The United States is called home to more immigrants than any other nation. In 2015, the United Nations estimated that forty-six million individuals living in the United States are international migrants, an amount nearly four times larger than the second most migrated country—Germany (Connor & Lopez, 2016). The United Nations Migration Agency defines a migrant as “any person who is moving or has moved across an international border” (United Nations, 2019). Some migrants travel great distances from places like Mexico, China, and India to seek a better life in the United States.
Migration efforts can be done either legally or illegally. Due to the current process of lawful migration not matching the flux of migrants entering the United States, the implications of immigration in the United States has become a major topic that is constantly under debate. What do we know about immigration’s effect in the United States? Is it beneficial or harmful to our success as a nation? In this paper, I will describe the contributions migrants provide to the United States. Because immigrants have become targeted as a source of crime in the news, I will start by dispelling the belief that migrants can be a threat to our safety; I will then follow-up this challenge by presenting the positive impact immigrants have on our innovation, economic output, and long term cultural significance—by doing so I will convey how sealing our borders and not providing a pathway to citizenship can prove damaging to our country’s well-being.
The United States is a country founded by immigrants and it is often referred to as “the nation of immigrants”. This should come as no surprise, as currently thirteen percent of its population is composed of immigrants—the largest such proportion since the 1890s (Rashford, 2019). Even with immigrants making up a large portion of American society, many citizens still criticize the flux of immigrants. Over the past three decades, immigrants have been largely mischaracterized and misrepresented by news outlets and other forms of media. For instance, during Donald Trump’s candidacy speech, he expressed messages of bigotry towards immigrants unprecedented in modern politics to appeal to pools of voters who faced economic uncertainty.
In his speech, he particularly addressed Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers” whose motive was to “bring crime” to the states (Times, 2015). During his first year of presidency, Trump and his administration’s immigraton policy became formulated around the concept that immigrants bring crime into America, and ultimately used immigrants as scapegoats for the lack of economic stability for working-class Americans. In an analysis published by Anna Flagg titled “The Myth of the Criminal Immigrant”, Flagg dispels the notion that “everyday, sanctuary cities release illegal immigrants, drug dealers, traffickers, gang members back into our communities” and that sanctuary cities are “safe havens for just some terrible people” (Flagg, 2018).
By powerfully presenting data published that demonstrates national crime decreasing as national immigration has been increasing, she illustrates that the positive correlation between crime and immigration only exists in the mind of some. However, despite published research highlighting no association between immigration and crime, the current perspective on immigration remains negative and skewed. President Trump’s daring announcement speech and the adamant belief of criminal immigrants possessed by some Americans are examples of misconceptions and inappropriate attitudes towards migrants in the United States. Though individuals from a migrant background may perform a crime, given the published data, they are likely the exception and not the rule.
In the 2012 Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPPS), researchers reported on the effects of immigration across a cross-section of American communities. The researchers involved in this report all suggested that despite immigrants being generally poorer and facing more hardship than the general population, there is no evidence implicating immigrants as being a harmful addition to the community (MacDonald & Sampson, 2012). Furthermore, though researchers claim that there is not enough evidence proving that immigrants are solely responsible for the positive development of the United States, there is enough information to debunk the stance that immigrants negatively impact the communities they live in (MacDonald & Sampson, 2012).
To the contrary, immigration has proven to be a boon for American communities. A prime example of this can be seen in the 1980s and ‘90s as described in the introduction piece of the 2012 AAPPS by John M. MacDonald, Professor of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. In his article named “The World in a City: Immigration and America’s Changing Social Fabric” he describes how during the 1980s and ‘90s, rural counties experienced a wave of immigration in the United States, and that these areas which experienced a large wave of migrants saw a reduction in their crime rate compared to those areas who saw little immigrant growth (MacDonald & Sampson, 2012). According to MacDonald, “higher immigration was associated with reductions in homicide rates for White, Black, and Latino victims”(MacDonald & Sampson, 2012).
He continues by comparing states where the social acceptance of immigrants are not similar--like Hazleton, Pennsylvania, a city that has had internal conflict and hostility with immigrants, and St. James, Minnesota, a city where immigrants are welcomed with open arms. In this comparison, MacDonald shows that states with a caring culture and warm attitude towards immigrants are impacted by immigrants more positively. However, the growth of immigrants in both states indirectly reduced the crime rate and improved a declining economy overall.
Another impactful study comes from a joint collaboration of four universities led by Robert Adelman, a sociologist at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Their research compared the correlation of immigration rates with crime rates for two-hundred urban cities (Adelman et al., 2016). The cities that were selected included “huge urban hubs like New York City, New York and smaller manufacturing centers less than a hundredth that size, like Munchi, Indiana.” According to the data collected from the study, a large portion of the areas that had more immigrants today than they did in 1980 had fewer violent crimes (Adelman et al., 2016). The Marshall Project extended the study’s data up until 2016, and also found that crime was negatively associated with immigrant population. (Flagg, 2018). Therefore, the political rhetoric that portrays immigrants as liabilities to the United States is not the reality we live in. Indeed, when individuals decide to migrate far from home, they do so with giving it their best.
Immigrants do not only contribute to lower crime, but because of their determination, they often outperform native born citizens in certain industries. In a study published by the University of Oxford, U.S immigrants are found two to three times more likely than a U.S native to accomplish outstanding goals like starting a company, creating a patented innovation, or even winning an Academy Award or the Nobel Prize (Goldin et al., 2018). Researchers link this effect with the risk associated with migration, implying that the type of person who chooses to migrate to a new country is also willing to accept the uncertainty of being entrepreneurial and ambitious. This entrepreneurial and ambitious spirit may be the reason why many businesses have also been created by immigrants. According to Goldin and colleagues, immigrants have started thirty percent of United States businesses, despite comprising only fifteen percent of the population (Goldin et al., 2018).
The success of industries in the United States is closely linked to the increase of immigrants. Lena Groeger from ProPublica reported that the “Immigration Effect” on gross domestic product is found to be an extra two percent for every one percent increase in a country’s migrant population (Groger, 2017). The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) research concluded that this boost happens in two ways, the first being that migrants improve productivity per worker because their skillset often complement the needs of the existing population, and secondly, it increases the percentage of working-age people in a country due to migrants tending to fall within younger age brackets. The International Monetary Fund has also recently advised advanced economies like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Japan to open up their borders to counterattack the issue of an aging population (Jaumotte et al., 2016). This is an important consideration since this a young population demographic helps pay for essential public programs like Social Security.
Since 2011, two-thirds of the United States economic growth has been directly associated with the number of immigrants. For instance, immigrants have founded forty percent of Fortune 500 companies and have been involved in half of all “unicorns” startups (unicorn start-ups are newly formed companies valued more than one billion dollars) (Goldin et al., 2018). In another study by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), researchers found that fifty out of ninety-one unicorn start-ups have immigrant founders, and that these fifty startups had an impressive combined value of $248 billion--more than the Czech Republic‘s GDP (Anderson, 2018). These companies on average employ 1,200 people each, and while these findings are impressive, it is worth noting that these circumstances often favor higher-skilled migrants. Contrary to popular belief however, the IMF found that both high and low-skilled migrants contribute to higher productivity of the country they work in (Jaumotte et al., 2016).
Despite imigration helping an economy overall, those benefits are not felt evenly across society. Many migrants themselves face a language barrier which can delay their integration process. Luckily, these immigrants can succeed and continue to contribute to a country’s economy through fast-growing scientific and technical industries. In these industries which do not require a command of the english language, migrants can achieve social mobility through their merit. In addition, lower-skilled migrants, such as the roughly eleven million immigrants who have traveled to the U.S illegally, also can succeed in jobs which do not require much communication. This can be seen clearly in one industry in particular: agriculture. The agricultural industry is lucartive in the United States and highly dependent on undocumented workers for labor to meet the demand for American crops across the world.
More than half of all hired farm workers are estimated to be undocumented, making the agricultural industry possess the highest share of unauthorized workers by a large amount. Following the fifty percent of unauthorized workers in farming, construction also relies on migrant labor, where about fifteen percent of its workers are undocumented. Overall, about five percent of the U.S workforce consists of undocumented immigrants (Ferris, 2019). Concerns around unauthorized workers undercutting wages of citizens has been a large component of the current anti-immigrant rhetoric. However in the grand scheme of things, immigrations effects on American wages is modest at most. This is due to the job cascade which demonstrates the need immigrants fulfill in the American workforce, typically to fulfill positions which are undesirable for native born Americans (National Research Council, 1997).
For example, immigrants newly arrived to this country often lack English fluency and out of necessity work laborious jobs such as farming and construction for low-wages, as they are sectors where their constraints allow them to work. This reality pushes down the average wages in these industries, particularly farming and construction, creating the “undercut” many anti-immigrant supporters report (Kelly, 2017). However, this “undercut” on wages are also felt by the country’s existing immigrant who are perhaps experiencing more expenses and less upward mobility after working in the same job a few years. These stabilized immigrants are more likely to be impacted by newer immigrants and lower wages because they are the individuals who work in these low-skilled sectors. Ironically, it is not American citizens who suffer at all. American-born high school dropouts are possibly the only class of citizens who remotely experience wage deflation from immigrants, this decrease can fall between two and five percent as some occupations match the skills of immigrants (Kelly, 2017).
It is worth nothing that professionals argue that these are jobs which contribute to wage deflation of native-born Americans are typically jobs that low-skilled citizens do not want, such as those in food service and housekeeping. However, the lower wages in these sectors are helping local businesses succeed and grow through an affordable labor source (National Research Council 1998; Kelly, 2017). In addition, successful small businesses and a booming domestic economy would mean more opportunities for native-born residents in better-paid industries such as sales and consulting services, both of which require a command of the English language. Above all, low wages in the farming sector ultimately means that food costs less for the U.S consumer, thus fulfilling a mutual need for both parties. Contrary to popular belief, undocumented immigrants also contribute signfiicantly to federal taxes. In 2013, the IRS estimated that nine billion dollars were withheld from wages of undocumented immigrants, and as alluded before, in 2010, undocumented immigrants contributed tweleve billion dollars to social secuirty though they are ineligble for the benefit (Ferris, 2019).
Supporters of anti-immigrant sentiments perhaps have read figures from the conservative-leaning Federation For American Immigration Reform, which reported that “federal, state, and local governments spend $135 billion a year on undocumented immigrants” (O’Brien & Raley, 2017). Several non-partisan organizations have argued that number, stating that it overestimates the number immigrants reported and that it does not account for many of the beneficial impacts these migrants have on the economy. In reality, it is difficult to place an exact number on the cost of migrants living in the United States, though the country’s leading researchers at the National Academies have found that: “first-generation immigrants do cost governments more than the U.S’ native-born population”, with one of the major costs being education, which is paid for primarily by both local and state governments (National Academies, 2017). I would argue that this expense seems like a worthy investment for Americans, as “second-generation immigrants are some of the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the United States” (National Academies, 2017) and this can be likely due to their parents being given the opportunity to study or allow their students to study in American institutions.
Second-generation Americans also contribute more in taxes than their parents. (National Academies, 2017). Even though immigration’s impact on the economy is nuanced in the short term; most economists agree that it is positive news for the country in the long run, as children of immigrants often excel in high-capacity jobs due to the synergistic effect of their upbringing and English fluency. Ultimately, this effect continues for generations as a new segment of the United States is added over time from the migrant experience. This development of a new population is vital to our country’s collective identity as a diverse hub of freedom and opportunity, because these future leaders born from immigrants help unravel the full potential of the United States. As seen from our country’s earliest days, immigrants help push our country forward by bringing their best and establishing roots which forever contribute to their community.
Though immigration is a topic of major debate in the United States, it is a topic worth advocating for. Despite popular opinion, immigrants do not hinder the progress of the United States, instead they catalyze it. Although immigrants may have an associated cost, they provide returns magnitudes larger. Their work-ethic and honest pursuit of safety and opportunity better the communities they live in and reduce crime rates. Their ambitious spirit and driven mindset provides the nation with future entrepreneurs, leaders, and artists with unique skill sets which increases our country’s GDP. Their children and children’s future bolster the excellence of our country through their drive and high achievement. Because of this, immigration policy which provides migrants an opportunity to lawfully work and possess a pathway to citizenship should be advocated for.
Immigrants have been shown to provide more beneficial contributions than hinderous ones. The foundation of this nation was built upon migrants who sought a land that safeguarded security, freedom, and better opportunities; thus continuing this culture provides the nation hope for a brighter future. Just as our migrant spirit has cultivated the current success of our country, encouraging citizens to welcome migrants and advocate for social reform of our current policies will provide a positive production in our society. Immigrants offer a source of innovation, inspiration, and growth for a nation—effects which will keep the United States successful. Sealing our borders will be damaging not only to our country’s well-being, but also to the families it will separate and the harsh example that would influence countless lives across the world. However by encouraging other large countries to open its doors to migrants, we set the example of being a safe haven for those in need of safety. By doing so, we will continue to progress in our mission of securing liberty and happiness for those who seek it across the world.