The fears shaping the immigration reform debate do not reflect its realities. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has stated that Mexico is sending drugs, crime and rapists to the United States. Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie have echoed his views. That reaction reflects the common fear that immigrants will take jobs, overwhelm social […]
The fears shaping the immigration reform debate do not reflect its realities.
Presidential candidate Donald Trump has stated that Mexico is sending drugs, crime and rapists to the United States. Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie have echoed his views. That reaction reflects the common fear that immigrants will take jobs, overwhelm social services, raise crime, lower our quality of life and, through linguistic division, threaten to our American image. We can only move beyond this with facts.
Hard evidence shows that immigration does not hurt our way of life, but rather helps us to rebuild our economy and enables the standard of living. The Center for American Progress (CAP) reports that less than one in five immigrants live in poverty – 19.1 as opposed to 15.4 – of the native-born population. The CAP reports a consistently lower use by immigrants of social programs such as Medicaid and Supplemental Security than native-born households.
Immigrants overwhelmingly take jobs native-born workers refuse. For example, the U.S. exports dairy products. People can only digest cow’s milk well when they have grown up with it. In China, parents are starting to feed their children milk, creating a new and almost unlimited demand. Wisconsin – the U.S.’s biggest dairy producer at $26 billion a year – depends on a labor force that is 40 percent immigrant, according to the Green Bay Press Gazette. However, Wisconsin dairy cannot expand to profit from this new market unless immigration laws are reformed, since not enough native-born Americans want to wake up that early to milk cows.
The loss to the U.S. economy does not stop here. The Department of Agriculture states that each farm worker creates three more jobs in the less labor intensive sectors like feed, food processing, manufacturing of agricultural equipment and pharmaceuticals, packaging, marketing, and transport that American-born workers take. Thus, Wisconsin’s inability to take in more low-wage immigrants to milk cows prevents job creation for many more native-born citizens!
This holds moving up the economy. David Barrett, CEO of Expensify, an app technology firm, testified before Congress that small businesses and start-ups must be able to hire the best talent – including from overseas. Currently, foreign workers can enter the U.S. on an H1B visa, a non-immigrant status letting U.S. companies to employ foreign workers in specialty occupations in fields such as in architecture, engineering, mathematics, science and medicine. Current law limits entry to 65,000 foreign nationals a year under this status.
Barrett quoted studies showing that for every H-1B visa created, 1.7 jobs are created for native-born Americans while those working in the fields issued H-1B visas see their wages rise. Thus, rather than taking American jobs, hiring immigrants is vital to the creation of more jobs for Americans. The same holds true for other agricultural sectors as well as the food processing, landscaping, hospitality, care-giving, waste-management, and construction industries. Again, by denying economic realities, we prevent economic expansion.
In 2011 the state of Georgia passed an extremely restrictive immigration law, chasing illegals out of the state. Georgia agriculture lost 40 percent of its work force. Not enough Americans took the work, even with probationers walking off the fields without finishing one day. $140 million of produce rotted in the fields. Alabama had a similar experience and managed to discourage further investment when state troopers arrested the manager of its Mercedes plant after a routine traffic violation for not carrying his green card. “Cracking down” on companies that do not check the legal status of their workers seriously damages our economy.
In Maryland, according to Regional Economic Models, Incorporated (REM), immigration reform would boost state economic output by $740 million and create 8,500 new jobs. By 2045, the boost to the state would be around $5.9 billion in ‘2012 dollars.’
Presently, 21.2 percent of Maryland business owners are immigrants, according the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), who generate $2.8 billion in income each year. Now 26.6 percent of science, technology, engineering and math graduates, and 54.3 percent of the engineering PhDs, are foreign-born. Citizenship for both high and low skilled workers would increase total personal income in Maryland by $2.9 billion by 2020, according to REM, and would increase state tax revenue by $163 million.
Maryland sells $1.8 billion in agricultural products. Immigrant workers comprise 21 percent of state farm workers. One study holds that a temporary worker program could, by 2020, create 368 new jobs for both native-born and immigrants, not just in agriculture but in retail, construction and other sectors.
Normalizing the status of illegals, reports the Center for American Progress, would expand the U.S. economy. Naturalized workers would earn higher wages, pay higher taxes, and purchase more goods and services, thus creating economic growth. If legal status were granted today and citizenship within five years, the ten-year cumulative increases in GDP would be $1.1 trillion. This would add an average of 159,000 new jobs a year and new tax revenue of $144 billion over ten years, increasing the earnings of all American workers by $618 billion over the decade. This also translates into $6.1 billion in payroll tax revenue in the first year, increasing to $45 billion over next five years.
According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, passing such legislation would reduce the budget deficit by $135 billion after the first decade and $685 billion in the second. If documented, illegals would contribute $606.4 billion to social security over the next thirty-six years as the baby-boomers retire, thus supporting 2.4 million retirees and relieving the already-strained system. Further, more than two-thirds of the new entrants will replace retiring workers. The U.S. needs 58.6 million workers to do this and has only 51.3 million native born projected to fill these spots. Newly naturalized immigrants can fill the gap of 7.3 million jobs while adding to further growth in labor markets.
None of this, meanwhile, covers the new trade ties, innovations and increases in demand that accompany immigration. Adam Minter, in Junkyard Planet, notes how Chinese-American immigrants have created a billion dollar industry shipping U.S. scrap to China on otherwise empty vessels for recycling, while the Competitive Enterprise Institute quotes Say’s Law of economics, stating that the income generated by an immigrant will generate demand elsewhere in the economy.
Contrast this with the $37 million of missed tax revenue daily because illegals are not paid as much or are not on the tax rolls. As of October, the House of Representative’s inaction had cost $17.7 billion in lost revenues! Unauthorized workers pay $12 billion per year in payroll taxes. If they were authorized this would increase to $20 billion – money that could fund the baby-boomer’s retirement.
Former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann stated that illegal immigrants are at war with the United States.
First, note that 20 percent of all Congressional Medal of Honor recipients are immigrants. According to the Department of Defense, 65,000 immigrants – both naturalized and non-U.S. citizens – comprise 5 percent of our active duty force.
Nine percent of all living U.S. veterans have at least one immigrant parent, while veterans who are immigrants or children of immigrants comprise 12 percent of all veterans. Our military, in the age of asymmetrical warfare in far-off lands, needs and values their unique linguistic, regional and cultural skills. Immigrants in the military have a lower attrition rate – only 4 percent of non-citizens drop out versus 8.2 percent of the native-born population after three months, and 18.2 percent versus 31.9 percent after 48 months. Non-citizens have half the drop-out level of U.S.-born volunteers. Since they make up four percent of all first time recruits, this means significant savings.
Regarding family values and religion, the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project tells us that 61 percent of legal immigrants are Christian, while 83 percent of illegal immigrants are Christian – in contrast to 80 percent of the U.S. population as a whole that calls itself Christian. Fifty-six percent of immigrants come from Latin America; of these 68 percent are Roman Catholic, 15 percent evangelical protestant.
They work hard. The median annual income of second-generation immigrant children in 2012, according to CAP, is $58,100 – only $100 shy of the national average. This shows a significantly higher average than the $45,800 median annual income of their parents. Normally, within 10 years, 70 percent of immigrants are at or above the level they had in their native country. In truth, we generally get the lower middle classes – not the underclass poor – so we receive a population with skills and a work ethic.
Critics such as Bachman worry about illiteracy. The CAP reports that in 2012, 11.6 percent of immigrants had graduate degrees versus 10.4 percent of the native-born population. The same year 69.4 percent of the foreign born population had a high school diploma or higher, compared with 89.9 percent of the native-born population.
Regarding languages, today’s immigrants are actually absorbing English at same rate as all other groups have. We just don’t remember our cities a century ago, with their Italian, German, Polish, Yiddish and Greek newspapers. The unspoken issue remains the change in ethnic demographics and the accompanying fears it brings. Look back again a century or two. Remember how the Irish, the Italians, the Poles and the Greeks were disdained and feared? One of my Ukrainian uncles, in the 1920s, was beat up by the KKK for being an immigrant and a Catholic (he was actually Russian Orthodox, but they didn’t know the difference). Two of my Minnesota aunts swore 90 years ago that they would never marry Swedes (they did, and I have a bunch of wonderful cousins because of it).
We Americans know about bigotry. Let’s look at facts instead.
As for the children, remember the GI Bill? It created the post-war American middle class. Passing of the Dream Act would immediately create one million jobs, while generating over the next twenty years at least $329 billion and 1.4 million jobs. This is cheaper than building prisons to house an uneducated and unwanted population, or attempting to send them back.
This population is also overwhelmingly law-abiding. A 2007 study by Immigration Policy Center showed that immigrant men between the ages of 18-39 had a 0.7 percent incarceration rate, versus 3.5 percent for native-born men of same group. From 1990-2010, the foreign born share of the U.S. population grew from 8 to 13 percent, while violent crime in this period fell by 45 percent, and property crime by 42 percent. According to the Transitional Records Access Clearinghouse, 55.6 percent federal convictions in FY 2014 were immigration related; that is, the government is criminalizing otherwise ordinary people. The most serious convictions of the majority of immigrants are either immigration or traffic violations.
What about our borders? Trump wants to build an enormous wall. Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China, the Maginot Line, and the Berlin Wall all failed. Supply and demand for the world’s most precious commodity – human capital – drives the rush at the border. The U.S. currently spends more on border enforcement – $18 billion – than the annual GDP of 80 countries. This is $3.5 billion more than all other federal law enforcement combined!
By 2008, the cost of deporting a single individual, in apprehension, detention, processing, and transporting, reached $23,482. It breaks apart families, leading to bigger social problems later. Forced deportation, including both border and internal efforts, would cost $285 billion over five years. This amount would pay one million public high school teachers for five years. Self deportation, meanwhile, would lower GDP by $2.6 trillion over ten years.
The amount of treasure and effort expended on essentially innocent people sounds suspiciously like the big government no one wants.
Bachmann wants to confiscate 100 percent of the remittances sent home by immigrants. Ironically, this money has proven most effective in developing these countries as capitalist economies. It does not go through government bureaucracies, nor can crooked politicians siphon it off. It usually goes into small businesses, developing the stability and prosperity that will eventually keep populations at home, and will thus help keep our borders secure.
Of course we need to protect our borders. We will have an easier time doing so, however, if we have an appropriate and intelligent legal structure that anticipates the demand for labor here. We can then concentrate on genuine dangers rather than on the hardworking people our economy needs. Right now the government spends $18 billion a year in enforcement and we lose billions more in productivity. Reformed legislation, on the other hand, would prevent this waste while paying back hundreds of billion over several years, both in reduced deficit and in economic growth.