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Undocumented Workers Have 'Negligible Impact' On Wages: Study

The Huffington Post  |  By Posted: 04/12/2012 12:29 pm Updated: 04/12/2012 2:36 pm

Undocumented Workers
Mexican workers are interviewed outside the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center at the end of their overnight shift, in the Bronx, New York, Tuesday March 13, 2012. The undocumented workers are fearful of losing their jobs after learning that administrators have changed the procedure in renewing identification cards to work at the market; no longer accepting consulate cards as valid documents. (AP)

Hear that? That's the sound of holes being poked in one of the most common arguments for pushing undocumented workers out of America.

Undocumented workers have a "negligible impact" on the wages of documented workers that work at the same firm, according to a paper released in March by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. Documented workers at firms that also employ undocumented workers earn 0.15 percent less -- or $56 less per year on average -- than they would if they worked at a firm that does not employ undocumented workers, according to the study.

In fact, workers in retail and leisure and hospitality actually earn slightly more money when their firms hire undocumented workers, since having more employees allows them to specialize, according the paper.

Some anti-immigration activists argue that ridding the country of undocumented workers would help to solve the nation's unemployment problem. There are currently 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.: a number that has stayed roughly stable over the past year, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

But the millions of undocumented immigrants aren't the reason the unemployment rate still remains elevated and many job-seekers can't find work, Julie Hotchkiss, an economist at the Atlanta Fed that co-authored the paper, said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

"There have been claims by various proponents of state legislation and immigration reform that if we institute these laws that would just get rid of all of our undocumented workers, that our unemployment problem would go away, that the unemployment rate would just plummet," Hotchkiss told the Richmond Times-Dispatch in a video interview on Wednesday. "What we're finding is there seems to be no direct displacement effect of documented workers when firms hire undocumented workers."

It's not just anti-immigration advocates that blame undocumented workers for the nation's woes, many job-seekers say they believe that it would be easier for them to find a job if there were fewer undocumented immigrants. More than 60 percent of Americans support a state law that would shut down businesses that repeatedly hire undocumented workers, according to a Rasmussen poll last year.

Conservative politicians have proposed severe measures to crack down on illegal immigration as unemployment remains high and real wages fall. Arizona has led the way by enacting a law in 2010 that authorizes police officers to ask for proof of citizenship from anyone and detain suspected illegal immigrants.

Illegal immigration has been a hot-button issue on the presidential campaign trail as well. Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential nominee, has called for the "self-deportation" of illegal immigrants, and Ron Paul and Rick Santorum have said they would drastically increase deportations.

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