Arizona’s immigration law was found generally constitutional this week by the U.S. Supreme Court, though we’re still waiting for a federal judge to rule whether South Carolina’s similar law racially profiles Hispanics.
But regardless of whether the Palmetto State’s draconian immigration policy is ruled legal, does that make it a good idea?
“In these economic times, we simply can’t afford to play around with hateful policies, and it’s better for all when we have welcoming communities rather than those that marginalize and exclude,” writes Maryanne Sinclair Slutsky for Newsday. “The Supreme Court determined the constitutionality of the “papers, please” provision of SB 1070, not its wisdom.”
A study released by the Center for American Progress last year showed that removing Arizona’s undocumented immigrant population by either deportation or fear of retribution by law enforcement would do a great deal of harm to the state’s economy, and we can use that as a baseline to show the effect a similar action would have on South Carolina’s economy as well.
About 445,000 undocumented immigrants were living in Arizona as of 2008, according to Pew Hispanic Center data. That year, Arizona’s undocumented workforce added more than $42 billion to the state’s economic output — the total value of all goods and services produced in the economy. Much of that economic benefit came as tax revenue, with undocumented workers contributing an estimated $2.8 billion in total taxes to Arizona’s economy, including nearly $1.8 billion in sales tax revenue alone.
In fact, the output and spending of just undocumented workers generated 581,000 Arizona jobs in 2008 — something legal residents can appreciate as well.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that only 55,000 undocumented immigrants were living in South Carolina as of 2010, or about 12 percent of the size of Arizona’s population. Still, adding 12 percent of $42 billion to South Carolina’s economy is no small amount (it’s $3.4 billion, to be exact) in a state that is still struggling more than others to recover from the ongoing recession.
By contrast, the Center for American Progress found that mass deportation of undocumented workers means mass income losses for the state. The Washington, DC-based think tank estimated that Arizona’s gross state product would be reduced by $48.8 billion if all undocumented workers driven from the state, nearly 20 percent of the state’s economy. Meanwhile, according to estimates, overall employment in Arizona would drop by nearly 17 percent.
“Operating for an extended time with a depleted workforce may mean the difference between keeping the doors to the business open or shutting them for good,” the study’s authors write.
Palmetto Public Record has previously examined how the immigration law is already starting to hurt South Carolin’s tourism and agricultural industries, which happen to be the two biggest economic drivers in the state.
“These people don’t cause any trouble, they just come here to work,” a Charleston County vegetable grower said after having to burn a quarter of his tomato crop because he had no labor to pick it.
The Center for American Progress study also found that legalizing Arizona’s undocumented workforce would add 261,000 jobs to the state’s economy and increase tax revenues by $1.7 billion. And while it’s understandable for many to be skeptical about blanket amnesty for illegal immigrants, one thing is clear. Kicking them all out of the state will do nothing to solve South Carolina’s economic difficulties, and may even make them much worse.