Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Immigration Rights | Economic Impact of Illegal Immigrants

According to a New York Times/CBS News Poll, 74% of Americans believed that illegal immigrants weakened the US economy, while only 17% say that illegal immigrants strengthen it.

As a lawyer who practices immigration law, most of my colleagues agree with the minority. Myself included.

According to Newsweek, both legal and illegal immigration boost the US economy, but unevenly and not dramatically. 

Many immigrants do jobs that most Americans refuse to take, which is likely a positive factor. These jobs are the hard-labor dirty jobs that pay relatively poorly. Such jobs include construction, cleaning, and agriculture. 

On the other end of the spectrum, many American employers sponsor immigrants because they have special skills that are not available in the US workforce. 

Generally, the law requires an American employer to hire an immigrant only if insufficient available, qualified, and willing US workers exist. And the employment must not have an adverse effect on the wages and working conditions of similarly situated US workers. INA section 212(a)(5)(A).

For many of the 13 million undocumented immigrants in the US, most economists agree that the low wages keep costs down for items like food and homes. Also with an aging workforce in America, more workers are needed to fund retirement programs.

A Harvard economist concluded that immigration hurts some Americans, like the Americans with less education. Many may compete for the same low-skilled, low-paying jobs as immigrants.

What about all the services illegal immigrants use? An economist from the University of California, San Diego, concluded that these immigrants boost federal funds (Social Security contributions, income tax) but cost the states (schools, health benefits, welfare). Overall? A slightly positive gain.

Many Americans believe that immigrants contribute to rising crime rates. According to studies cited in Time Magazine, there is no correlation. Many immigrants have fear of getting arrested because they may be deported. According to the same article, immigrants bring a sense of community to otherwise dilapidated communities.

The scope of this article is limited. Several important considerations are not explored, like differences between different immigrant groups, what immigrants experience in other parts of the world, and how different circumstances in different areas of the US respond to immigrants.

As an immigration lawyer, I meet many people who arrive the US without documentation. Most often I hear stories of sacrifice and hope. I believe that if the 74% of Americans who believe immigrants weaken the US economy were to listen to the stories of more legal and illegal immigrants, many more Americans would accept immigration as a positive economic influence.

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