull factors" which incentivize illegal immigrants to come to the U.S. Trump's DHS curbed the rampant abuse of our generous asylum system: Prior to 2019, migrants crossed the border en masse simply by claiming "credible fear" to apply for asylum. Most entered the country, then never applied for asylum or never appeared for court dates. Even those whose claims were denied simply continued working, and law enforcement did nothing. In 2019, President Trump directed several fixes to the problem, including regulations tightening employment authorizations and a policy ordering illegal immigrants to stay in Mexico as their claims are processed.

Taken together, these were the most successful actions against illegal immigration in decades. Not only did these no-nonsense policies enforce the law to reduce illegal immigration into the country, but they gave a clear signal to potential illegal immigrants that America's borders were no longer open.

And America's poorest workers immediately benefitted the most.

Now Hiring
A "Now Hiring" sign is seen outside a Prime Pak Foods poultry processing plant on January 28, 2021, in Gainesville, Georgia ELIJAH NOUVELAGE/AFP via Getty Images

For an example of how these policies helped low-income Americans, particularly unemployed Black workers, just look at a small Mississippi town in 2019. After ICE raided a chicken plant employing hundreds of illegal workers, the company had a job fair to hire legal replacements. Over 200 showed up—mostly Black workers—and the fair had to extend its hours to process the applications. Juan Grant, one of the new workers, told the New York Times he got a 50% raise to begin working at the plant. Grant's experience is evidence against the notion that there are jobs Americans won't do.

There are jobs Americans might rather not do, but if they are paid enough, they are glad to get the job—just like Mr. Grant. The key is enforcing the law so the wages on low-end jobs can rise as a simple matter of the laws of supply and demand (without a minimum wage mandate), improving both employment and wages for America's poorest workers.

Trump's illegal immigration policies and successful economic reforms led to the most worker-friendly job market in decades, raising employment and wages to record levels. From 2016 to 2019, real median household income shot up by 9 percent, and fewer workers earned minimum wage than ever before. The lowest-earning 20 percent of households saw their real income increase by an average of 11 percent from 2018 to 2019 alone, more than any other income group. Thanks to a booming economy and a tight labor market at the lowest end of the economic scale, largely caused by Trump's immigration policy, construction workers saw their wages soar by 6.1 percent in 2019, higher than any other industry, according to a Glassdoor report. Poverty hit an all-time low in 2019 as well, driven by record gains in Black and Hispanic communities.

Aren't these accomplishments we'd like to repeat?

After a long eight years under President Obama, when workers had to strive to get hired at all, workers of all skill levels suddenly had their pick of employers, which allowed them to earn more money and ascend the economic ladder.

Despite the media narrative, low-income Americans were the big winners from these conservative policies. Donald Trump reignited the focus on the working class and the poor within the Right—and he followed through.

Too often, conservatives cede the battle of ideas to the Left when it comes to the poor. But the numbers don't lie: Conservative immigration and economic policy has helped our poorest Americans in ways Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden can't even dream of. As Congress passes amnesty legislation and President Biden's administration continues to invite in a flood of low-skill illegal immigrants, they should remember that America's workers will pay a high price in fewer jobs and lower wages.

Ken Cuccinelli is the former Acting Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The views in this article are the writer's own.