The American Action Forum, an organization closely aligned with the Republican National Committee, on May 5 released a “study” authored by Ben Gitis and Jacqueline Varas. The two claim that permanently removing “all undocumented immigrants in just two years, as Donald Trump has proposed” would reduce the Gross Domestic Product of the United States by $1 trillion, and would cost the federal government up to $600 billion.
To begin with, Trump has proposed no such thing. He did previously float the possibility that, if President, he would require all illegal aliens to “touch-back” in their home countries before reentering the U.S. legally – though he has steered away from that position lately. This, he said, was “a process that can take 18 months to two years if properly handled.” Granted, Trump’s campaign rhetoric has sometimes overshadowed his policy positions, but if the AAF authors were interested in Trump’s actual strategy on how to deal with illegal immigration, they could have checked out his campaign’s official website, which has a fairly detailed plan.
(One thing to consider that, not surprisingly, was not dealt with by Gitis and Varas is that the mere presence of low-wage illegal workers creates situations in which those workers are exploited by their employers. The U.S. economy would be stronger in the absence of such exploitation.)
Furthermore, if removal of unauthorized workers did lead to $1 trillion in decreased economic output in various industries, while at the same time government spending on enforcement efforts increased $600 billion, total GDP would drop by $400 billion, not $1 trillion, according to Gitis and Varas’ own accounting. However, a trillion is the more eye-popping number, and some reporters will just transcribe that number from the AAF press release into their stories without questioning its validity. Immigration expansionists long ago realized that their claims did not have to add up in order to get parroted by members of the press. AAF could just have easily claimed Trump’s plan would cost zillions.
The AAF report is based on estimates from the Pew Research Center of the share of illegal aliens in the workforce in 2012. The Pew data is fine, keeping in mind the difficulty of obtaining information about a population cohort that wishes to remain anonymous. The problem (one of many) is that the Gitis and Varas ignored data from Pew which directly contradict the utterly implausible assumptions they make about the U.S. labor market.
Gitis and Varas write that if illegal aliens currently working in the United States were removed, there would be “not nearly enough unemployed workers” to fill the vacated jobs. However, by “unemployed” workers they refer to those “officially unemployed” according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which means only those who are collecting unemployment insurance checks from the government after being laid off from a job in a particular industry.
Once, say, an unemployed construction worker no longer qualifies for unemployment benefits and is still not working, he is no longer classified as an unemployed construction worker, but as one who is Not in the Labor Force. In 2012, there were 47.6 million Americans (native-born) between the ages of 16 and 65 not in the labor force. Today, that number has grown to 55 million. According to the AAF authors, not a single one of those Americans would take a job in construction if one became available to them. This is curious, given that the Pew report they cite estimated that 77 percent of construction jobs in 2012 were held by the native-born, with another 12 percent taken by legal immigrants.
Gitis and Varas then figure how much the GDP would drop without illegal aliens in the workforce, with Americans unwilling to take those jobs, and without factoring in any of the economic or fiscal costs of illegal immigration. They calculate this to be $1 trillion over the two years it would take Trump to carry out his supposed plan; or it would still be $1 trillion even if removal took twenty years, which Gitis and Varas claim would actually be the case. How those figures break down is unknown, because their results are stated without the work behind them shown. Talk about fuzzy math, this is downright hirsute.
In order to accept the report’s conclusions, one must accept that Donald Trump will somehow marshal federal government resources to remove every single illegal alien in two years’ time. Jobs currently held by unauthorized workers will remain unfilled because employers will be unwilling to pay higher wages to attract legal workers and will instead prefer to sit on cash reserves than hire replacement employees; and not even a fraction of jobless Americans of working-age could ever be persuaded to work instead of sitting at home. And the same exact outcome would occur even if the process were extended ten times longer, because the labor market will be exactly the same in 2036 as it was in 2012. That all this could occur exactly as Gitis and Varas posit is theoretically possible. So, too, is intergalactic time travel.
Granted, there are some sophisticated arguments made by economists who take the same basic line on immigration policy as AAF. Even if based on mistaken assumptions (and sometime flawed data), these arguments should be taken seriously because they are thoughtful contributions to the debate about which immigration policies are best for America. The AAF report is not a serious contribution to that debate.
With Donald’s Trump’s selection as the 2016 Republican Presidential nominee more likely than not, immigration will continue to be a focal point of this election season. Even some long-time immigration expansionists are beginning to publicly admit that the American people’s dissatisfaction with immigration policies enacted for the benefit of a narrow clique is what fueled Trump’s political ascent.
And so the claque that makes its living defending the interests of the ruling political class will be busy defending bad policy with bad policy papers. Perhaps the latest AAF offering signals a turning point, where apologists for horrendous immigration policies have finally lost heart and recognize, Trump or no, that they’ve lost the debate. Efforts will still have to be made to justify the billions that the expansionist lobby has poured into these groups, but they will be merely the rote motions of running out the clock.
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Jul 24th 2017 @ 2:30pm EDT