Rethinking Immigration


Danny Metri ‘22, Contributor

What do we view immigration as?

Immigration, especially but not exclusively from our southern border, is a hotly contested topic in the United States. We live in a country of immigrants, many who came here through a legal process, including my own parents. The classic story of people coming here with a dime in their pocket, working hard to build this country and build a life for themselves is what defines the psyche of this nation. Free from an authoritarian government, or free from war and hunger, the United States became a home for many Europeans when the continent was going through instability.


Realities within our concept of immigration

Europe is more or less stable at this point, with relative peace and robust economic growth. They did not send us their “best,” many europeans came here poor, didn’t speak the language, and faced degrees of discrimination. But, somehow, these immigrants are now part of our national identity and culture. Now, the world is going through a period where the instability is felt in the Middle East, and in South and Central America. Much like any era of immigration, there is resistance to this immigration.


Morality vs Pragmatism

In my understanding of Christianity, potential economic damages do not affect my moral stance on immigration, believing in the idea that if somebody is in desperate need, we should shelter them. The basic teachings of the gospel guide many on this subject. Much like the death penalty, even if it reduced crime (which it does not), I would be morally against it. However, the economy is important: it affects people’s day to day lives. Crime is a bad thing, and people have a rightful wish that their country must have borders. In order to appease these concerns, we ought to make a somewhat selfish argument for immigration. Instead of seeing it as a burden, or as lending of a hand, in this article I’d like to dispel fears and myths, and make the argument about the fact that we are fortunate to have this immigration from our southern border, as it can provide us with much needed benefits.


Are undocumented Immigrants a drain on our welfare and entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, etc.)?

There are many common myths about immigration that are spread with good concern and intention. However, there are many harmful myths that are spread by some in bad faith in order to invoke fear and hatred. First, it is worth addressing that undocumented immigrants are not a drain on our welfare and entitlement programs. All undocumented immigrants pay sales, gas, consumption, property taxes among many other types. These contribute to state and local budgets, but also one thing that is strongly overlooked is that more than half of undocumented immigrants pay the same state, federal, and local taxes that Americans pay.

One might wonder, how does an undocumented immigrant pay these taxes without a social security number? Well, a significant amount of immigrants do this by getting ITINs (Individual Taxpayer Identification Number). These are identification numbers that are issued by the IRS. The purpose of the ITIN is to make sure that people who are unable to get social security numbers pay taxes. They also create an incentive for undocumented immigrants to pay those taxes by keeping their undocumented status away from government entities such as ICE. Many choose to pay taxes in hope of one day, whilst on the road to citizenship, are able to prove their citizenship and tax records.

Through the ITIN, undocumented immigrants pay into social security, medicare, and medicaid, our most expensive government programs of which they get no benefit whatsoever. They pay into federal welfare programs, including food stamps. Once again they can not receive ANY benefits from the federal government. Though some states allow them certain state benefits, as a whole, they are not a drain on budgets.

As a matter of fact, one of the largest issues with our entitlements is that we do not have enough people on the payroll tax. Young immigrants who will work jobs that include a payroll tax could be a big boost to revenue (this is already happening).Young people also add much more value into the healthcare system than they extract, whether they buy insurance or not, which could help reduce healthcare costs as there are more young people potentially paying into insurance compared to the older people extracting from it. As a whole, undocumented immigrants pay around 11-12 billion dollars in state, local, and federal taxes per year.


Are undocumented immigrants/immigrants in general harmful to the economy and American workers?

Another misconception widely spread is that immigrants are a drain on the economy and the job market. Although immigrants are taking an increasingly large role in the labor market (undocumented immigrants especially tend to take jobs that American citizens tend not to search for), immigrants also tend to work long hours and create an increase in productivity, which in turn is a boost for the economy. On a more obvious note, a larger workforce generally grows the overall economy. Without immigrants, we could be experiencing serious problems like Germany has in terms of an aging workforce and a shrinking replacement rate. With an imbalance like this, programs we hold dearly such as the ones mentioned previously could be in big trouble.


Are undocumented immigrants a danger to this country?

It is s severely important to recognize one of the worst stereotypes about undocumented immigrants. Many in our country believe that we aren’t getting “you, or you,” but we are getting criminals and “thugs”. This is false. As a matter of fact, even though they are on average poorer and are put in situations which are indicators for crime, undocumented immigrants commit less crime than American citizens. It is also important to consider that if done right, immigration could be even more beneficial than it already is, and we don’t have to look too far.


How can we solve issues that do exist around immigration?

Now that we’ve established that undocumented immigrants aren’t the horror show they’ve been made out to be, we must recognize that the fact that these people aren’t becoming citizens is a problem that we should solve. There are issues with immigration, but those issues aren’t because of immigrants themselves, rather the general way in which our country’s upward mobility has declined greatly.

This country had centuries of poor immigrants coming from Europe, and other parts of the world, and many of them came poor. But, because of robust federal programs that were intended to put white people into the middle class, we see the success of the American Dream that many families have experienced. So, instead of the solution being blocking immigration as a whole, we should figure out how this country could utilize immigration to realize the nations fullest potential.

In the late 1800s to mid 1900s, immigration was on the rise. As new deal type policies came into effect, the country’s middle class expanded massively. In the mid 1900s, the united states boasted one of, if not the most educated, organized workforce, and a large middle class that kept on expanding (Immigrants were crucial to this large workforce).

The American Dream for many was achieved because of public investment in education, healthcare, and other social programs, along with an expansion of unions and worker benefits. This Dream was never killed by immigration, rather the Dream was fueled by the combination of these two things. This country saw a situation where immigrants, who came here poor, after a generation or two (at most) would be integrated into the middle class because of our robust economic upward mobility.

As we started to see a shaving off of union power, public investment, and other things of this sort, poverty became harder to escape, which contributed to the rise of crime, hunger, and desperation in general. This causes many adverse effects in immigration, because when people come here poor, it is even more difficult to get into the middle class.

If this country wants to see the benefits of a growing workforce, we must make sure that we understand where these problems actually root from. Instead, we should focus on pathways to citizenship and a general effort to increase upward mobility in the economy. We have a shortage of doctors in this country, and our native born population is not going to be enough to make up for this.

We need to focus on educating our workforce, immigrant and native, and we will start to see these economic anxiety related complaints about immigration, turn into a more shared project of economic growth in the United States, just like we saw in the 1900s, except all Americans will be involved this time.


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