Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Illegal Immigrants By The Numbers

The Pew Hispanic Research Center recently concluded a study to assess the potential impact of the pending immigration reform deal proposed by Senate sponsors, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA). As we reported earlier on that deal, it would divide America's illegal immigrant population into three separate categories for purposes of determining their future status.

Those who have been in the U.S. illegally for more than 5 years ("long-term illegal immigrants") would be placed on an immediate path to earned citizenship. Those who have been in the country less than 5 years illegally would be divided into two groups of short-term illegal immigrants.

Short-term immigrants who came here before January 7, 2004, would be granted a temporary legal status but would be required to pay substantial fines, leave the country within three years, re-enter in a temporary status and only then become eligible for permanent resident status. Those arriving after January 7, 2004, would be required to leave the country and apply for re-entry as a guest worker, subject to numerical limitations.

According to the Pew study, there are a total of 7.2 million unauthorized workers in the U.S. and more than 2.5 million of them, or 35%, arrived within the last five years. These unauthorized workers make up 5% of the U.S. labor force. Short-term unauthorized workers comprise almost 2% of the U.S. labor force.

The study found that the short-term unauthorized workers are heavily concentrated in certain sectors of the economy. Not surprisingly, the construction industry is the largest employer of short-term illegal workers, accounting for 1.4 million, or more than half of short-term illegal workers. This group of workers account for 12% of the total construction industry workforce.

The hospitality industry came in second, acccounting for some half million of the short-term unauthorized workers. Illegal immigrant workers make up 1.2 million or 10% of the total hospitality workforce.

Another finding that isn't surprising is the direct correlation between the time an illegal worker has been in the U.S. and the amount the worker earns. Short-term illegal male workers earned on average $480 per week. Those same males workers earn on average $100 more per week if they have been in the U.S. more than 5 years. This contrasts with legal immigrants in permanent resident status, whose average weekly earnings are $700. Legal immigrants who have become U.S. citizens had average weekly earnings of $930.

If the unauthorized workers in this country are able to adjust to a legal status, the study's findings tend to bear out the argument that the economic status of these workers will improve. This could have a very beneficial impact on the overall economy, not unlike that experienced following previous amnesty periods granted under the Reagan and Clinton administrations.

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