The data analyzed in IPC's latest Special Report, Economic Progress via Legalization, indicates that unauthorized immigrants who gained legal status in the 1980s through the legalization provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) experienced clear improvement in their socioeconomic situation. Between 1990 and 2006, the educational attainment of IRCA immigrants increased substantially, their poverty rates fell dramatically, and their home ownership rates improved tremendously. Moreover, their real wages rose, many of them moved into managerial positions, and the vast majority did not depend upon public assistance. The findings presented in this report support the notion that legalization of unauthorized immigrants can play a role in promoting economic growth and lessening socioeconomic disparities. Reforming our immigration system is not an obstacle to getting our economy back on track—it is part of the solution.
The public debate over immigration reform, which all too often devolves into emotional rhetoric, could use a healthy dose of economic realism. As Congress and the White House fulfill their recent pledges to craft immigration-reform legislation in the months ahead, they must ask themselves a fundamental question: can we afford any longer to pursue a deportation-only policy that ignores economic reality?
At a time of economic recession, high unemployment, and budget deficits, policymakers and the public are concerned about the impact of immigration—especially unauthorized immigration—on state and local economies. In particular, there is debate over whether or not unauthorized immigrants are a drain on the budgets of state and local governments because of the public services they utilize. Accurately assessing the costs and contributions of immigrants, particularly unauthorized immigrants, is a challenge, but research shows that roughly one-half of unauthorized immigrants pay federal and state income taxes, Social Security taxes, and Medicare taxes. Moreover, all immigrants (legal and unauthorized) pay sales taxes (when they buy anything at a store, for instance) and property taxes (even if they rent housing). Below is a survey of a number of state studies which have found that immigrants in general—and the unauthorized specifically—contribute to the public treasuries and economies of many states and localities.
Anti-immigrant groups have repeatedly tried to drive a wedge between African Americans and immigrants by capitalizing on the myth that immigrants take American jobs. In a new Perspectives piece for the Immigration Policy Center, Yale Professor Gerald Jaynes dispels the myth that immigrants take “black jobs” and instead suggests we find solutions on how to lift up all low-wage American workers.
Most African Americans are very conflicted about the immigration issue. African Americans, who have long espoused strong beliefs in principles of equality of opportunity, the rights of the downtrodden, and respect for humanity viewed in its broadest terms, are especially cognizant of the hypocrisy embedded within ethnocentric demands for an end to immigration. For the nation, immigration‘s economic benefits exceed its costs, but the costs are disproportionately borne by certain social groups and geographic areas. Rather than divide the public over the issue of depriving the country of the benefits to help the few who pay the highest costs, we need to be engaging in a political debate over the kinds and levels of compensatory policies that should be enacted to help low‐income citizens.
Now more than ever, Americans are seeking real solutions to our nation’s problems, and there is no better place to start than protecting our workers, raising wages, and getting our economy moving again. Part of this massive effort must include workable answers to our critically important immigration problems.
U.S. immigration policy is based on denial. Most lawmakers in the United States have largely embraced the process of economic “globalization,” yet stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that increased migration, especially from developing nations to developed nations, is an integral and inevitable part of this process.
According to new estimates from the Pew Hispanic Center, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States did not increase between 2007 and 2008, and may actually have fallen. These findings should come as no surprise given the current state of the economy.
While the U.S. government has poured billions upon billions of dollars into immigration enforcement, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has increased dramatically. Rather than reducing undocumented immigration, this enforcement-without-reform strategy has diverted the resources and attention of federal authorities to the pursuit of undocumented immigrants who are drawn here by the labor needs of our own economy.
Since the mid-1980s, the federal government has tried repeatedly, without success, to stem the flow of undocumented immigrants to the United States with immigration-enforcement initiatives: deploying more agents, fences, flood lights, aircraft, cameras, and sensors along the southwest border with Mexico; increasing the number of worksite raids and arrests conducted throughout the country; expanding detention facilities to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants apprehended each year; and creating new bureaucratic procedures to expedite the return of detained immigrants to their home countries. At the same time, the economic integration of North America, the western hemisphere, and the world has accelerated, facilitating the rapid movement of goods, services, capital, information, and people across international borders. Moreover, the U.S. economy demands more workers at both the high-skilled and less-skilled ends of the occupational spectrum than the rapidly aging, native-born population provides. The U.S. government’s enforcement-without-reform approach to undocumented immigration has created an unsustainable contradiction between U.S. immigration policy and the U.S. economy. So far, the economy is winning.