In an interview with ThinkProgress yesterday, Kris Kobach, the anti-immigrant Kansas secretary of state who drafted Arizona and Alabama’s harmful immigration laws, claimed that his handiwork leads to no harmful effect on state economies. “I don’t think there is any negative impact,” Kobach claimed. “I think the studies have yielded one overwhelming conclusion and is that unemployment drops when states develop some of these laws.”
The facts are not on Kobach’s side, however. Numerous studies and reports have shown the economic harm from HB 56, Alabama’s anti-immigrant law. Farmers are losing their crops or not planting as much because they don’t have workers, and even the state’s own governor has said that the state’s dropping unemployment rate cannot be pegged on the immigration law.
In the fall, preliminary research from the Center for Business and Economic Research showed that, conservatively, HB 56 could cost the state $40 million. Now that the researcher behind that original estimate has had more time to study the law’s full impact, however, he concludes that this initial estimate is far too low. According to a new study, Alabama’s law will cost the state up to 140,000 direct and indirect jobs. And state GDP losses could total $2.3 to $10.8 billion and reduce local sales taxes by $20.0 to $93.1 million.
One key problem is any benefit for businesses from the exodus of immigrants is counteracted by the loss of demand. And the report points out that clearly legal residents are not filling all the jobs left behind:
It is generally accepted that unauthorized immigrants work for low wages. As such, the absence of illegal immigrants is likely to improve competitiveness for businesses that found it extremely difficult to compete because they do not use such labor. This might make the business climate attractive for out-of-state businesses that do not use illegal immigrant labor to consider relocating to the state. Such benefits for some businesses do not translate into a benefit for the aggregate economy because they cannot fully make up for the reduced demand caused by the absence of unauthorized immigrant workers.
It is also argued that illegal immigrants take jobs that should have gone to citizens and other legal residents. If that were true, farmers and businesses that employed these workers and other business interests as well should not have complained about the law especially given the state’s high unemployment rate. There was very little worker substitution and most of the few that considered the jobs previously performed by unauthorized immigrant workers did not have the requisite skills and productivity. With a focus on preparing the workforce for high-skill, high-wage and fast-growing jobs, it is unreasonable to expect people to flock to lower wage jobs that are performed under tough conditions.
Backers of Alabama’s law and similar versions in Arizona, South Carolina, and Georgia will continue to argue that making conditions horrible for undocumented immigrants so that they, in Mitt Romney‘s words, “self-deport,” will be a boon for the economy. But as reports tally the economic damage in Alabama, these supporters are only burying their heads in the sand to avoid the economic ruin that follows in these anti-immigrant laws’ wake.