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Coming to America


Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:40 pm

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“Our immigration system is broken and the government must act in a comprehensive way to fix it,” says Randel Johnson, US Chamber of Commerce vice president for labor, immigration, and employee benefits. “Our immigration and visa policy must ensure employers are able to fill jobs critical to our economy when American workers are not available.” Some labor unions have backed this plan, too, making a rather unusual coalition.

And liberals use remarkably similar reasoning in endorsing Bush’s goals for amnesty and guest worker programs. “Comprehensive immigration reform would protect our security, allow our economy to grow, protect the wages of US workers, honor our value of rewarding hard work, restore the rule of law, and respect America’s traditional embrace of immigrants,” says the Center for American Progress.

President Bush said his failed plan to create a temporary worker program (admitting 400,000 people annually) would “meet the legitimate needs of American employers.” The Chamber has argued, in Congressional testimony, that because the Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the number of those in the work force between the ages of 25 and 34 to grow by only three million between 2002 and 2012, and says the aging work force will erode American competitiveness. It adds that the US fertility rate will decline to 1.91 between 2015 and 2020, below “replacement level.” Meanwhile, by 2010, 77 million baby boomers will retire. By 2030, one in five Americans is projected to be a senior citizen, the Chamber says.

But selectively quoting the fertility rate is highly misleading, because it ignores the population growth fueled by immigration. Without the constant influx, the US would indeed have a shrinking population similar to Western Europe. But with immigration, it is slated to take a giant leap forward. The Census Bureau estimates the US population will reach an incredible 419 million by 2050. With numbers like that, an American “birth dearth” affecting competitiveness is not only unlikely, but it’s also well nigh impossible.

Obviously, the employment issue has as many facets as a diamond; for every immigrant who “takes” a US job, there’s another one being shipped overseas by the same companies that encourage high immigration rates. And new factories abroad encourage people to stay home and not emigrate.

Costs and Contributions
Immigrants contribute much to American society, and it’s important not to scapegoat them. According to Sebastian Mallaby, director of the Council on Foreign Relations’ Center for Geoeconomic Studies, in California in 2004 an impressive 94 percent of undocumented men ages 18 to 64 were in the workforce, compared with 82 percent of native-born men. The Pew Hispanic Center reports that approximately 7.2 million undocumented immigrants are working in the US today, comprising some 4.9 percent of the overall workforce.

“Far from being part of a shiftless underclass, the act of coming to the United States makes immigrants among the most upwardly mobile groups in the nation, only a bit behind hedge-fund managers,” Mallaby says.

And there is conflicting information about illegal immigrants’ burden on social services. They pay no income taxes but do pay sales and payroll taxes. They visit hospital emergency rooms and attend schools, but are ineligible for welfare, food stamps, and Medicaid. According to Gordon Hanson of the University of California, San Diego, the net effect of undocumented workers on native-born Americans is roughly zero. A 1997 RAND Corporation study had similar findings.

But Hanson’s numbers are far from definitive. Robert Rector of the conservative Heritage Foundation comes to much different conclusions. He says the 4.5 million low-skilled immigrant households circa 2004 produced an average net fiscal deficit of $19,588, or $89.1 billion in total. “Over the next 10 years,” he wrote last year, “the net cost (benefits minus taxes) to the taxpayer of low-skill immigrant households will approach $1 trillion.”

Another study, by Donald Huddle of Rice University, estimates that immigration to the US since 1970 (both legal and illegal) has cost taxpayers a net $68 billion (after subtracting the taxes legal immigrants pay).

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