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Estimating the Costs of Restrictive Immigration Laws

April 02, 2012

Much has been written about the rise of restrictive immigration laws in states such as Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia, both by those for and against these measures. What is now emerging are initial assessments of the economic costs and benefits of these policies.

One area affected is employment. Supporters of these laws argue that by discouraging undocumented migrants these policies free up jobs for native workers. So far the preliminary evidence suggests otherwise. In Georgia, 56 percent of farmers report having difficulty finding workers, and nearly half of restaurant owners claim to be experiencing a labor shortage (while overall employment numbers in Georgia increased since the law was passed–coinciding with the U.S. economic recovery–they have not increased in sectors traditionally employing unauthorized workers, a better measure of the effects of the law). Other reports on Alabama and California also show or predict widespread drops in total employment, and the elimination of thousands of jobs due to less intended consequences of the new laws.

A broader more technical study done by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas estimates that cities with restrictive immigration laws lower local employment numbers by nearly 20 percent, compared to similar cities without such ordinances. One reason the report suggests is that immigrants largely complement rather than substitute native workers, expanding jobs for all.

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