Viewpoint: Trump clueless on value of immigrants to U.S. economy

Karen Rubin

President Trump has used the power and wealth of this country to run roughshod over the rest of the world. It is not power and wealth he created (he didn’t build that), it is what he inherited. His trade war has caused economic harm not just to the Midwest and American producers, but weakened the economy of other countries, unleashing political instability.

His complete ignorance of economics — from how the Federal Reserve works, to what a trade deficit is, to the flippant way he shut down government and now threatens to shut the southern border entirely — derails the economy. He doesn’t understand the economic contribution that the social safety net — Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP and food stamps — plays. The government promoting affordable day care, as every other industrialized country does, is not a hand-out but an investment, with every $1 spent returning $11 over the course of a child’s career.

And so we come to immigration. Trump doesn’t just want to stop illegal immigration, but legal migration, including barring refugees, asylum-seekers and halting what he calls “chain migration.” Wasn’t that Muslim Travel Ban supposed to be temporary, an emergency (otherwise unconstitutional) remedy to give the administration time to make the vetting process more effective (which it already was?).

But now we come to the actual economic value of immigration. Trump only likes to present undocumented workers who are exploited with below-minimum wages and even screwed out of their earnings altogether (Trump knows something about that). He also suggests that immigrants are taking jobs that Americans would otherwise do, but that has been debunked.

New American Economy, a bipartisan research and immigration advocacy organization, just launched this year’s edition of Map the Impact, an interactive map that quantifies immigrant contributions at the national, state, city, and congressional district levels, and across industries. Map the Impact shows the latest data from the 2017 American Communities Survey on immigrant tax contributions, spending power, entrepreneurship, demographics, voting power, and more.

Key findings (see include:

• In 2017 alone, households led by immigrants earned $1.5 trillion in total income and contributed $405 billion in tax revenues to federal, state, and local governments, leaving them with $1.1 trillion in spending power.
• About 3.2 million immigrants ran their own businesses, making up one in every five entrepreneurs in the country.
• Immigrant-owned businesses employed almost 8 million American workers and generated $1.3 trillion in total sales.
• Immigrants contributed to 28 percent of the population growth in the United States between 2016 and 2017.
• Between 2016 and 2017, the number of immigrant homeowners grew by 4.6 percent, from 9.1 million to 9.5 million.

“This data shows the central role immigrants play in every state in the union as workers, consumers, entrepreneurs, and homeowners,” said John Feinblatt, president of New American Economy. “The findings show that immigration creates an economic opportunity — creating jobs, filling workforce gaps, and helping communities thrive.”

This year’s Map the Impact features new analysis showing how TPS holders and DACA recipients are especially important contributors to the U.S. economy, finding that:

• In 2017, close to 1.3 million DACA-eligible people lived in the U.S.
• DACA-eligible residents earned $23.4 billion in total income in 2017, paying $2.2 billion in federal taxes and $1.8 billion in state and local taxes, leaving nearly $19.4 billion in spending power.
• More than 43,000 DACA-eligible residents were entrepreneurs in 2017, providing jobs for American workers and supporting local economies.
• In 2017, there were more than 318,000 immigrants with Temporary Protected Status.
• TPS holders earned almost $7.3 billion in 2017, paying $891 million in federal taxes and an additional $654 million in state and local taxes. They held nearly $5.8 billion in spending power.

Trump’s anti-immigration policies might have resonated during periods of high unemployment,5rr5r54 xddds but that is not the case now.

The New York Times reported: “’The recent shortage of immigrant workers is impacting housing and housing affordability,” said Jerry Howard, chief executive of the National Association of Home Builders. Phil Crone, who runs the association’s Dallas chapter, said the labor bottleneck was adding about $6,000 to the cost of every home built in the area and delaying completion by two months.

“Were it not for immigrants, the labor crunch would be even more intense. In 2016, immigrants accounted for one in four construction workers, according to a study by Natalia Siniavskaia of the home builders’ association, up from about one in five in 2004. In some of the least-skilled jobs — like plastering, roofing and hanging drywall, for which workers rarely have more than a high school education — the share of immigrants hovers around half.” (“Short of Workers, U.S. Builders and Farmers Crave More Immigrants,” April 3, 2019.)

Meanwhile, New York state, in contrast to the Trump administration, is moving in the right direction: New York state passed its own DREAM Act, which differs from the federal DACA program (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). It allows for tuition assistance for undocumented immigrants who attended high school in New York and graduated with a diploma or obtained an equivalency diploma. Families who have a taxpayer identification number will be allowed to save for tuition under NY’s 529 College Savings Program.

The state budget includes a measure to protect immigrants from deportation following a minor interaction with the criminal justice system, by reducing the maximum sentence for misdemeanors by one day, from 365 to 364 days. Under federal law, any immigrant who is convicted of a crime punishable by a sentence of a year or more may be deported, even if the individual ultimately receives a lesser sentence.

The state budget provides $10 million to support the expansion of the “first-in-the-nation” Liberty Defense Project, which provides vital legal services to immigrants and communities targeted by harsh federal immigration policies.

About the author

Karen Rubin

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