Immigration Raids: Do The Goals Make Economic Sense?

Immigration Hotels

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer looks on during an operation in Escondido, Calif. A recent raid on food processing plants in Mississippi sparked controversy and resulted in over 600 arrests. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

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Should the U.S. government pursue a goal that, if successful, would significantly harm the American economy? That is the unanswered question in the wake of the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on food processing plants in Mississippi that resulted in the arrest of 680 people.

The raid produced distressing videos of children in tears after ICE agents took away their mother or father. Donald Trump, pleased with the raid and the announced arrests, promised more raids. “I just hope to keep it up,” he said. “When people see what they saw (earlier this week), like they will be for a long time, they know that they're not staying.” CNN added, “The White House has told ICE officials to conduct dozens more workplace enforcement operations this year.”

The people arrested in ICE worksite raids are targeted not simply because they are here unlawfully but because they are workers. “Welcome to full-employment America, where agents of Immigration Customs and Enforcement are courageously arresting illegal immigrants at their workplaces for the unpardonable sin of processing chicken that the rest of us eat,” writes Nick Gillespie, editor at large at Reason magazine. “It would be a far better use of taxpayer dollars and ICE resources to target raids at those illegally residing here who also have committed violent crimes or other serious offenses,” writes the Washington Examiner’s Brad Polumbo.

To a great extent, worksite raids remove from the country workers who have lived in the United States for many years and often have U.S. citizen children. The distressed children interviewed in videos following the arrest of their parents spoke English without an accent because they are likely U.S. citizens born in America.

Approximately 90% of the 11 million people in the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States have lived here for more than a decade, according to Department of Homeland Security estimates. In fact, up to 80% of current unauthorized immigrants may have lived in America 15 years or longer.

While administration supporters make a “rule of law” argument in defense of the raids, that line of reasoning falls away after one recognizes Donald Trump’s own company has employed at least dozens of unauthorized immigrants, likely up to the present day. The Washington Post found almost an entire town in Costa Rica filled with people who had worked unlawfully at Trump golf and other properties, and that Trump managers knew workers were here illegally and instructed them to procure false documents.

One might ask: Why didn’t individuals who work at chicken plants and other places likely subject to ICE raids simply come to the United States legally to work? The reason is that there are no legal temporary visas for foreign nationals to work at jobs that are year-round and do not require a college degree, such as jobs working in chicken plants.

H-2A visas for agriculture and H-2B visas (limited to 66,000 annually) for non-agricultural jobs are limited to seasonal positions. If you want more people to enter legally to work, then policymakers need to change the law to make temporary work visas available for the types of jobs most unauthorized immigrants fill.

What if the raids are eventually so successful that all unauthorized immigrants are either deported or voluntarily leave the country and no future unauthorized immigrants take their place? It’s an important question, since immigrants are a key part of U.S. labor force growth – and labor force growth is a key component of economic growth. Higher economic growth is what leads to improved standards of living in a country.

“In the past decade, population growth, including immigration, has accounted for roughly half of the potential economic growth rate in the United States,” according to Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management and author of The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World.

An analysis by Macroeconomic Advisers for the Bipartisan Policy Center examined the rarely-asked question of the economic impact of a highly “successful” immigration enforcement policy in America. “If all unauthorized immigrants left the country by FY 2024 and none came in the future, the economy would be approximately 5.7% smaller than the baseline by FY 2033,” the analysis concluded. “Between FY 2014 and FY 2023, average annual growth would decline by nearly 0.5%.”

In sum, the premise behind ICE raids is not to make it easier to work legally but to lower the supply of labor, which economists agree would be bad for the U.S. economy, particularly given America’s aging workforce and its already low level of labor force growth. Some may ask: Is the federal government implementing a policy whereby the more successful it is in achieving its objective the worse the outcome is for the country? It’s a good question.

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Should the U.S. government pursue a goal that, if successful, would significantly harm the American economy? That is the unanswered question in the wake of the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid on food processing plants in Mississippi that resulted in the arrest of 680 people.

The raid produced distressing videos of children in tears after ICE agents took away their mother or father. Donald Trump, pleased with the raid and the announced arrests, promised more raids. “I just hope to keep it up,” he said. “When people see what they saw (earlier this week), like they will be for a long time, they know that they're not staying.” CNN added, “The White House has told ICE officials to conduct dozens more workplace enforcement operations this year.”

The people arrested in ICE worksite raids are targeted not simply because they are here unlawfully but because they are workers. “Welcome to full-employment America, where agents of Immigration Customs and Enforcement are courageously arresting illegal immigrants at their workplaces for the unpardonable sin of processing chicken that the rest of us eat,” writes Nick Gillespie, editor at large at Reason magazine. “It would be a far better use of taxpayer dollars and ICE resources to target raids at those illegally residing here who also have committed violent crimes or other serious offenses,” writes the Washington Examiner’s Brad Polumbo.

To a great extent, worksite raids remove from the country workers who have lived in the United States for many years and often have U.S. citizen children. The distressed children interviewed in videos following the arrest of their parents spoke English without an accent because they are likely U.S. citizens born in America.

Approximately 90% of the 11 million people in the unauthorized immigrant population in the United States have lived here for more than a decade, according to Department of Homeland Security estimates. In fact, up to 80% of current unauthorized immigrants may have lived in America 15 years or longer.

While administration supporters make a “rule of law” argument in defense of the raids, that line of reasoning falls away after one recognizes Donald Trump’s own company has employed at least dozens of unauthorized immigrants, likely up to the present day. The Washington Post found almost an entire town in Costa Rica filled with people who had worked unlawfully at Trump golf and other properties, and that Trump managers knew workers were here illegally and instructed them to procure false documents.

One might ask: Why didn’t individuals who work at chicken plants and other places likely subject to ICE raids simply come to the United States legally to work? The reason is that there are no legal temporary visas for foreign nationals to work at jobs that are year-round and do not require a college degree, such as jobs working in chicken plants.

H-2A visas for agriculture and H-2B visas (limited to 66,000 annually) for non-agricultural jobs are limited to seasonal positions. If you want more people to enter legally to work, then policymakers need to change the law to make temporary work visas available for the types of jobs most unauthorized immigrants fill.

What if the raids are eventually so successful that all unauthorized immigrants are either deported or voluntarily leave the country and no future unauthorized immigrants take their place? It’s an important question, since immigrants are a key part of U.S. labor force growth – and labor force growth is a key component of economic growth. Higher economic growth is what leads to improved standards of living in a country.

“In the past decade, population growth, including immigration, has accounted for roughly half of the potential economic growth rate in the United States,” according to Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management and author of The Rise and Fall of Nations: Forces of Change in the Post-Crisis World.

An analysis by Macroeconomic Advisers for the Bipartisan Policy Center examined the rarely-asked question of the economic impact of a highly “successful” immigration enforcement policy in America. “If all unauthorized immigrants left the country by FY 2024 and none came in the future, the economy would be approximately 5.7% smaller than the baseline by FY 2033,” the analysis concluded. “Between FY 2014 and FY 2023, average annual growth would decline by nearly 0.5%.”

In sum, the premise behind ICE raids is not to make it easier to work legally but to lower the supply of labor, which economists agree would be bad for the U.S. economy, particularly given America’s aging workforce and its already low level of labor force growth. Some may ask: Is the federal government implementing a policy whereby the more successful it is in achieving its objective the worse the outcome is for the country? It’s a good question.

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I am the executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan public policy research organization focusing on trade, immigration and relate

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