In his first inaugural address as president of the United States, Donald Trump made clear his stance on immigration. He asserted that under the current system, immigration costs American taxpayers ‘billions and billions of dollars a year’.
While this number seems exaggerated, several different schools of thought seem to support this viewpoint. In a Gallup poll conducted in June 2017, it was found that the majority of respondents felt that immigrants were more of an economic burden than a contributor.
Pia Orrenius, Vice President and Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Texas stated that “it is notable that, with one exception every generation, immigrant and native, at every level of government consumes more in public benefits than they contribute in taxes. Because the nation is running a sizable deficit, the entire public represents a net cost on average.” Orrenius used a formula to calculate the marginal impact which excludes items such as public debt, defence and other foreign spending as these were incurred or are unrelated to the arrival of immigrants. However, the result still reflected first generation immigrations as a net fiscal burden mainly due to large family numbers utilizing free services such as schooling and Medicare, but albeit with a smaller deficit than that incurred by native-born citizens. Additionally, one could argue that notwithstanding the allocative efficiency argument for tax revenue usage, there is also the issue of whether or not a migrant should be fiscally responsible and accountable for the enjoyment of the benefits of these unrelated impact spendings.
On the other hand, most economists agree that immigrants do not cost the government billions of dollars a year as asserted by the president. In fact, a study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the average immigrant contributes an average of $259,000. Second generation immigrants with a minimum of a high school diploma are on average net fiscal positive contributors.
The number of deportations has risen since Trump’s ascension to the presidency and its downside cannot be ignored. If these workers were sent home ‘en-masse’ this will leave a significant gap in the labour force namely in jobs in agriculture as well as construction and particularly in states such as California, Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey and Texas. With a 49% labour participation rate, it is doubtful that this space will be filled especially at the lower prevailing wage rates previously accepted by immigrants. The resultant upward pressure on wages would soon spill-over into higher prices.
However, if these workers are allowed to obtain citizenship, not only will tax revenues increase but local spending will also rise. Recent studies reflect immigrant tax revenues of $11.6 billion per year, perhaps arising out of the fear of deportation. As such, it is estimated that in the event of a mass deportation, even if the vacancies were filled by natives at the prevailing rates, the net impact will be only ‘slightly positive at best’.
Admittedly, these studies are limited to documented immigrants. According to the Pew Research Centre Study, there were 11.3 million unauthorized immigrants in the US in 2014, of which 71% were labour force participants while the US labour participation rate was approximately 49%.
Illegal immigration is often decried as one of the bigger problems of our generation however, it persists because it makes economic sense. Since illegal immigration is not as widely spread across an arbitrary array of skillsets and subjected to as much bureaucracy as its legal counterpart, it allows for a more efficient and available pool of mainly unskilled labour to fill any gaps.
While critics aver that illegal immigrants place a strain on resources in the utilization of services such as health care and education, from an economic standpoint, it expands the workforce and therefore increases the productivity of related resources while keeping down local wage rates which translates to greater productivity for businesses.
Then there is the social aspect. Not all immigrants are moving for economic reasons. Statistics from the Department of Homeland Security reflected that from 2011 to 2016, children seeking asylum cited an equal mix of economics and violence for migration. For every 10 homicides in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras led to more than 6 extra unaccompanied child minor asylum seeker.
The Trump administration recently enacted the removal of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) allowing for the deportation of undocumented immigrants as well as the commencement of Border Separations where at least 2,500 children were separated from their parents. However, the policy is not specifically to separate children from their parents, but that those guilty of crossing the border illegally cannot remain with their families in prison; and the majority are held in ‘family units’.
Border crossers are usually held in detention centres for a few weeks as they await trial, where they then face a judge in an assembly line fashion. The questioning takes a few minutes, after which they are sentenced, usually to time served, once a guilty plea is given. One courtroom in Texas saw as many as 1,000 cases in one day.
More and more persons are also coming in from Central America as asylum seekers which afford a certain amount of protection according to both United States and International Laws. It allows for restrictions on the possibility of deportation, the length of time a person can be detained and the treatment of children. However, there are reported cases of separations even if the family enters through recognized points of entry. The Trump administration claims that this might only occur under extraordinary circumstances where they feel it might be in the best interest of the child.
In theory, these children are held in foster care until a family member or close friend claims them. But the reported atrocities that occur are terrible. But the reality is far different. One reporter revealed that family members are often told by Border Patrol that they will never see their families again.
In June of this year, facilities were reportedly 95% full with 11,000 children held; nonetheless, the majority of these children most likely crossed the border alone.
One Civil Liberties Union in May 2018 reported cases of verbal, physical and sexual abuse of these children by Border Patrol. Also, the question of the placement of these children is under scrutiny as most of them fall out of contact soon after release in the United States.
During the midterm elections, another issue under debate was the revocation of Birthright Citizenship. Experts agree that this will not be easy to accomplish as the Fourteenth Amendment asserts that this is a fundamental right – ‘Jus Soli’ – ie. ‘right of the soil’. Critics argue that it could result in a potential loss or dilution of culture but these excuses all reek of xenophobia if not downright bigotry. This is firmly entrenched in US Law and was solidified by the Supreme Court’s decision in 1890 which allowed African Americans the automatic right to citizenship with no threat of deportation.
Nonetheless, a lot of the fear surrounding these asylum seekers is related to criminal activity. Yet, violent crimes committed by immigrants are currently diminishing. For instance, the unauthorized immigrant population in New York increased from 400,000 in 1990 to 1.2 million today while the number of homicides fell sharply from 2,262 to 292.
Meanwhile, our society is experiencing a cultural shift toward values such as increased awareness of social justice causes, elimination of discrimination and racism, reduced intolerance on the basis of demographic or arbitrary factors and openness.
So what’s the solution?
Perhaps a realization that these issues are an inescapable reality that needs to be addressed. The European Union suggests a certain amount of accommodation from countries that are able to afford it toward over-burdened countries as well as the creation of a European ID specifically tailored for refugees and asylum seekers to allow for ease of movement, monitoring and integration. The implementation of a fund by the Union to assist with these efforts as well as creating ease of financial inclusion with sufficient regulatory compliance incorporated within is also suggested. Border patrols are needed to reduce the incidents of evasions, however, this is more likely to be effective if accompanied by adequate integration policies.
One thing is for sure, there is significant evidence to support the fact that well integrated immigration increases tax revenues, contributes to economic growth and productivity and do not pose any significant burden on resources and “when refugees are relegated to the ghettos, when they cannot integrate and succeed economically, and build futures, the fabric of our society frays and frays until it tears.”
We often fail to appreciate how fortunate we are to live in a country where governments are elected to power in a free and fair election, where we are free to practice our religion, where disputes can be settled by rule of law and where we are not subjected to such violent conditions that we constantly live under the shadow of fear for our lives. The majority of citizens have access to food and clean drinking water and have a roof over their heads. Even recently, for those who suffered devastation with the recent flooding, there was no need to seek external aid, but the citizens banded together in support without prejudice and without hesitation.
In life, we sometimes fail to appreciate that there are those who are less fortunate than ourselves and are subjected to degrading conditions on a daily basis.
The issue on point here is that we should be able to appreciate that the persons forced into these situations are often not the ones to blame for their circumstances and should be treated with some measure of dignity and compassion. By all means, they should be held accountable and responsible for their contribution to the country as a whole as well as their enjoyment of the liberties and or benefits afforded, but at no point in time should we forget that having good fortune comes with the responsibility of taking care of those who cannot take care of themselves, this is the very definition of humanity.
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