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Hateful Rhetoric, Economic Illiteracy Undermine Immigration Reform

By: Sarah Harvard - Jul 11, 2013, 11:31 am

With immigration reform a hot button issue, conservative pundits like Ann Coulter and GOP leaders rely upon stereotypes and fragile political discourse. They spread fallacious rhetoric, that immigrants are taking American jobs, relying on welfare programs, and engaging in criminal activity.

Such juvenile statements frighteningly echo a large portion of the United States’ population — while another Luis Ramirez dies because he doesn’t have a holier-than-thou certification of being an American. While immigrants have far lower rates of crime than natives, an Iraqi woman lies in an ocean of blood unconscious, only to be found by her teenage daughter. A note, “This is our country, not yours, terrorist,” accompanies the corpse.

Xenophobia plagues this country, but that isn’t necessarily the primary problem. Economic illiteracy and a refusal to acknowledge immigrant narratives lead to a dilemma among Americans, enabling the clash between “us” and “them.”

Of course, the Gang of Eight Immigration Reform Bill is not ideal. It has limited and highly regulated guest worker visa programs for low-skilled workers, a drastic increase in border security, and mandatory E-Verify that would burden US businesses and only encourage further black market hiring. Regardless of whether the bill would improve on the status quo, though, there is still great need for immigration reform.

Citizenship

As a daughter of immigrants, the concept of a US citizenship should mean something. I still remember the day when my mom would show off how much she knew about the US Constitution and the foundations of this country. I still remember the overwhelming pride that shone through her face when she could finally proclaim to her daughters that she was just like them, a US citizen.

It took nearly eighteen years of filing taxes, driving to swimming practices, operating the family business, and living in the United States for her to finally become an American on paper. It’s funny to me, because my mother was an American the minute she made the decision to immigrate to the United States.

My mother loved this country enough to migrate here. My mother loved this country enough to not see her family abroad for nearly eighteen years. My mother loved this country enough to set up a business with my father and contribute to the community through education, self defense, and by providing job opportunities for many Americans. My mother also loved this country enough to constantly keep herself updated and engaged in discussions of US and world politics.

My mother had no influence over being born outside of the United States, but she chose to endure complications, hardships, and many years of paperwork to become an American anyway. For her to recite an oath to the United States, when her oath had been etched in her heart years ago, was completely ludicrous in my view.

I, on the other hand, had no influence over being born in the United States — just like I had no influence over being a girl or a human being. I, a native born, am no more American than my foreign-born mother. Similarly, you are no more American than your foreign-born neighbor.

Yet we have failed to acknowledge that the American ideal has nothing to do with where your mother gave birth to you. Upon this failure, legislators continue to impose immigration barriers that prove useless over and over again.

Jobs

Many Americans fail to realize that immigrants greatly contribute to our economy as workers and entrepreneurs. As Harvard University’s George Borjas notes, there is a “persistent interest in determining whether immigrants ‘take jobs away’ from native workers.”

Immigrants are, of course, far more flexible and mobile than natives. As rational individuals, immigrants also migrate to places with more job opportunities and higher incomes. Attempts to hinder this natural flow of migration to the US, however, will only hinder both the global and US economies.

According to Michael Clemens in Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk, if all immigration barriers were waived, annual world production would increase by an astounding 50 to 150 percent of world GDP. Immigrants are far more productive in their new country, and their individual narratives affirm so as they leave behind their families and history for the hope of better lives for themselves and their children.

But wait a minute; immigrants take the jobs of American citizens jobs, right? No.

Lower skilled immigrants have a comparative advantage in non-communication roles — construction and manual labor to name a few. Their concentration in less skilled and non-communication occupations means more higher skilled openings which require the advanced language skills of established inhabitants.

Most immigrants and natives do not contest for the same jobs. As result, wages and incomes are largely unaffected, if not boosted.

The boost comes because immigrants generate jobs. According to the Kauffman Foundation’s 2012 Index of Entrepreneurial Activity, 260 per 100,000 natives started businesses every month. By comparison, 490 per 100,000 immigrants that started a business every month. The bottom line: immigrants are much more entrepreneurial than natives.

Still in disbelief? Let me offer just a few examples.

Andrew Carnegie was born in Scotland and immigrated to the United States in 1848. He founded firms that later became U.S. Steel. What would his net worth be in $2007? $298 Billion. Don’t forget about Sergey Brin of Google, Andy Grove of Intel, Pierre Omidyar of eBay, and Jerry Yang of Yahoo!

Crime

While crime remains a stubborn argument in defense of immigration barriers, immigrants are much less likely than natives to commit property and violent crimes. The majority of foreigners in federal incarceration are for, you guessed it, immigration offenses — that is the “crime” of moving from one location to another without government permission.

According to the Migration Information Source, incarceration rates are as follows: US born 3.51 percent and foreign born 0.86 percent. In the past ten years, the average native born was four to five times more prone to crime than immigrants.

The majority of illegal immigrants are not real criminals or security threats. The removal of immigration prohibitions would free up law enforcement resources for real crimes that actually have victims.

Welfare

Many fear the excessive use of welfare by immigrants, which simply does not jive with the data (PDF). In reality, illegal immigrants are ineligible for almost all benefits. Legal immigrants are also ineligible for most welfare programs for the first five years, then their eligibility is up to the states.

Immigrants are less likely to use welfare than natives when standardized for age and education, and they move to states with economic growth rather than states with large social spending budgets. Also keep in mind that the elderly are the biggest users of the American welfare system.

Overcoming Fears

Even if we were to ignore all the data and economic logic, there are far better, untapped solutions than simply halting immigration. If we’re afraid of our welfare state, we can build a wall around the welfare state, not our country. If it’s our economy, we can try laissez-faire capitalism, as opposed to cronyism. If it’s limited assimilation into American society, we can go for English or culture tests. If it’s crime and national security, then deport violent offenders, not peaceful immigrants.

Then there’s the dinger: GOP be nicer to immigrants. It’ll help in the long run.

Sarah Harvard

Executive editor of DL Magazine and the CEO of a media start-up company. She has interviewed Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, T.I., and Rahm Emanuel and has been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Daily Caller, the Nation, and more. She resides in Washington, D.C.