Myth: Undocumented Americans Hurt the U.S. Economy

Publisher’s Corner  

Marcelino Jose

The only part of this myth that should be discussed is the negative impact to the economy that comes from NOT unleashing the full productive powers of the Undocumented with a path to citizenship. The completely realized potential of our 11-million-strong contingency would be just what the country needs to move forward in a highly competitive global marketplace. No economy, not even the world’s strongest, can afford to waste its resources, particularly its human resources.

Even with all the barriers, the fear of deportation, the lack of equal protection under the law, the constant disparaging epithets, we manage to survive and even succeed. We grow the food, build the homes, take care of the children, get ourselves educated and propagate small businesses. And even run for President of the United States.

According the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, advocating on behalf of nearly 3.2 million Hispanic-owned businesses, this segment alone contributes $486 billion to the American economy each year. In total, immigrants account for 18% of small business owners, slightly higher than the percentage for native-born.

We also drive the economy through what we buy. Latino consumers' purchasing power increased from $700 billion in 2000 to $1.3 trillion in 2015, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. By necessity, most immigrants put our earnings right back into the economy, which in turn grows more jobs and opportunities.

On the Congress Blog, in H.A. Goodman’s 2014 “Illegal Immigrants Benefit the U.S. Economy,” the case is made (citing USDA, Pew and U.S. Department of Labor economists and researchers) that the Undocumented are important to the overall U.S. economy and even vital to certain industries, particularly agriculture. Many states couldn’t grapple with the labor shortages if the Undocumented were suddenly removed from the national landscape. The consequences would be unaffordable – immediate negative effects to economic growth, escalating product prices, shortages of goods and lost consumers. Goodman sees no assault of immigrants on our sovereignty: “If this is true, then it might be the first time in world history that a country has employed its invaders. When illegal immigrants cross the border, there’s a citizen waiting to hire them and benefit in some manner from their labor.”

No matter how hard we work or what we contribute, immigration opponents conclude that the Undocumented are a drain on the system, that we rob the public coffers. The Economic Policy Institute found that the Undocumented create a net positive for public budgets because we take out less than we contribute to the system through our sales, property, payroll and income taxes, as well as Social Security – approximately $7 billion yearly that we’ll never claim. We aren’t eligible for most government programs except public education for our children and some in-state tuition allowances.

When 26 states went to court in 2015 to thwart the implementation of President Obama’s 2014 executive order, known as DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability), they were determined to prevent deferred-deportation status for five million people, mostly parents of U.S.-born children. Though this legal action has successfully blocked DAPA in the courts for many months, these states have certainly not acted in their own best economic interest.

Ironically, Texas, the lead plaintiff state in the case against President Obama’s order, would see its GDP rise more than $38 billion over 10 years if the program was allowed to proceed, while Georgia, another plaintiff, would experience a $190 million increase in tax revenue within five years.

With the 2013 bipartisan immigration reform bill, which passed in the Senate and died in the House of Representatives, the Congressional Budget Office estimated a debt reduction of $175 billion within a decade.

The impact of immigration on the economy is overwhelmingly positive when discussed by academic researchers and leading economists, rather than politicians and talk-radio hosts. Now that immigration has become a political lightning rod in the GOP 2016 presidential primary, all substantive reform efforts seem outside the realm of possibility. Instead of constructive immigration discussion from our political leaders, we face national headlines planning mass deportation of all 11 million of us, including our U.S.-born children.

Mass deportation was tried in the 1930s during the Great Depression, not just for the Undocumented, but for their American-born children. It was called repatriation but this action, often without due process, was early ethnic cleansing of Mexicans, 60% of whom were American citizens. In fear for their lives, they lost their homes and forfeited their possessions, leaving behind ghost towns – half a million to a million Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans pushed across the border.

That was then. Now we’re 11-million strong and deeply intertwined in every facet of the American economy. Though 50% of us are from Mexico, the rest of us are from Central and South America and Asia and other parts of the world. So there’s no one border to push us all back across. Now any attempt at a mass deportation would cripple the U.S. economy, further divide an already polarized nation and irrevocably damage America’s historical claims to being a beacon of freedom, democracy and opportunity.

Whoever utters the words “mass deportation” should know it will cost much more than the estimated $400-to-$600 billion and 20 years of implementation, it will cost the nation its soul, its unifying ideal of itself.

Since its inception, the U.S. has always been more than happy to put immigrants to work to grow a strong economy. Now it’s time to put us in our place, walking with our fellow Americans down a path to citizenship.

Research Sources: Economic Policy Institute, New York Times, Center for Immigration Studies, Pew Research Center, L.A. Times, CNN Money Report, Undocumented, Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas’ July interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance Project, Chuck Todd’s Nerdscreen, American Immigration Council, Emmy-winning journalist/Univision anchor and published author Jorge Ramos, Huffington Post’s “This Land Is Your Land” and Sam Stein & Amanda Terkel’s GOP and the 14th, NPR’s “The Debate Over Anchor Babies and Citizenship,” ABC News, Migration Policy Institute, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Congressional Budget Office, AP’s Russell Contreras: “Trump’s Deportation Idea,” and Congress Blog: H.A. Goodman’s 2014 “Illegal Immigrants Benefit the U.S. Economy ”