By Charlotte Kugler '14
Not many college students have the opportunity to conduct research that will be used in a presentation before the United States Senate. Aniqa Moinuddin ’13, however, did just that when she interned over the summer at the Federation of American Immigration Reform (FAIR).
An economics major and mathematics minor, Moinuddin became interested in the relationship between the agribusiness sector and the continued rise of illegal immigration while working at FAIR. As part of her internship, she had to create an independent project of her choice on a topic related to illegal immigration.
The two specific questions that Moinuddin set out to answer were: Why are illegal immigration rates higher in the United States than in any other developed nation, and which economic sectors are responsible for perpetuating this trend? Under her supervisor at FAIR, she used the analytical skills she developed at Mount Holyoke to investigate these issues.
Early on in her research, Moinuddin discovered that the agribusiness sector, which employs many unauthorized workers, has powerful lobbyists in the American government who tend to block many immigration reform proposals.
“These lobbyists claim that foreign illegal workers are integral to the production process and that removing them would have a debilitating economic effect,” she explains. “I decided to explore the level of dependence of large commercial farms on unauthorized workers, and whether the farms’ profits could sustain a shift toward a more expensive but legal workforce of native and authorized foreign workers.”
She conducted statistical research and data analysis on aspects of commercial farm policies, focusing on crop farms in particular, as half of the workers on these farms are unauthorized. While the mathematical processes she used to reach her conclusions may seem intimidating to some, Moinuddin says for her it was a fairly straightforward project.
The main experiment she carried out involved determining how much commercial farms would suffer financially if all present illegal workers became authorized. Currently, legal workers earn more than illegal workers, so Moinuddin computed the amount of money crop farms would have to put toward equalizing the wages once illegal immigrants became legal.
In contrast to agribusiness’s claim that their success depends on hiring illegal workers and paying them minimally, Moinuddin says, “I found that offering authorized worker wages to unauthorized workers would decrease net farm incomes by small margins and keep the typical farm profitable and financially secure.”
Will her conclusion influence efforts by agribusiness lobbyists to enable illegal immigration? Her supervisor presented their findings before the Senate during a hearing about revising the guest farm worker visa acquirement process and immigration in general. The senators had mixed reactions, she reports.
“Senator Cornyn (R-Texas) appreciated and was receptive of the study, while Senator Feinstein (D-California) held that the study ‘ignores realities,’ ” Moinuddin says.
As for what Moinuddin herself proposes based on what she has learned, she recommends streamlining the visa process so employers can petition for visas for foreign migrant workers only under the condition that they provide legal wages.
“All in all, greater flexibility needs to be built into the system,” she says.
Moinuddin hopes the results of her work will help inform future decisions regarding immigration reform and employment policies in the United States.