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Guest opinion: Misinformation and misconceptions about immigration

By Staff | May 9, 2024

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Vijay Mathur

The Wall Street Journal (March 17-24, 2024) conducted a poll of 600 registered voters and found that in the states of Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the top issue of concern to voters in the 2024 presidential election is immigration — except in North Carolina, where the top issue is the economy. Another poll (WSJ, April 4, 2024) showed that 74% of respondents in swing states said that “inflation has moved in the wrong direction in the past year,” hence showing more concern about the economy. However, a Brookings Institution study found that almost half of respondents do not understand the concept of inflation. The same misperceptions exist about immigration status at the Southwest border of the U.S. In January, the Congressional Budget Office reported that total encounters along the Southwest border have decreased by 42% (www.cpb.gov). The New York Times (Feb. 13, 2024) reported that illegal border crossings from Mexico dropped by 50% in January and asylum denials during fiscal years 2018-23 in 10 states increased from 73.2% to 89.9% (WSJ, April 22, 2024).

Perhaps there is a lack of understanding about the history of migration and its causes. The foreign-born population as a proportion of the population increased from 1850 until 1910, then declined until 1970. During 1970, it started increasing again, reaching a maximum of 15% in 2021, the same percentage as in 1910 (Migration Policy Institute, March 13, 2024). Factors for the surge were the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Refugee Act of 1980, and deteriorating economic and politically unstable conditions in various countries. The recent worsening situation at the Southwest border is also driven by the same factors, as well as abuse of asylum laws by immigrants assisted by money-making coyotes and other smugglers. For example, Russian-speaking smugglers charge $750 to $1,200 to illegal immigrants from central Asia.

Other misconceptions among Americans are about economic and social burdens created by immigration. However, the evidence shows immigration brings immense benefits to the country. The Hamilton Project and Brookings Institution (March 7, 2024) report that the CBO estimates net immigration increased to 3.3 million people, leading to faster population, labor and employment growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates employment will increase between 160,000 to 200,000, a range adjusted for high immigration (Hamilton Project). Net immigration is projected to increase personal income and consumer spending close to 58%, adjusted for inflation. Goldman Sachs estimated that “above-trend immigration this year and last will boost potential growth by around 0.3 percentage point to 2.1% in 2024” (WSJ, March 23-24, 2024).

There is no doubt that high-skilled immigrants are complementary to both physical and human capital. Hence, they provide a very significant stimulant to economic growth and employment to native-born Americans. Economists expect productivity to increase at an annual rate of 1.9% in the next decade, equal to the rise in annual productivity over the last 40 years (WSJ, April 15, 2024). An IMF study (WSJ, March 23-24, 2024) finds that productivity boom due to higher immigration tends to raise average income of “native workers as well.” Bloomberg reports the recent finding by the CBO that immigration will generate $7 trillion to GDP over the next decade. It seems that the “invasion” of immigrants is turning out to be very productive to the economy and, in fact, saved it from the recession, contrary to the warning of scaremongers.

There are other side benefits of immigration. Since most immigrants are in the working-age group, as compared to citizens with a greater proportion who are aging (Migration Policy Institute), they would pay into Social Security and Medicare funds for a longer time period than citizens. Hence, they would mitigate the sustainability problem faced by these funds, at least for some time. In addition, unauthorized workers, who pay income, Social Security and Medicare taxes through their employers (National Immigration Law Center, January 2015), contribute to revenues without much public benefits such as health care.

It is imperative that the Congress, in cooperation with the Biden administration, implement a comprehensive immigration law that emphasizes high-skilled immigration, closes loopholes in asylum laws, provides more resources for border security and immigration personnel in general, and at the same time fulfills the needs of employers who employ lower-skilled labor to fill the gaps created by native-born workers. It is time for political leaders to stop complaining about the immigration problem and work to solve it by enacting a comprehensive immigration law that facilitates a long-term orderly process of legal immigration that is beneficial to the country economically, socially and politically.

Mathur is former chair and professor in the Economics Department and now professor emeritus at Cleveland State University, Cleveland, Ohio. He resides in Ogden.


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