Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist and a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune. Read his column here
Ruben Navarrette says people shouldn't blame their failures on competition from illegal immigrants.
SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- Here's the good news: Authorities say that fewer illegal immigrants are crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. The Los Angeles Times recently reported that arrests along the U.S.-Mexico border in the last five months are down 24 percent from the same period last year.
At the current rate, the level of apprehension this year could be the lowest since 1975.
A big reason is the frightful U.S. economy. After all, you don't often see people trying to break into a house when the house is on fire. Some illegal immigrants are even going home to Mexico.
But here's the bad news: There are still plenty of illegal immigrants in the United States who have families here, and they aren't leaving. And apparently those who are here are, because of the bad economy, more threatening than ever to those low-skilled U.S. workers who have to compete with them.
And now this issue has become part of the debate over the economic stimulus law recently signed by President Obama. Researchers at The Heritage Foundation and the Center for Immigration Studies (which favors limiting all immigration, even the legal kind) estimate that illegal immigrants could fill as many as 300,000 construction jobs. That's about 15 percent of the 2 million jobs that new taxpayer-financed projects are expected to create.
Advocacy groups say there is no way to predict how many jobs might go to illegal immigrants.
No matter. The topic is grist for talk radio and those blood-pressure-raising curmudgeons on cable TV. Why, they ask, should American tax dollars go to illegal immigrants? As if illegal immigrants don't pay taxes. They do -- sales taxes, property taxes, even income taxes thanks to something called an ITIN (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number), which Uncle Sam helpfully created to allow those who don't have valid Social Security numbers to still dread April 15.
Conservatives are miffed that Congress ignored their pleas to require employers who compete for stimulus funds to use the E-verify program. Run by the Department of Homeland Security, that program lets those employers who choose to participate verify the validity of Social Security numbers provided by new hires.
But the E-verify system needs to have its own accuracy verified. According to the Wall Street Journal, in 2007, DHS commissioned an independent study of the program, which found that "the database used for verification is still not sufficiently up to date to meet the requirements for accurate verification." The error rate was almost 10 percent. Someone using a valid Social Security card that doesn't belong to him would go undetected. Oh, is that all?
I understand that there is a larger issue here. As I've said for the last 15 years of writing about immigration, those who hire illegal immigrants should be prosecuted and jailed. But, in those cases where illegal immigrants squeak by and wind up on the job, U.S. workers have to compete with them, like it or not.
And that brings me to what really bothers me about this controversy. It's a sad state of affairs when people who were born in this, the freest and most prosperous country on Earth -- instantly becoming U.S. citizens, no less -- with a free education and every other opportunity to improve their lives find themselves afraid to compete with a group of people who don't have legal status, often can't speak English, and usually have no more than a 6th-grade education.
My fellow Americans, stop your trembling. Show some dignity. If you don't like competing with illegal immigrants, try making better choices. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Turn off those TV shows that constantly bash globalization and immigration.
Go back to school. Get more training. Move out of the comfort zone of your hometown to take a job in another state, if necessary. Take responsibility for your own life. And stop thinking the world owes you a living.
That was the "tough love" message I shared with the construction worker who called into a Las Vegas, Nevada, radio show about a year ago to complain that construction firms on the Strip were paying the same wage they were 20 years earlier. The caller blamed illegal immigrants, who he said were keeping wages low.
It's interesting that he didn't blame the companies that employed the firms, or the firms themselves. And of course, he never thought to look in the mirror and blame himself for not taking steps to improve his skills in the last 20 years. Maybe he could have gone into a different line of work long ago. He decided not to.
I suppose illegal immigrants were to blame for that, too.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette.