Foon Rhee

Mass deportations would hurt our economy

Donald Trump pinatas are for sale at a shop in Las Vegas. His plans to deport undocumented immigrants and disparaging comments have angered many Latino voters.
Donald Trump pinatas are for sale at a shop in Las Vegas. His plans to deport undocumented immigrants and disparaging comments have angered many Latino voters. Associated Press

Even if you want to put aside the unfathomable human cost of mass deportations, you have to consider this: America’s economy would also pay a steep price.

That’s according to a new study of the impact of deporting the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants in our nation, which Donald Trump has vowed to do, though more recently he suggested he’d focus first on criminals.

Researchers at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank in Washington, D.C., looked at just the 7 million undocumented immigrants who are working and estimated that taking them out of the labor force would reduce total U.S. economic output by 1.4 percent right away and 2.6 percent eventually.

The economic hit increases over time because with fewer workers, there is less need for equipment and tools. America’s GDP would drop by an average of $434 billion a year, and a total of $4.7 trillion over 10 years, the study estimates.

Overall, California would suffer higher losses than any state – a total drop of $103 billion in annual economic output, or 5 percent.

The analysis goes into some detail, state by state and industry by industry. The hardest hit would be agriculture, construction and hospitality, which could lose 10 percent or more of their workers.

Those are also important sectors for California. But as in other states, the dollar impact would be greater in other more lucrative sectors, such as manufacturing, retail and financial.

Overall, California would suffer higher losses than any state – a drop of $103 billion in annual economic output, or 5 percent, according to the study.

The argument from Trump’s camp is that if undocumented workers are deported, they would be quickly replaced by legal workers, including the native-born unemployed. The Center for American Progress says many of these jobs are low-paying and not highly sought-after; many economists say it’s an oversimplified notion that immigrants are “stealing” jobs from citizens.

Another analysis out in September, by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, concluded that in the long term, immigrants don’t take jobs from Americans or lower their wages, and are crucial for continued growth.

But in the short term, first-generation immigrants cost governments $57 billion a year more than the taxes they pay, largely due to education expenses paid by local districts and states. By the second generation, however, those immigrants provide a $30 billion a year net benefit, and by the third generation a $223 billion a year boost.

Because immigration is such a hot-button issue, there always will be disputes about these studies. Still, it seems clear that a mass deportation would be a costly, logistical and law enforcement nightmare, and that it would divide families and set back America’s economy.

So, other than Trump never letting logic or facts get in the way, why would we seriously talk about it?

By the numbers

The annual GDP lost by selected industries in California (and percentage of that industry) if undocumented workers are deported:

  • Manufacturing: $20.3 billion, 8%
  • Wholesale and retail trade: $16.6 billion, 6%
  • Leisure and hospitality: $12.1 billion, 14%
  • Financial activities: $9.1 billion, 2%
  • Professional and business services: $8.8 billion, 3%
  • Construction: $8.3 billion, 12%
  • Agriculture, forestry, fishing: $8.2 billion, 21%
  • Total: $103 billion, 5%

Source: Center for American Progress

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