Outsourcing of agriculture may be less than beneficial

Editorial

We can testify that many Americans have powerful feelings about illegal immigrants and desire both stronger enforcement of existing immigration laws and ways to identify and if possible deport as many as possible of those workers who are here without proper legal authorization.

Thus there is considerable support for the Bush administration proposal to push hard to require employers to fire workers who do not have valid Social Security numbers.

A program to identify people who are using somebody else’s Social Security number and thereby creating problems in the official records and/or credit history of others might have some good consequences. But would it really be a good idea to require all those people to be fired? Some inconvenient truths suggest otherwise.

As economist Stephen Levy explained, there are simply not enough unemployed native-born workers to replace all the illegal workers, “even if their geographical location, education, occupation and pay requirements were a match.”

Levy’s research shows about 7.8 million “unauthorized” workers in the country in 2006 (other family members bring the total number to about 12 million) and 7 million unemployed native-born Americans. But most unemployed Americans had been unemployed less than 15 weeks or were new to the labor force and concentrated in professional and sales or office jobs.

Meanwhile illegal immigrant workers were concentrated in service, construction, production and agriculture.

So if all those illegal immigrants were suddenly fired, it would be unlikely that native-born unemployed people would flock to take those jobs.

The picture is more dramatic in California and Texas. California had about 1.85 million illegal immigrant workers and 872,000 unemployed residents. Texas had about 1.1 million illegal immigrant workers and 600,000 unemployed native residents.

Illegals are more concentrated in agriculture in California and Texas than in other states.

That is part of the explanation for the fact that an increasing number of American farmers are renting land in Mexico and farming it there. Hard figures are difficult to come by, but Sen. Dianne Feinstein says there are 46,000 acres she has been able to identify.
Western Growers did an informal survey showing a dozen large-scale U.S. growers operating in Mexico and employing about 11,000 people.

The reason? As Steve Scaroni, who built a $50 million agriculture business put it, “I’m tired of fighting the fight on the immigration issue.” He dreads having immigration raids disrupt his California operations so he’s moved much of them to Mexico.

Thus the market responds to government-created distortions. But is outsourcing food production really beneficial to the U.S. economy?