In print and on broadcast news and talk shows nationwide, countless among us grumble that US immigration policy and its lack of enforcement are hurting domestic employment and holding back our economy. This is simply not so.
The White House “Task Force on New Americans” reports that the United States annually welcomes some 1 million lawful permanent residents and more than 700,000 newly naturalized citizens. “These new Americans contribute significantly to our economy. In fact, while foreign-born residents make up 13 percent of the population, they represent over 16 percent of the labor force and start 28 percent of all new businesses, creating jobs for millions of Americans.”
As for the undocumented, it will come as a surprise to many that employers are required to withhold payroll tax from all employees regardless of immigration status. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of IRS data shows 6 million undocumented workers dutifully file individual tax returns each year without hope of any refund they might otherwise be due.
Undocumented workers also pay $7 billion per year in Social Security taxes with no prospect of retirement benefits, and pay sales taxes on their purchases and the property taxes embedded in their rent. Meanwhile, there are some US employers who have broken the law and paid cash wages below minimum wage to day laborers without papers. These employees’ contributions to our economy can only be estimated.
State by state, data are showing that immigrants both documented and without papers are making significant contributions to the economy at all levels. So while we’re all entitled to our own beliefs, it would be valuable for both voters and their elected representatives to make their decisions based on facts not faithful adherence to political dogma.
For example, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, economic activity produced by undocumented workers results in employment of 5% of the total US workforce. Those without papers occupy more than 3 million residences—almost 4% of the total number of homes in the US.
UCLA researchers report undocumented immigrants produce $150 billion in economic activity annually. Since most of their earnings are spent on living costs, this becomes a powerful private sector stimulus benefitting all. UCLA calculates some 8 million US jobs result from undocumented workers living in the US.
In Charlotte NC, 10 percent are foreign-born workers and one third of the area’s “Main Street” businesses—retail, accommodation, food and neighborhood services—are owned by people born elsewhere. Just last month, the Journal of Cultural Geography carried a study of Charlotte’s experience that concluded, “Immigrant businesses have transformed deteriorating and abandoned street fronts into vibrant and well-frequented urban environments conducive for further development.”
From these data it’s hard to conclude that the undocumented are a drag on our economy. On the contrary, they bring economic power, promote job creation and help drive up gross domestic product (GDP).
What a golden opportunity for Kansas City—and other cities across America—to shift gears and establish a welcoming culture for new immigrants. Enable those who seek nothing more than the same freedoms to which we feel entitled by helping them to start on a new and hopeful path, to grow and to thrive.
Why can’t Kansas City become the “golden door” represented so powerfully by our Status of Liberty? Why can’t we be the new Colossus?
Why can’t we, the people, recognize that save for Native Americans and African slaves, we all emigrated to these shores to escape injustices and brutality, and to pursue opportunity free of abuse.
To these ancestors, many of whom have died for our Constitutional values, we owe a debt that we can repay in part by paying forward the opportunities that were made possible for us to enjoy. To do less is to debase our own freedom.