The other day I was at a friend’s house when her housekeeper Kelly (not her real name) announced that my friend would probably never see her again. It turns out Kelly is an undocumented worker from a Caribbean country, something my friend never knew since she contracted with a cleaning service, which she assumed handled employment procedures and policies.
Kelly is leaving America now before she is captured in a routine Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) round-up and deported. Her reasoning is impeccable: If she leaves now, she can take her possessions. If she waits until she is picked up, she will likely lose everything not in her immediate possession. The fact that all three of her children in her home country now have good middle class jobs and she has a grandchild back home helped to tip the scales in favor of leaving America.
Kelly is one frightened lady. She quickly reeled off ICE raids she has heard have occurred recently: at the Atlantic Avenue subway station, a major transportation hub in Brooklyn; in Brighton Beach, home of many Russian immigrants; throughout Queens, which is the most ethnically diverse place in the galaxy. She rattled off location after location where immigrants tend to congregate that have been felt the wrath of the ICEmen and ICEwomen coming.
Kelly wasn’t reacting to the raids per se, but to the increased publicity about the raids. My encounter with her came before Trump’s Draconian executive order greatly expanded the categories of undocumented immigrants who would be priorities for deportation. The statistics show that Trump’s ICE is not picking up or deporting undocumented individuals with any greater frequency than Obama’s ICE did. Of course, one of the dirty little secrets of the Obama Administration was the zeal with which his Department of Homeland Security rounded up and deported the undocumented. Kelly, who has never been in trouble with the law anywhere for anything, is reacting not to statistics, or even to her own experiences. Her fears primarily are a response to Donald Trump’s troglodytic chest-thumping and ugly threats. And she is not alone. As the news media have reported, immigrant communities across the country are feeling an overwhelming anxiety over raids and deportation, greater than what they have ever felt before.
We ended up having a lengthy conversation with Kelly. Besides cleaning houses for the service, she also has independent clients, which makes her, as she put, “an entrepreneur.” She certainly displayed many traits of successful entrepreneurs like practicality and a certain business cunning. It also turns out that Kelly is well-versed in current events and seems to know more about immigration trends, the economy and the constitution than the blowhard who won the vote in the Electoral College in the last presidential election. A talented person who is a great asset to her clients and to the overall community. America is a lesser nation without her.
According to all studies, America will be a lesser nation without the millions of people Trump wants to deport. For example, about seven years ago, a study by economist Giovanni Peri for the Federal Reserve Bank (THE FED) of San Francisco found that when immigration increases, the wages of the average U.S. worker increases a little and that the productivity of the entire economy improves. More recently, Peri and another economist, Andri Chassamboulli, have found that deporting undocumented immigrants decreases employment and would lower the wages of native born Americans, while legalization of the undocumented would increase both employment and wages for American citizens. In other words, sending the undocumented home, as the Trump Administration wants to do, hurts the overall economy and all workers.
Most of the upper middle and solidly middle class people who supported Hillary Clinton (who we should never forget was one of the most qualified presidential candidates in American history and defeated Trump by almost three million votes in the popular election) have expressed sincere empathy with immigrants, Muslims, poor women, those without college diplomas and others who seemed the likeliest victims of Trumpian and Republican wrath, greed and stupidity. Many of those who are well off without being rich have acted on that empathy by attending demonstrations, writing Congressmen and donating to organizations fighting Trump’s policies or helping its victims.
I think for the most part, though, those of the upper middle and solidly middle part of the wealth spectrum thought they wouldn’t be hurt by a Trump Administration, especially once the stock market started to soar. They have jobs, healthcare, money in the bank, and ancestors who came from Europe. I think many have felt a little guilt over the fact that they would probably continue to thrive under Trump’s America. I have no studies on this issue, but see a lot of evidence of it on social media.
But there’s no reason for those who are well off but not rich to feel guilty, because the big hurt Trump and the GOP are planning for America will affect everyone but the very rich. As more immigrants—legal and otherwise—return or are returned to their native countries, the economy will shrink. Business and individuals will find it harder to fill the jobs that immigrants tend to take because native born Americans don’t want them—housekeepers, dishwashers, taxi drivers, short-term laborers, farm workers. Meanwhile, the Republican plan to “fix” the Affordable Care Act will end up raising the cost of health insurance for everyone, even those few people who did not benefit from its implementation. Dismantling pollution regulations will also raise healthcare costs for everyone, as more people will get sick. Wait. There’s more! If Trump gets his way and tariffs on imported goods rise, everyone will end up paying a lot more money for everything they buy. Everything. Lowering taxes on the wealthy will not create any more jobs in the private sector, if the history of western capitalism since before the 19th century holds true, but will reduce government jobs as programs shrink to pay for the additional tax cuts. Lower taxes on the wealthy will soon enough create another bubble in the stock market and/or other assets, as rich folk search desperately for places to park all the extra money they have. History again tell us what will happen. The bubble will burst. Billionaires may lose a couple of hundred million. Those in the upper middle class may lose their retirement savings. The economy will be savaged, putting millions of people who aren’t independently wealthy out of work all along the income spectrum.
There’s a whole mess of pain coming for everyone but the ultra-wealthy.