Illegal aliens come to the United States to take jobs that offer them greater opportunity, and they are often welcomed by U.S. employers who are able to hire them for wages lower than they would have to pay to hire U.S. workers. This employment is illegal under a law enacted in 1986, but some employers ignore the law and hire illegal workers in the underground economy. Others simply accept fake employment documents and hire the illegal workers as if they were legal. Because there is no requirement to verify documents presented by workers, employers can easily evade compliance.
The illegal alien workers are mostly persons who sneaked into the country nearly all Mexicans or Central Americans who enter from Mexico. There is also, however, illegal entry across the border with Canada, with apprehensions by the Border Patrol of more than 6,000 aliens in 2010. There is also a significant portion of the illegal alien population that arrives with visas and stays illegally. These overstayers’ are estimated variously to between one- third and 40 percent of the illegal alien population.
The defenders of illegal aliens ethnic advocacy groups, employer groups, and church-based groups often assert that illegal aliens only take jobs unwanted by U.S. workers. This is patently false because they are working in jobs in which U.S. workers are also employed whether in construction, agricultural harvesting or service professions.
If the hiring of illegal alien workers is prevalent in a sector of the economy, as it has become the case in seasonal crop agriculture, the willingness of foreign workers to accept lower wages because of their illegal status acts to depress wages and working conditions for all workers in that occupation. This in turn makes employment in that sector less attractive to U.S. workers who have other options. The result is a form of circular logic, i.e. the more that illegal aliens are able to take jobs in a sector of the economy, the less attractive the sector becomes to U.S. workers, and the greater appearance of validity to the lie that only illegal aliens are willing to take jobs in the sector. Only by enforcing the immigration law against employment of illegal alien workers can this spiral to the bottom be broken and employers forced to restore wages and working conditions to levels that will attract U.S. workers and legal foreign workers.
How Many U.S. Jobs Are Taken by Illegal Aliens?
Just as the size of the illegal alien population can only be estimated, the number of illegal aliens working in the United States is also subject to estimation. A large share of the illegal alien population is generally accepted as being in the workforce because that is what motivates most illegal immigration. However, there are some family members, especially children of illegal aliens not in the labor force, while others may be in prison. One recent estimate by researchers at the Pew Hispanic Center puts the number of illegal aliens in the workforce at 8 million out of an overall population of 11.2 million illegal aliens, i.e. 71.4 percent. 1 That estimate is generally accepted as reasonable.
FAIR’s estimate of the illegal alien population in 2010 is slightly higher than that of the Pew estimate, i.e. 11.9 million. FAIR’s estimate of the number of illegal aliens in the workforce using the share estimate of the Pew study is similarly slightly higher, i.e. about 8.5 million jobs encumbered by illegal alien workers.
Where Are the Jobs Taken by Illegal Aliens Located?
Below is a listing of the estimated number of jobs encumbered by illegal alien workers by state (and Washington, DC). The estimate is proportional to FAIR’s estimate of the illegal alien population residing in each state. The listing does not include an estimate for those states that have estimated illegal alien populations of 5,000 or fewer (Maine, Montana, North and South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming).