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June 10, 2006

Illegal Immigrants and the Economy (2 Letters)

To the Editor:

Re "The Worker Next Door" (Op-Ed, June 3):

Barry R. Chiswick is exactly right in pointing out that the American economy would function quite well without the low-skilled labor supplied by illegal immigrants.

But the real question is what to do with the 12 million illegal immigrants who currently live here, as well as the millions of people in Mexico and elsewhere who would like to live in the United States and contribute to our economy.

The flexibility and strength of the American economy could also be used to improve their welfare, to little detriment and the likely benefit of most United States citizens.

David A. Jaeger
Williamsburg, Va., June 5, 2006
The writer is associate professor of economics and public policy at the College of William and Mary.

To the Editor:

Barry R. Chiswick is correct in saying "there are no low-skilled jobs that American workers would not and do not do."

As a migrant fruit picker in the late 1970's and 1980's, I was disgusted to hear people say Americans won't do this kind of work. It was and is a lie.

I worked alongside a group of Americans, many descendants of the Dust Bowl Okies and Arkies, who wanted to continue picking fruit. But they couldn't. An unchecked influx of illegal immigrant workers in the fruit orchards not only kept wages down, year after year, but also encouraged the widespread use of farm labor contractors who provided their own crews.

Jobs became harder and harder to find. I clearly remember a summer in the mid-1980's, when I went from orchard to orchard in eastern Washington looking for a job picking cherries. Everywhere I went, I was told there were no jobs. And every ladder was occupied by an immigrant.

It's fine to be sympathetic with immigrants desperate for low-wage jobs in America. But I just wish everyone would stop saying that they are doing jobs Americans refuse to do.

Toby F. Sonneman
Bellingham, Wash., June 3, 2006
The writer is an author of a book about the Okie migrants in the West.

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