Many proponents of the Gang of Eight amnesty have made the false claim that the 1986 amnesty raised wages for illegal aliens by 15 percent, and the same boost would occur today if the Schumer-Rubio amnesty were passed. This bogus assertion is based upon a 2010 Center for American Progress (CAP) report that misrepresented a 1996 Department of Labor (DOL) report on the economic process of amnestied aliens five years after legalization.
The author of the CAP report, Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, an associate professor of Chicano Studies at UCLA, correctly stated that a survey for DOL found “real hourly wages of immigrants who acquired legal status under IRCA’s general legalization program had increased an average of 15.1 percent by 1992,” but he incorrectly attributes this to amnesty, directly contradicting the conclusions of the researchers whose work he cited.
What the DOL researchers found was that while amnestied aliens wages did increase 15 percent by 1992, this was the exact same amount as the wage increase for non-amnestied workers. An improving economy, not amnesty, resulted in wage gains for all workers on average. However, digging a little deeper, the DOL researchers discovered that those 1986 amnesty recipients who were younger, better educated, spoke English well, were earning better than average wages before amnesty, were from Asia and Europe, and were visa overstayers as opposed to illegal border crossers, did much better after amnesty. As a group, Mexican nationals, who accounted for 70 percent of those amnestied, did the worst.
The researchers found that the “likelihood of unemployment was higher for legalized than for other U.S. men,” and “after five years of legal U.S. residence, a disproportionate share of legalization families were still below the poverty threshold.” Hinojosa failed to report these facts. He also failed to mention that between 1986 and 1992 the minimum wage rose 27 percent, driving up the average hourly wage for workers, another factor unrelated to amnesty.
See the full analysis of the CAP claims here.