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Undocumented Immigrants in the Los Angeles Garment Industry: Displacement or Dual Labor Market?

Stewart Long


Since the mid-1970's undocumented immigration (and in California particularly, its Hispanic component) has captured the attention of the media, the public, and government policy makers. Many have viewed this immigration as a problem that mandated the recent revision of our immigration laws, and they also have called for strengthened enforcement of our international borders. One major economic aspect of this purported problem concerns the labor market impact of undocumented immigrants (referred to in most popular accounts as "illegal aliens"). Some observers have maintained that undocumented immigration causes unemployment by creating competition with U.S. citizens and legal residents for a limited pool of existing jobs. This viewpoint, which I shall refer to as the "naive displacement hypothesis" implies that each job held by an undocumented worker is likely to be at the cost of a job loss for a citizen worker. A telephone survey among Southern Californians conducted for the Urban Institute in 1983 found that 48.2 percent of those responding thought that undocumented immigrants were taking jobs away from California residents (Muller and Espenshade 1985:201).

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Print ISSN: 0886-5655
Online ISSN: 2159-1229