Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

The debate about illegal immigration may be a nearly constant feature of American politics, but news that the president’s aunt has been living in the country illegally has certainly added a fresh twist. Even as conservatives howled last year about Zeituni Onyango’s stay in public housing years after a deportation order, the landscape had begun to shift, further muddling a complicated issue. For one, the number of illegal aliens has dropped recently, settling just below 12m, estimates the Pew Research Center. This is mostly due to the souring economy but also because of a surge in deportations of otherwise law-abiding aliens and growing public hostility.

Send ’em back and build a wall” sentiment remains a minority view in America, but the naivety of such solutions bears repeating. Illegal immigrants, mostly Hispanic, are moving less and are twice as likely to be couples with children than US-born people with only half now residing in the traditional enclaves of California, Texas, Florida and New York. Spanish can increasingly be heard in Georgia and Virginia and a growing proportion of America’s youth are children of illegal immigrants. Nearly 7 per cent of school children have an illegal parent and three quarters are US-born, conferring citizenship.

The notion that illegal immigrants steal American jobs rises in hard times but holds little water. Would an unemployed Michigan auto worker really pick grapes in California? A departure of illegal immigrants would make the US and Latin America poorer, for example by raising food prices, and destabilising already shaky countries such as Mexico. Immigration reform might address the strain illegals put on public services in excess of tax revenue. Sadly, it is a political minefield.

If recent trends hold though, ignoring the issue will work eventually. In a generation, today’s illegals will be a large part of tomorrow’s legal workforce, paying taxes to support elderly, non-Hispanic baby boomers who will wonder why they were not legitimised long ago.


Lex is the FT’s agenda-setting column, giving an authoritative view on corporate and financial matters. It is also one of the few parts of FT.com available only to Premium subscribers. This article is provided for free as an example. A Premium subscription gives you unlimited access to all FT content, including all Lex articles and the FT mobile Newsreader.

Subscribe now

If you have questions or comments, please e-mail help@ft.com or call:

US and Canada: +1 800 628 8088
Asia: +852 2905 5555
UK, Europe and rest of the world: +44 (0)20 7775 6248

To e-mail the Lex team confidentially click here
To post public comments click here

The Lex column is now on Twitter. To receive our daily line-up and links to Lex notes via Twitter, click here

Get alerts on UK schools when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.
Reuse this content (opens in new window)

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article