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“Immigration and Job Displacement”

By Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), FAIR Issue Brief, October 1999


One of the overlooked ways in which immigration harms the American workforce is displacement, that is, when established workers, whether natives or immigrants, lose their jobs to new immigrants, often illegal newcomers, who will work for substandard wages…

Cases of Displacement

[A] clear case of displacement happened in the tomato industry in the 1980s.  A group of unionized legal border crossers picked the tomato crop for many years in San Diego County, and were making $4.00 an hour in 1980.  In the 1980s, growers switched to a crew of illegal aliens and lowered the wage to $3.35.  Almost all the veteran workers who were unwilling to work at the reduced rate disappeared from the tomato fields.

Sometimes those displaced by new foreign workers are other foreign workers.  In the raisin grape industry of California, Mestizos (the Spanish-speaking population of Mexico) were laid off and replaced with lower cost Mixtecs (the indigenous people of Mexico).  According to a study of the industry, the Mixtecs “have driven the Mestizos out of the market.”

Agriculture has many other instances of employers’ switching to immigrant workers (legal and illegal) to increase their profits.  For example, Hispanic migrants have displaced native black workers in the Georgia peach industry and migrants have replaced natives and previous immigrants in the cucumber and apple industries in Michigan.  The melon industry found it possible to replace unionized crews of mostly native workers doing manual packing in the field with lower-paid Mexican field crews in tandem with the introduction of mechanized packing houses…

Similar phenomena have swept over the hotel industry as well, with immigrant workers displacing native black workers en masse.  In Los Angeles, unionized black janitors had been earning $12 an hour, with benefits.  But, with the advent of subcontractors who [employ] roaming crews of Mexican and El Salvadoran laborers, the pay dropped to the then minimum wage of $3.35 an hour.  Within two years, the unionized crews had all been displaced by the foreign ones, and without any skills, the native force did not as a rule, find new work.