By Drew Callaghan
Most Americans react with surprise when they learn a majority of undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S. – Mexico border in recent years are heading South. From 2009 to 2014, 1 million immigrants returned to Mexico, while 870,000 arrived in the U.S. according to analysis of the latest government data by Pew Research Center.
Of course, President Trump hasn’t let that alter his message. At his August rally in Phoenix, he declared, “Years of uncontrolled immigration have placed enormous pressure on the jobs and wages of working families…It’s unfair to working people of all backgrounds.
But Trump has it backward. In fact, working people benefit from the jobs and economic opportunities provided by immigrants.
In addition to contributing positively to our national economy, immigrants play a crucial role in stabilizing and revitalizing struggling communities. For decades, rural areas and post-industrial cities have grappled with debilitating out-migration. Many of the communities effectively weathering these upheavals have an influx of immigrants to thank.
Immigrants are pumping new life into communities like Akron, Ohio and Storm Lake, Iowa which, unlike nearby towns, recovered from successive economic shocks by embracing immigrants who fill essential jobs, buy homes, and do the thing elemental to a thriving economy: start businesses and create jobs.
Job creation depends largely on new business formation, and immigrant-founded businesses create new jobs that generate $20 billion annually in local and federal taxes. Embracing and welcoming these individuals isn’t just the humane thing to do. It’s also smart economic development strategy.
Trump and other immigration hawks have proposed a new merit-based system that would invite only the “best and brightest” to America. Humanitarian concerns aside, reducing the number of immigrants with low skills and education may seem like smart economic policy. Again, the data disagree. Immigrants with fewer skills and less education actually create new businesses at a higher rate. Counterintuitive, sure, but some observers suggest the characteristics this population embodies – namely risk-tolerance, perseverance and problem-solving skills – ideally suit them for entrepreneurship.
Even immigrants who don’t start businesses have, at worst, a neutral effect on earnings. An analysis by the libertarian Cato Institute found immigration had no significant impact on the wages of American workers. And, although poor immigrants may tap into social services initially, Cato found they use public benefits at a lower rate than poor native-born citizens over the long term.
Furthermore, the idea that immigrants – particularly refugees – lead to more crime is a myth. FBI data for U.S. cities resettling the most refugees per capita indicate both violent and property crime rates fell in 9 of 10 cities — dramatically in some cases. In West Springfield, Massachusetts, the one city where crime increased, an epidemic of opioids — produced by pharmaceutical corporations, not Mexican cartels — was the driving force.
So if Trump truly is concerned about jobs, wages and working families, he would be wise to recognize the contribution that immigrants make to the U.S. economy and its communities. Scapegoating immigrants fuels resentment and hate, not the economic prosperity he promised his followers.
Scapegoating immigrants only fuels resentment and hate, not the economic prosperity he promised.
Drew Callaghan is an Outreach Specialist for AMIBA..
See the Business Against Bigotry “News and Resources” section for research on immigrant entrepreneurship, local success stories and tools to help businesses and communities create an environment that’s safe and welcoming to all. Thanks to Open Society Foundations for supporting this initiative.
Editor’s note: AMIBA takes no position on the number of immigrants the U.S., Canada or any nation should accept and nothing here should be construed to suggest anything less than thorough security vetting of immigrants. We do fight racism, scapegoating and bigotry in all forms (here’s why) and aim to help make the debate over immigration fact-based.
Thoughtful people have widely varying views on immigration, population and how permeable political boundaries should be. Many people (including anti-racism activists) believe net immigration should be limited based on legitimate concerns about undermining the wages or bargaining power of workers in certain trades, environmental impact, and others. We caution against judging anyone’s motives without first learning why a person favors or opposes certain policies!
Nationally, immigrants comprise 13 percent of the population, but comprise 28 percent of Main Street business owners, says a 2015 report, How Immigrant Small Businesses Help Local Economies Grow. Related resource: Low-Skilled Immigrant Entrepreneurship
The Economic Case for Welcoming Immigrant Entrepreneurs 2015 Kauffman Foundation report
Undocumented immigrants are not just Hispanic. They include 1.7 million Asians, for example.