Republican hysteria about immigration at the southern border is both stupid and racist: Stupid, because most people who are in this country illegally have flown in and overstayed their visas, and racist because–hey!–it’s the GOP and those people at the southern border tend to be brown.
The GOP’s anti-immigrant fervor isn’t so different from the anti-immigrant hatred documented by Ken Burns in “America and the Holocaust”–only the targets have shifted. A little.
In light of DeSantis and Abott’s recent efforts to prove that “libtards” don’t understand the terrible threat posed by brown people trying to escape horrific situations, I thought I’d share some inconvenient things called “facts.”
I know facts are out of fashion these days, but it is instructive to look at the actual impact of immigration. As David Brooks wrote a few years back, “when you wade into the evidence you find that the case for restricting immigration is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.”
So what are the facts—as opposed to the xenophobic fears? A couple of years ago, I did some research; this is what I found then.
Immigrants make up about 14% of the U.S. population; more than 43 million people. Together with their children, they are about 27% of us. Of the 43 million, approximately 11 million are undocumented.
What anti-immigrant activists like to call “chain migration” is actually family re-unification and it applies only to close relatives; of the people granted permanent residency in 2016, about two-thirds fell into that category.
Immigrants made up 17% of the U.S. workforce in 2014, and two-thirds of those were here legally. Collectively, they were 45% of domestic workers, 36% of manufacturing workers, and 33% of agricultural workers. Those percentages help to explain why state-level efforts to curb immigration have come back to bite them: in Alabama a few years ago, when the state passed a draconian new immigration law, crops rotted in the fields. Farmers couldn’t find native-born residents willing to do the work.
Right now, restaurants are desperate for waitstaff and kitchen help.
Despite the hateful rhetoric from the GOP, most Americans today consider immigration a good thing: in 2016, Gallup found 72% of Americans viewed immigrants favorably, and as many as 84% supported a path to citizenship for undocumented persons who met certain requirements. Another poll showed that 76% of Republicans supported a path to citizenship. (It’s worth noting that such support was higher than the 62% who supported a border wall.)
What about the repeated claims that immigrants are a drain on the economy? The data unequivocally shows otherwise. As the Atlantic and several other sources have reported, undocumented immigrants pay billions of dollars into Social Security for benefits they will never receive. These are people working on faked social security cards; employers deduct the social security payments and send them to the government, but because the numbers aren’t connected to actual accounts, the worker can never access the contributions. The Social Security system has grown increasingly—and dangerously– reliant on that revenue; in 2010, the system’s chief actuary estimated that undocumented immigrants had contributed roughly 12 billion dollars to the program.
The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that approximately half of undocumented workers pay income taxes, and all of them pay sales and property taxes. In 2010, those state and local taxes amounted to approximately 10.6 billion dollars.
The most significant impact of immigration by far has been on innovation and economic growth. The Partnership for a New American Economy issued a research report in 2010: the key findings included the fact that more than 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Collectively, companies founded by immigrants and their children employ more than 10 million people worldwide; and the revenue they generate is greater than the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S., China and Japan.
The names of those companies are familiar to most of us: Intel, EBay, Google, Tesla, Apple, You Tube, Pay Pal, Yahoo, Nordstrom, Comcast, Proctor and Gamble, Elizabeth Arden, Huffington Post. A 2012 report found that immigrants are more than twice as likely to start a business as native-born Americans. As of 2011, one in ten Americans was employed by an immigrant-run business.
On economic grounds alone, then, we should welcome immigrants. But not only do we threaten undocumented persons, we make it incredibly difficult to come here legally. If there is one fact that everyone admits, it is the need to reform a totally dysfunctional and inhumane immigration system. Based upon logic and the national interest, it’s hard to understand why Congress has been unwilling or unable to craft reasonable legislation.
Of course, logic and the national interest have been missing from Washington for some time. Compassion went with them.
Bigotry, however, continues to thrive.