Financial Crisis Especially Harsh on Illegal Immigrant Populations in the U.S. and EU     Print Email
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Illegal immigrants are prime victims of the economic collapse on both sides of the Atlantic. They are among the hardest-hit categories amid layoffs and rising unemployment.

As a group, they are often scape-goated for the mounting problems of other low-paid workers in Western countries where they were once welcomed as a source of cheap labor, often in jobs that local people did not want to do.

The change in attitudes is widespread. In Europe, recent polls in the United Kingdom showed that 78% percent of working adults believed unemployed illegal immigrants should be deported to their home countries – a contrast to more liberal attitudes a year ago. In Spain, police in Madrid have been given quotas for arresting illegal immigrants, particularly North Africans, a step branded as “racist” by human-rights groups. The immigration issue has fueled support for ultra-nationalist political parties in other European countries, including some in eastern Europe where two governments have already fallen amid protests about economic hardship.

A similar dynamic is at work in the United States. Even before the financial crisis began, national attention had been focused on tightening U.S. borders: on average, a half-million people cross the border illegally, usually from Mexico. Government raids have become more frequent on businesses suspected of employing “undocumented” workers. In some communities, rules have been tightened – for example, denying driver’s licenses to non-citizens. Driving infractions that used to result in a simple fine now can escalate to deportation. Many businesses now refuse to hire anyone who does not have a valid social security number, making it much more difficult for illegal immigrants to find even low-paid menial work.

The Pew Hispanic Center says that of the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., more than 80 percent are from Latin America. Unemployment in this population has risen from 5.6% at the end of 2007 to 8.4% at the end of 2008 — compared to the 2008 national average of 6.7%. The Hispanic illegal immigrant population earns on average $100 less per week than other workers in similar jobs.

Many illegal immigrants have lost their ties to their countries of origin and assimilated into the culture of their host country: getting married, buying homes and having children there. This assimilation complicates the option of deportation.