Bob Davis of the Wall Street Journal wrote an excellent article (this link doesn’t require a subscription) on the declining numbers of illegal immigrants. From 2007-2012, Pew Research estimated that the number of illegal immigrants in the US declined 8.2%. In Arizona, the number dropped by an astounding 40%; clearly showing that illegal immigration can be addressed when desired.
Measuring the overall economic impact of this change on Arizona is difficult because it occurred during the latest economic recession and because the undocumented workers greatly affect the economy for better and for worse. It is now much more difficult to obtain unskilled workers for farm work and construction, causing these markets to shrink – at least temporarily. However, American unskilled workers who can find work are seeing raises now that they are not competing with illegal immigrants. In addition, government spending on health care services and education has also dropped with the outflow of the undocumented workers. Finally, while farmers have planted smaller crops because of the reduced availability of pickers, the article quotes several farmers who are investing in specialized mechanical harvesters to gather crops. Once these are working, Arizona’s agricultural economy should equal or exceed its previous level.
This story is important for several reasons. First, it provides data on what happens when people start enforcing immigration laws. Keep in mind that this 40% drop took place despite a federal government that largely refused to execute federal immigration laws in Arizona during this period. If the US government had partnered with Arizona instead of fighting it, the drop would have been much more drastic. Second, it provides pointers for what to expect for the USA as a whole in the years to come. In 1970 the fertility rate in the United States was 2.5 kids per woman compared to 6.8 kids per woman in Mexico. In 2012, it was 1.9 kids per woman in the US compared to 2.3 kids per woman in Mexico. If trends continue, in another generation Mexico will be trying to convince people to immigrate to Mexico instead of flooding the US with illegal aliens. Thus, Arizona’s experience may be similar to what the rest of the country will experience in the years to come.