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Immigrants Account for Half of New U.S. Workers

by Jose Latour

Here is a report that was recently released by the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University that will make the bigots go "Aha!" while making the rest of us go "We told you immigrant labor was critical for America." According to the Center's comprehensive analysis of the most recent census data, recent U.S. immigrants were critical to the nation's economic growth in the past decade, accounting for half of the new wage earners who have joined the labor force in that period. Looking specifically at men, eight of 10 new male workers entering the work force in the 1990s were immigrants who arrived in the United States during that time period. Excerpts of the report appeared in a Washington Post article published on December 2, revealing the impact in that particular community:

  • In Maryland, 76 percent of the labor force growth during the decade was attributable to new immigrants.

  • In Virginia, 44 percent.

  • In the District of Columbia, the actual work force declined, but immigrant labor prevented the shrinkage from being even more dramatic.

According to the Washington Post's analysis of the study, results supplemented what the 2000 census had already revealed: that new immigrant arrivals during the 1990s had prevented population losses in certain cities and rural areas. This new study was significant, however, in that it proved that immigration is redrawing "the profile of the U.S. work force," transforming entire industries in some cases. According to census records, some 13 million immigrants came to the U.S. from 1990-2001... and that figure reflects both legal and illegal immigration.

Now, before our American readers start freaking out over the statistics, consider the following:

Eighty-six percent of the U.S. work force is still U.S. born.

The numbers are sobering, aren't they? Despite the colossal impact and the very high numbers I had quoted to you at the earlier part of the article, only 14 percent of the U.S. work force was not born in the United States. Factor into that 14 percent the reality that a huge number of the foreign-born immigrants making up the work force are long-term U.S. residents and citizens (people like me who have lived here for many decades), and it really puts things into perspective.

Kinda chills out that lurking xenophobic in you, doesn't it?

Quoted in the article was Andrew Sum, the Director of the Labor Market Center:

"The American economy absolutely needs immigrants. I realize some workers have been hurt by this, and some people get very angry when I say this, but our economy has become more dependent on immigrant labor than at any time in the last 100 years."

Mr. Sum pointed out that as many as half of these new immigrant workers are in the United States illegally, a statistic far in excess of that reported by organizations such as AILA and many government reporting entities. Like me, Mr. Sum is a realist about the numbers, which do not do much to placate the anti- immigration advocates. But when you explore the issue intelligently, pragmatically, and with an eye on looking out for what is best for America and Americans, there really are two questions:

  1. Does America need an enforceable immigration policy ensuring control of its borders and of its workforce?

  2. Does the United States require a continuing inflow of foreign workers into the United States, affording said workers opportunities at temporary and permanent residency?
In answer to the first question, the answer is a resounding "yes."

Even the staunchest pro-immigration advocates cannot argue with the fact that a nation which lacks control of its borders and of its immigration laws cannot possibly keep its population in check, nor its national security mechanism operable. The colossal backlash and reactionary politics that we are witnessing in Washington today are simply impotent, reflexive responses to this: a poorly-thought-out, knee-jerk calamity that is a Band-Aid solution to a complex disease requiring delicate surgery. It is possible to create fair and just immigration laws which generously reward those willing to abide by fair immigration standards for business, family, and asylum rules while at the same time ensuring enforceable deportation for those who willfully violate our laws. The problem is that when you have a series of underfunded and mismanaged enforcement agencies and an overall migratory policy which changes with each new presidential administration, cohesiveness has been historically impossible.

In response to the second question, the answer is an even louder resounding "yes." Just as I have explained to you in the past why I believe that opportunities in areas such as nursing and information technology are unattractive to U.S. students due to our cultural point of view, similar explanations account for our shortages in a variety of skilled fields. Conversely, walk into virtually any hotel or restaurant in South Florida and I challenge you to find a legal immigrant or native U.S. worker responsible for janitorial or food service at the facility. The truth is simply this: in the land of opportunity, its legal residents seek greater opportunities.

Mechanisms for migration in this great country must continue and will continue; the only question is whether we can create a logical flow allowing folks to pursue their dreams within a viable system of laws.

About The Author

Jose Latour is the founding partner of Latour & Lleras, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice representing corporations nationwide in visa management, compliance, and HR training. The above represents Mr. Latour's Editorial opinion. The A/V rated firm and its web site,, were named a winner of the 2002 Inc. Magazine Web Award, receiving recognition along with 14 other companies as the best Web companies in America. In 1999, the firm was named “One of America’s Top Ten Internet/Virtual Companies” in the Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems “Growing with Technology Awards." The site is one of the most visited and widely read resource on the Internet on U.S. immigration law, attracting subscribers from all over the world , the media and from within the U.S. government. Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.