Georgraphy influences thoughts on immigration

Pedro Clemente, 18, and his wife Maria Rafael, 17, undocumented farm laborers from Mexico, work in an artichoke field in Thermal, Calif.


Bob Moon: There was a clarification today of some rather candid comments from former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He does not, he says, hire illegal immigrants. But what he meant yesterday -- on NBC's "Meet the Press" -- is that many contractors in his neighborhood may well be using undocumented workers.

Colin Powell: They're all over my house, doing things whenever I call for repairs, and I'm sure you've seen them at your house. We've got to find a way to bring these people out of the darkness and give them some kind of status.

Powell wants Republicans to support a bill called "The DREAM Act." It would open citizenship to young immigrants who attend two years of college or join the military.

Joining us now to explore Mr. Powell's moment of candor is Dowell Myers. He's a professor of demography at the University of Southern California. Welcome, sir.

Dowell Myers:I'm pleased to be here.

MOON: Today, in clarifying his statement, Mr. Powell said there are 11 million illegal immigrants in this country, and most are working somewhere in our economy. What's your take on that, is he in the ballpark on this underground economy of immigrants?

MYERS: The 11 million figure is one, everybody seems to subscribe to it. Although you have to know, these people are undocumented, so we don't really have hard numbers on them.

MOON: Where is the intersection of this underground economy and the mainstream economy in America?

MYERS: They are disproportionately very low-skilled workers, with very low education. And they're coming in to work jobs that we don't really provide visas for. We don't really like to admit that we have these low-skilled service workers that we need. The problem in America is we've educated so much here that all of our native born are above that skill level. And yet we have more and more demands for basic service workers.

MOON: And former Secretary Powell put a personal spin on this, that it seems many in this debate don't talk about -- that they benefit quite directly and personally from the work that these people do. What about that on a individual basis? How are Americans interacting with immigrants?

MYERS: He's speaking like an urbanite, and somebody who lives in an area that has lots of immigrants. For people in the middle of the U.S., they don't have as much exposure and the undocumented workers or unauthorized workers are more often working in poultry processing plants or in some industrial capacity; they're not working in people's homes. But along the coasts -- in California and all along Eastern Seaboard -- it's very common to have the yard maintenance workers, the nannies, all kinds of domestic help -- people who may or may not have legal papers.

MOON: So many Americans we know are interacting with these people who Mr. Powell complained are otherwise kept in the darkness and he said need to be given some type of status. Why do you think there's such a disconnect between the political debate that casts this in an abstract way and the very real status that they play in our daily lives?

MYERS: Some of the Gallup poll data shows that people who respond to questions about immigrants who live in the middle of the country where there aren't many immigrants, have much different answers than those who respond from areas where they do have immigrants living near them. For example, there's a question that they ask, I think it goes roughly, "Do immigrants come here to gain welfare, or do they come here to work?" The people who think they come here to gain welfare live in places where there aren't very many immigrants. So they don't know how hard-working these people are.

MOON: Yet beyond this personal experience that Mr. Powell talked about, he seems to be dialing back his statement today. Why do you think that that political disconnect still exists even here?

MYERS: Well, I think he was speaking from personal experience. But there's an organized political response that is different from personal, it's more strategic and he may have heard from other people who suggested that his personal remarks were out of line with the party line.

MOON: Dowell Myers is a professor of urban planning and demography at USC. Thanks for letting us tap some of your scholarship on this subject.

MYERS: It's my pleasure.

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"He's speaking like an urbanite, and somebody who lives in an area that has lots of immigrants. For people in the middle of the U.S., they don't have as much exposure and the undocumented workers or unauthorized workers."

This is patently false. Walk into a field of tomatoes being picked in Arkansas and you'll be surrounded by illegals.

"Do immigrants come here to gain welfare, or do they come here to work?"

If welfare can be defined as receiving a special subsidy, then the illegals whose children get in-state tuition to attend the University of California school system (I'll point out that the dependents of military personnel on temporary postings to California do not get such treatment)--which Prof. Myers is almost certainly aware of.

Further, if they use a hospital ER for non-urgent care (which many do) knowing that they can't be denied service, but simultaneously knowing they don't have the means to pay, this is a cost that is passed on to all other paying patients at that hospital. Another defacto subsidy, or put another way: welfare.

Splitting hairs over whether something is overtly labeled 'welfare' or whether it amounts to 'welfare' by the smell test is sophistry, and the worst sort of intellectual dishonesty.

One question: If illegals are here because Americans won't do the hard work, then what exactly is going to happen when we pass the DREAM Act and all these folks get an education as a pathway to citizenship? Who will be our "hard working" gardeners and field pickers then, and who will the next wave of illegals be in 2020?

Hello Mr. Bob Moon,
Your conversation with Dowell Myers hit a chord with me. It infuriated me when he said two things that " The problem in America is we've educated so much here that all of our native born are above that skill level". And secondly that "For people in the middle of the U.S., they don't have as much exposure and the undocumented workers." First, to me Myers sounds like he's talking from an ivory tower ( deep in the academic kingdom of us-the-well-educated-stan ), he clearly doesn't rub shoulders with enough regular Americans or dismisses the reality of millions of Americans that clearly did not get educated in his schools. Secondly, has he spent enough time in "the middle of country?" Or does he only read books that tell him about life in the middle of the country? If he wants to be well informed, visit true middle America

Why did Marketplace interview this clueless individual? Oh right- he says now "we're above the skill level" to do certain jobs that illegals have been given. But somehow, we're "below the skill level" to be computer programmers and whatever else companies can outsource. Guess what? We used to do all our own labor and we still can. Oh wait, maybe we can outsource some college professor positions because obviously they are working in positions that are above their skill level!

Hi, Friends --
I have listened to Marketplace since its inception, and the interview with Dowell Myers was quite possibly the lamest one I have ever heard on your show. As a UCLA alum, I guess I should not be surprised by any weirdness coming out of USC, but this guy needs to get off his insular campus and travel around the U.S. In additiona to a midday stroll down the legnth of Vermont Avfe., he might try West Virginia (my native state) and try to spot the "over-educated" component of the population. Or try Alabama, Mississippi, or, for that matter, Idaho, where I live now and where the high school dropout rate just continues to climb. He will find many, many people who are simply uneducated and often not even capable of obtaining or holding any job, even Ditchdigging 101. Finally, "Middle America" is full of immigrants, especially those from of Hispanic origin, and my take on the prevalent attitudes in those states is that they believe these folks are here to find jobs, not to take advantage of human services. The general consensus among the working classes in the Great American Outback seems to be that immigrants, legal or illegal, are willing to work for lower wages and work harder than people who were born here.

Cheers, Lloyd Kiff, Star, Idaho and North Vancouver, British Columbia

The USC professor in this article is playing the "people in the middle of the country are so ignorant" card. So tiring. I am a Minnesotan who has lived on the West Coast and I have friends from both coasts. I hear statements along these lines all the time. Guess what, there are in fact numerous immigrants in places like Minnesota (they're generally Asian and African rather than Latino). They're quite visible, in the countryside and in cities (Hmong farmers are easy to spot working they're farms by hand near where I grew up for example, and Ethiopians and Somalis drive most of our taxis). And yes, many many people in the Midwest comprehend that immigrants are often here to work. There may not be as many Latino contractors working Midwestern houses, but that does not mean people in the middle of the country don't understand the nuances of the immigration arguments. Please don't simplify "those people in the middle of the country" as simpletons and please don't assume that Midwesterners have homogenous experiences or opinions. If you do, you actually sound quite ignorant to people like me, who know that life is rich and complex beyond the glare of the coasts.

I'm surprised by Professor Myers' interpretation of the data. Gallup's official results show that the Midwest and the East are essentially identical on nearly every question. Yet, Prof. Myers would lead us to believe that the "middle of the country" is more zenophobic and hostile to immigrants. I think it's Prof. Myers who needs to check his attitudes about regionalism and geography. Check out the Gallup poll, titled "Americans Value Both Aspects of Immigration Reform" (May 2010).

Dowell Myers, a professor of demography and urban planning at USC, thinks that the problem in America is �we've educated so much here that all of our native born� are above the skill level of basic service workers. Since the area around USC is home to thousands of unemployed �native born,� a great many of whom dropped out of school at an early age, it is clear that someone has finally developed a working model of a cloak-of-invisibility and has begun wide scale testing. Sounds like a great investment opportunity to me.

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