... 71/OPINION

March 1, 2006

Taxpayers are subsidizing the immigrant flow

By Sid Salter

Let's add some context to State Auditor Phil Bryant's recent report estimating that 49,000 illegal immigrants in the state are costing state taxpayers more than $25 million each year.

Bryant's report takes into account taxes paid by illegal immigrants, who pay more than $40 million in sales taxes and more than $3 million in income taxes into the state's coffers each year. Too often, when xenophobes target immigrant workers that fact is ignored.

But in terms of public services received by these immigrants from public health care and education to law enforcement, the estimated costs to state taxpayers are more than $69 million.


Some in the immigrant community question Bryant's motives in compiling the information in the report - pointing out that Bryant has aspirations for higher office and that immigrant-bashing in some circles is a good political wedge issue. For his part, Bryant said that his report should be taken on face value: Taxpayers need to know the costs that illegal immigration exact on Mississippi.

To be sure, there were a dozen or so bills introduced during the 2006 regular session designed to crack down on immigrant workers, legal or illegal. Only one of those bills remains alive in the Legislature.

That bill would allow Mississippi to cancel any state contract with a company using illegal workers - and that bill makes more sense than any other approach if the intent is to indeed force the state's business community to demand full compliance with immigration laws.

Yet whether intended or not, the broader implications of Bryant's report are that Mississippi taxpayers who don't hire and profit from the work of illegal immigrants are subsidizing the profits of those businesses and industries that do employ such workers.

For without ready jobs for illegal immigrants in a host of industries - food processing, farming, construction and other manual labor intensive vocations - the flow of illegal immigrants into Mississippi would be greatly reduced. Many of the Hispanic immigrants that I encounter in Forest each week came to live there through labor brokers or "relocation services" in Miami, south Texas and other out-of-state locales who supply workers to the poultry industry and others.


Here's how the workers say the system works: The brokers find Hispanic workers in South Florida or in South Texas and - for a fee - promise these workers transportation to Forest, a job in the poultry industry, housing and transportation to work.

But when the workers arrived in Forest, they would have a job and be sent to substandard housing rented by the brokers. In some cases, a dozen workers would be housed in space designed for four and the workers slept in the same bed in shifts on mattresses on the floor.

The point is that the ultimate beneficiaries of the growing flow of immigrants - legal or illegal - into Mississippi are the employers who work them. To try to legislate a system that punishes immigrants for trying to better themselves and provide for their families is the wrong solution.

The only way to effectively stem the tide of illegal immigration and the associated social and governmental costs is to make employing an undocumented worker or illegal immigrant cost employers money.

The conundrum, of course, is with immigrants policed just who will gut the chickens, plant the pine trees, shovel the dirt, dig the sweet potatoes, clean the hotel rooms and do other tough jobs native Mississippians are refusing daily?

Contact Perspective Editor Sid Salter at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail