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No, illegal immigrants didn’t build America

No, illegal immigrants didn’t build America No, illegal immigrants didn’t build America

Joe Biden doesn’t have a problem with illegal immigrants.

He’s made that clear in his shame-faced retreat from his impromptu use of the term “illegal” during his State of the Union address. He regrets using the offending word, doesn’t want to disrespect illegal immigrants and believes that they are absolutely essential to the success of the United States.

“Look, they built the country,” Biden told Jonathan Capehart of MSNBC. He added that they are “the reason our economy is growing.”

Yes, where would America be without the essential contribution made to its economic vigor by desperate people crossing the border in violation of our laws? This is all very revealing. Biden certainly sounds more like a president who has had a largely open border rather than one who, as he’s been insisting lately, wants to shut down the border if only Republicans would pass the legislation he wants. Why, if Biden’s correct, would we deny ourselves the benefits of illegal labor?

It’s true that illegal immigrants overwhelmingly work once they get here; it’s why they come in the first place, after all. But the idea that a fraction of all immigrants, whose numbers have only drastically increased in the past couple of decades, “built the country” is a ridiculous fabrication and a profound insult to American workers, past and present.

Prior to today, the highest percentage of all the foreignborn in the U.S. population was 14.8%, around the turn of the 20th century. Roughly one out of seven people obviously weren’t responsible for the construction of America.

As for illegal immigrants specifically, they didn’t constitute the majority of any job category in America as of 2018. Even construction workers — involved in the literal building of the country’s physical plant — were 65% native-born.

Biden is exaggerating, too, when he suggests that the economy is growing only because of illegal immigrants. But it is true that legal and illegal immigrants have made an outsized contribution to recent economic growth.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which aren’t flawless but capture the big picture, the total number of employed people in the U.S. increased by 2.3 million between February 2020 and February 2024. Over those four years, the foreign-born employment level increased by 3.3 million, whereas the level of native-born employment is still down by a million.

Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that roughly half of those immigrant jobs are going to illegal immigrants.

Needless to say, this isn’t the political bragging point that Biden might think. “Bidenomics — it’s been great for immigrants regardless of legal status” is not a slogan the president should want to use in a campaign against Donald Trump.

To attribute our economic growth to immigrants is to ignore the contributions of the 85% of the country that is native- born, and all its work, investment and spending.

The deeper problem is how the surge in immigrant labor coincides with a decline in labor- force participation among low-skilled Americans facing direct competition from the foreign-born. A report by Steven Camarota notes that the labor- force participation rate of native-born men without a bachelor’s degree is 75.6%, still lower than the pre-pandemic level of 76.3% in the fourth quarter of 2019, and lower than in 2006 (80.5%) and 2000 (82.6%). continued from page

Constantly adding less-skilled immigrant workers to the labor force may increase overall GDP, but it doesn’t make the U.S. wealthier on a per capita basis, the more important metric. According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, greater levels of immigration will increase GDP “by an average of 0.2 percentage points a year from 2024 to 2034, leaving real GDP roughly 2% larger in 2034 than it would be otherwise.” On the other hand, real GDP per person “would be 0.8% smaller.”

Biden gives no indication that he sees such trade-offs. Who’d want fewer of the migrants “building our country” when we can have constantly more?

Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.

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