to the point that it seems possible that someday soon, lawmakers may be able to create a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in this country. But opposition is surging in reaction.
These days, anti-immigrant groups are using economics to make their case against legalization. Offering citizenship to the undocumented would cost too much money, they argue.
For instance, a study released last month by the Heritage Foundation concluded that, if the undocumented are granted citizenship, they would get “$9.4 trillion in government benefits and services and pay $3.1 trillion in taxes. They would generate a lifetime fiscal deficit (total benefits minus total taxes) of $6.3 trillion.” And that is a frightening number, especially for a nation still recovering from the recent financial downturn.
But that study was flawed: It did not take into account the number of jobs that those immigrants are likely to create. If 11 million people don’t have to hide in the shadows, they will spend more money on themselves and their families, and they will make investments; many will launch their own businesses. In fact, according to a paper written by Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, director of the North American Integration and Development Center at UCLA, once undocumented immigrants are granted legal status, they may create up to 900,000 jobs in the United States. He also estimated that they will contribute up to $5.4 billion in new taxes.
There are also concerns about the objectivity of one of the study’s authors, Jason Richwine. The Washington Post recently reported that Richwine wrote this in his Harvard doctoral thesis in 2009: “The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations.” He also wrote: “No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.”
Once these ideas from his dissertation were publicized, Richwine resigned from his job at the Heritage Foundation. If a researcher thinks that Hispanics are not as smart or capable as white Americans, can we trust his conclusions about the effects of immigration reform? Will his data be objective?
(Most people don’t need me to point out that “Hispanic” is not a race, nor that there are many white Latinos in this country.)
Another argument immigration opponents rely on is that the undocumented are a burden on society, since they depend on social programs to get by. Government health-care benefits are often cited as an example — though in some cases, it seems that immigrants actually contribute more than they receive.
Take a recent study on Medicare conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, which found that between 2002 and 2009, immigrants (both documented and not) generated a surplus of $115 billion for the national insurance program for the elderly. On the other hand, native-born Americans logged a deficit of $28 billion. This is another case where an increase in the immigrant population, which is younger on average than the native-born population, makes good financial sense, especially for programs that rely on contributions from younger workers to stay solvent.
But let’s put the numbers aside for a moment. In the 30 years I’ve lived here, I have found that immigrants who came to the United States illegally, came to work. They did not come here to steal, nor did they come to abuse public programs. Many of them work two or even three jobs.
They pay sales taxes and payroll taxes, even though they are not eligible for benefits. They are not criminals nor terrorists. They just want to work hard so that their families can have a better life. So that their children can get a good education. They are more than willing to pay their fair share.
Offer them a path to citizenship and these immigrants will pay more taxes, since they won’t need to hide and conduct so many transactions solely in cash. Bring them out of the shadows and into the economy, and they will open bank accounts and create small businesses. They will buy houses and cars.
It’s the smart thing to do.
So let’s not be fooled by a flawed study. Let’s remember that the United States was built by immigrants. We are not a nation united by race, religion or language, but by the idea that we are equal, no matter where we came from.
Let’s continue on this path. Let’s welcome people who want to make a better life here. They will, in turn, make this a better country.
By Jorge Ramos Avalos.
(jun 05, 2013)