What effect do immigrants have on the US economy?

A common argument against immigration is the idea that immigrants "steal American jobs" from hardworking, native-born Americans. However, that is far from the truth, for a plurality of reasons.

First, immigrants typically head toward growing regions in the U.S., where they expand employment opportunities by increasing both supply and demand in the area. They are also most likely to compete for jobs against other immigrants, as opposed to native-born Americans, in part because they often have lower literacy skills, which prevents them from competing for the full range of job opportunities available to natives. In this way, not only do immigrants not have a negative effect on native-born Americans' employment and wages, but they may even have a positive effect in many cases. In a study of various nations worldwide over the past 50 years, researchers found that more cultural diversity (i.e., higher immigrant populations) has a significant positive impact on the growth rate of GDP. Immigration also leads to a more specialized work force, increasing economic productivity; one study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that a one percent increase in immigrant employment per U.S. state leads to a 0.5 percent increase in income per worker across the nation. Between 1990 and 2004, when immigration levels from Latin America peaked in the U.S., about 90 percent of native-born workers experienced economic gains, while the individuals whose wages were most negatively affected were other immigrants. Though native-born workers without a high school degree are somewhat negatively affected by immigration, they only represent eight percent of the American workforce, and this negative impact could easily be alleviated by improving the availability of job training.

Immigration rates are directly tied to economic health in other nations as well. Take Japan, for example. Japan is another country that is strongly opposed to immigration -- and it is in the midst of an economic crisis. This is due largely to Japan's older population demographics, caused by low birth rates and few immigrants entering the workforce. And in Australia, a study found that migrants, both skilled workers and families, granted visas in one year were estimated to have a total lifetime contribution of $8.5 billion to the nation's economy.

Some argue that immigrants abuse the welfare system, allowing the government to support them and their families at the expense of taxpayers. However, this is highly untrue. Most legal immigrants do not have access to welfare for their first five years in the U.S., and illegal immigrants don't have access at all. Immigrants, in general, are also less likely to utilize welfare benefits than native-born Americans; in fact, if working-class Americans used Medicaid and welfare benefits at the same rate as working-class immigrants, the program would be 42% smaller. Immigrants also pay large contributions to Medicare and Social security, despite the fact that many will be ineligible to receive the benefits of these programs, whether in the short-run or the long term.

Immigration rates via the U.S.-Mexico border have actually been decreasing over the past two decades, with monthly apprehensions of illegal border crossings decreasing from over 200,000 per month in 2000 to about 40,300 per month in 2018. Additionally, the number of immigrants turned away at the border has decreased from over 1.2 million in 2005 to less than 400,000 in 2018. The influx of immigrants originating from Mexico, in particular, has declined drastically over the past decade, from about 2,050,000 immigrants in 2007 to 525,000 in 2016.

While President Trump and his team have claimed that immigration is directly correlated with higher rates of crime, particularly of drug-related crimes and sexual assault, both legal and illegal immigrants have far lower crime rates than native-born Americans. Immigrants are only about one-fifth as likely to be incarcerated as native-born Americans; this difference is mostly attributed to a lower propensity to commit a crime in the immigrant population rather than to law enforcement measures, such as deportation, that target immigrants. And though illegal immigration is, obviously, not legal, it is only classified as a misdemeanor under U.S. law, with punishment reaching a maximum of six months of incarceration and up to $250 in fines. Unlawful presence in the U.S. by non-citizens is also not considered a crime, punishable by civil penalties rather than criminal. Thus, an illegal immigrant living in the U.S. cannot be criminally charged or jailed simply for being undocumented.

While immigration rates at the southern border have decreased, immigration via other points of entry has increased -- and so has the rate of immigration among non-Latino ethnicities. For example, there are currently about 50,000 Irish illegal immigrants in the U.S., 30,000 of which are thought to live in New York City. However, there is little attention given to these illegal immigrants because of the color of their skin -- which many European immigrants recognize and use to their advantage. One illegal Irish immigrant, Dermot Byrne, explains, "from my experience, we're not singled out. If someone's driving down the street and they see five Mexican guys on one side and five Irish guys on the other, they're going to think that the Mexicans are illegal, even though it could be the other way around".

In summary, immigration should not be so strongly opposed in this nation, but rather the money poured into border security and detainment of illegal immigrants should be shifted into job training programs, legal services for immigrants to earn their citizenship, and the economy as a whole. Removing all undocumented immigrants from the labor force, as President Trump has supported, is predicted to trigger an economic recession within only one year, reducing GDP by $380 billion and creating a shortage of at least four million in the workforce. On the contrary, increasing legal immigration would increase both total employment and real GDP growth in the U.S. Spending $5.7 billion on a border wall will only lead to an economic recession, crippling the nation in one fell swoop and endangering not only refugees from Latin American nations seeking asylum in the U.S., but native-born Americans as well.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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