The Need To Increase Immigration

It seems to me….

It would be unwise for the modern Republican Party to come across as hostile to immigration. That has been the losing position in American history for 200 years.” ~ Grover Norquist[1].

There frequently is a stronger objection to the perception of change rather than to any actual reality regarding it. It is unfortunate that the perception of immigration has become so disconnected from reality.

Despite its long history of immigration, the U.S. has oscillated between perceiving immigration as a valuable resource and as a major challenge[2]. Today, a majority of Americans believe the U.S. is a better place to live as a result of its growing racial and ethnic diversity[3]. About six-in-ten U.S. adults (58 percent) say that having an increasing number of people of different races, ethnic groups, and nationalities in the U.S. makes the country a better place to live; just 9 percent say it makes the country worse, while about three-in-ten (31 percent) say it doesn’t make much difference either way.

Unfortunately, a highly-vocal minority of neofascist conservatives has managed to successfully block most migration. It is difficult to understand how they are unable to accept that immigration is in both their and our nation’s best interests. Immigration has become an issue very passionately rejected by this minority. That some of this is rooted in racism or xenophobia is obvious from the increasing support for white supremist groups along with beliefs of heightened nationalism. Immigration has become the central issue feeding populism not only here in the U.S. but elsewhere around the globe. And it is wrong. Rather than opposing immigration, the only logical option is to strongly support it.

The economic case for migration is compelling; immigrants strengthen the country through their hard work and talents. Contrary to prevailing conservative opinion, immigrants never are a burden taking our jobs, housing, or health care.

Liberals and conservatives tend to view the issue differently. While not supporting open borders as claimed by some conservatives, liberals not only support legal immigration, most also believe it is unfair to arrest millions of undocumented immigrants and support amnesty for those who might have initially entered the U.S. illegally but have lived here for a significant number of years and not committed any felonies. They believe undocumented immigrants should have the same rights as U.S. citizens and are entitled to all educational and health benefits that citizens receive (financial aid, welfare, Social Security, and Medicaid) regardless of legal status.

Conservatives only support legal immigration. They oppose amnesty for anyone who entered the U.S. illegally (undocumented immigrants) and that the Federal Government should secure the borders and enforce current immigration law. Those who break the law by entering the U.S. illegally do not have the same rights as those who obey the law and enter legally.

Immigration is an issue about which everyone thinks they know the facts, and what they have always been told might seem to make sense, but many of those “facts” are mostly untrue. What many think they know is actually only based on political ideology. Immigration is an issue that, as Goebbels[4] stated, if a lie is repeated sufficiently often, it becomes the truth. Most anti-immigration claims trace back to reports by either the conservative Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) or the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), both of which called for more restrictive immigration laws. Many of the claims in those reports have been judged by[5] to be either completely false or very misleading. Anyone doubting this should check for themselves.

Openness to newcomers is morally right, economically beneficial, and culturally enriching[6]. Allowing people to move from poorer countries to richer ones that have more capital, superior technologies, and better institutions boosts their productivity and that of the global economy. The freedom to move is fundamentally important. It enables people to flee persecution, seek a better life, be with the ones they love, or simply to broaden their horizons. The biggest determinants of someone’s chances in life are not their talent or hard work but where they were born.

Although migrants and their children might seem the primary beneficiaries, countries that receive them also gain as migrants are different from natives of a country and their differences tend to complement local needs and conditions. Some are more willing to do jobs that locals spurn, such as picking fruit or caring for the elderly. Others have skills that natives lack, such as medical training or fluency in Mandarin.

Their diverse perspectives help spark new ideas. More than three-quarters of patents generated at top U.S. universities involve a migrant inventor. A Chamber of Commerce report found they are more than twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a new business. In fact, immigrants started 28 percent of all new businesses in the U.S. Around half of Silicon Valley’s startups; including Intel, Google, LinkedIn, Tesla, and Stripe; were co-founded by immigrants. The prospects for long-run economic growth in the U.S. would be considerably diminished without the contributions of high-skilled immigrants.

Many people opposed to immigration are not necessarily either racist or xenophobic. They may only be uninformed; sceptics worried about the scale of immigration tend to vastly overestimate it. Overall, a 1 percent rise in the immigrant share of the population tends to raise average income by 2 percent per person. It’s not Trump who makes America great, it’s the country’s openness to newcomers.

Trump attempts to falsely characterize all immigrants as “animals” who primarily are criminals: murders, rapists, bringing drugs…. While true that some immigrants have committed crimes while in the U.S., there is no evidence immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans[7]. In fact, first-generation immigrants are predisposed to lower crime rates than native-born Americans. Immigration and crime levels have had inverse trajectories since the 1990s: immigration has increased while crime has decreased. Trump’s repeated statements about immigrants and crime underscore a common public misperception, mostly among extreme conservatives, that crime is correlated with immigration, especially illegal immigration, but there is no solid data supporting that and the data that do exist negate it. Among the general population, 65 percent of Americans believe undocumented immigrants are not more likely than U.S. citizens to commit serious crimes[8].

Data on the nativity of the U.S. population were first collected in 1850. That year, there were 2.2 million immigrants, representing nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population. Between 1860 and 1920, the immigrant share of the overall population fluctuated between 13 percent until peaking at 14.8 percent in 1890 mainly due to high levels of immigration from Europe.

Restrictive immigration laws in 1921 and 1924, coupled with the Great Depression and World War II, led to a sharp drop in new arrivals. As a result, the foreign-born share steadily declined, hitting a record low of approximately 5 percent in 1970 (9.6 million). Since then, the share and number of immigrants have increased rapidly, primarily due to the large-scale immigration from Latin America and Asia made possible by the Immigration Act of 1965 which abolished national-origin admission quotas. The immigrant population more than quadrupled in the decades since reaching 43.7 million in 2016.

Of around 1.1 million refugees who arrived in the U.S. between 1987 and 2016, their labor force participation (68 percent) and employment rates (64 percent) exceeded those of the total American population (63 percent and 60 percent respectively). Immigrants also compare favorably to the total U.S. population, which consists mostly of citizens, exceeding them in median personal income ($28,000 to $23,000), homeownership (41 percent versus 37 percent), access to a computer and the Internet (82 percent to 75 percent), and health insurance (93 percent to 91 percent).

Most of the migrants who fled to the U.S. over the past three years didn’t come from countries in Latin America, as many might expect, but instead came from Asia, the Caribbean, and the Middle East. The number of immigrants in the U.S. from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras rose by 25 percent from 2007 to 2015 in contrast to more modest growth of the country’s overall foreign-born population and a decline from neighboring Mexico.

Forty-six percent of immigrants in 2016 reported their race as White, 27 percent as Asian, 9 percent as Black, and 15 percent as some other race; slightly more than 2 percent reported being of two or more races.

In 2016, 30 percent (11.5 million) of the 38.2 million immigrants ages 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 32 percent of U.S.-born adults. Notably, the share of college-educated immigrants was much higher, 47 percent, among those who entered the country in the previous five years (between 2012 and 2016). Educational attainment varied by country of origin with immigrants from several countries being extremely well educated: 78 percent from India and 74 percent from Taiwan had at least a bachelor’s degree. (By comparison, just under 32 percent of the U.S.-born had a bachelor’s degree or higher.)

Of the 26.2 million employed foreign-born workers ages 16 and older in 2016, the largest share, at almost 32 percent, worked in management, professional, and related occupations.

Migrants are typically net contributors to public finances. Young immigrants are particularly beneficial to countries, such as the U.S., with low birth rates and aging populations[9]. Native-born Americans aren’t footing the bill for immigrants so much as immigrants are contributing to a welfare system which many of them are unable to take advantage. Immigrants are essentially helping to underwrite the welfare system providing an enormous subsidy to it every year without being able to reap any of the benefits.

Studies have repeatedly shown that immigrants grow the economy, expand demand for goods and services that the foreign-born workers and their families consume, and thereby create jobs. Undocumented migrants do valuable work, pay sales taxes, and rarely draw on public support or welfare.

While it’s a common refrain among those who want to tighten limits on legal immigration and deny a “path to citizenship”, which they call “amnesty”, to the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., economists and other experts say immigrants do not take American jobs. The persistent belief that foreign-born workers are stealing jobs from native-born Americans is the product of a well-documented fallacy that has been repeatedly debunked by economists. Blaming immigration for declining employment ultimately rests on the flawed belief that economies can only produce a fixed number of jobs and that for every job occupied by an immigrant, a native-born worker must be unemployed – there isn’t a fixed number of jobs, migrants also create jobs when they spend their wages.

About seven-in-ten Americans (71 percent) believe undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. mostly fill jobs that American citizens do not want. Still, low-income workers and Americans without college degrees are more likely to indicate feeling threatened by undocumented workers. But immigrants tend to be either high-skilled or low-skilled; Americans tend to be more toward the middle of the skill distribution. This means that immigrants aren’t substitutes for American labor but, instead, free up American labor to do jobs that are more productive.

There is broad agreement among economists that while immigrants may push down wages in some less desirable occupations, such as for farm workers, the overall effect is to increase average wages for American-born workers. While immigrants do not take jobs from native Americans, some, especially younger people who did not finish high school, saw their hours of work reduced by immigrants (but not their ability to find jobs).

Because immigration boosts the diversity of skills and ideas, a 1 percent rise in the immigrant share of the population tends to raise average incomes by 2 percent per person. Still, many American workers indicated they felt squeezed out by immigrants though this claim is largely unsupported.

High-skilled immigrants, especially in technology and science, who came in larger numbers in recent years, had a significant “positive impact” on Americans with skills and also on working-class Americans. Economists generally agree that immigration helps the U.S. economy by adding young workers to the workforce.

The Brookings Institution found that “on average, immigrant workers increase the opportunities and incomes of Americans” while a report by the Center for American Progress concluded that granting legal status to undocumented workers creates jobs. They spurred innovation helping to create jobs. Each immigrant creates 1.2 local jobs for local workers, most of them going to native workers, and 62 percent of these jobs are in non-traded services. Immigrants appear to raise local non-tradeable sector wages and to attract native-born workers from elsewhere in the country.

First generation documented immigrant families generally cost governments slightly more than they contribute in taxes, with most of the costs falling on state and local governments, mainly due to the expense of child education. But by the second generation those families, with improved education and taxpaying ability, become a benefit to government coffers adding about $30 billion a year. By the third generation, immigrant families contribute about $223 billion a year to government finances.

Immigration restrictions increase labor scarcity, especially in niches of the labor market where relatively few Americans work. At current wages for low-level jobs and current levels of welfare, there are many jobs that Americans will not take. The fact that immigrants, and especially undocumented immigrants, will take those jobs is the very reason the wage levels will not rise enough to attract Americans. The result is that undocumented immigrants therefore actually raise wages for documented/native workers.

Without a large supply of low-skilled immigrant farm workers, labor-intensive farming would either shrink dramatically or disappear entirely. The main effect of increasing labor scarcity by further restricting the supply of low-skilled immigrant workers will not be to raise the wages of Americans thereby drawing them to pick crops; it would be to eliminate large portions of the agricultural sector and other portions of the economy that demand large numbers of relatively low-skilled workers to operate most efficiently and profitably. American farmers would either grow different crops that could be profitably harvested mechanically or stop farming.

While it may also seem as though immigrants would lengthen hospital waiting lists, being younger and healthier than native born, they tend to pay more in taxes than they take out in benefits and services, see a doctor less often, and are disproportionately doctors and nurses themselves. Everyone in the country, citizen or undocumented immigrant, should be entitled to prompt medical treatment as untreated illnesses tend to increase treatment expenses and spread commutable diseases.

As its native working population gets grayer, it is increasingly clear that the U.S. needs more immigrants to sustain its economy[10]. And the one group that should be particularly eager to roll out the welcome mat: white Americans.

Migrants are a particularly important factor in sustaining the size of the U.S. workforce: in 2014, 80 percent of foreign-born inhabitants were aged 18 to 64 compared to 60 percent of those native born. Under current Census Bureau projections, non-Latino whites will account for less than half of the total population within the next three decades; 48 percent by 2050 but 60 percent of the population aged 65 or older. The elderly work at considerably lower rates and rely on public support for healthcare and welfare payments at far higher rates than those younger. Non-Latino whites will therefore be particularly at risk from the economic stagnation and budget constraints associated with a declining workforce that would result from lower minority birth rates or harsher limits on immigration.

U.S. immigration laws need extensive revision. Since 1990, the share of foreign-born people in the U.S. has gone from 9 percent to 15 percent. Though societies can find it difficult to accept more than limited change within a single generation; the number of refugees and immigrants admitted to the U.S. needs to be increased. Those in the U.S. under either the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) programs and never been convicted of a felony should be permitted to permanently remain. Any non-citizen serving in the U.S. military and honorably discharged should also be provided a direct path to citizenship. The U.S.’s current mix of immigration admittedly skews too heavily toward family unification and needs to attract more immigrants with skills. While family-reunification migration should be limited to immediate direct relatives, all limits on H-1B and EB-1 visas for foreign highly-skilled knowledge workers should be removed. Any student completing an advanced degree at a fully accredited U.S. university, especially in a STEM-related field, should automatically be offered a Green Card.

If none of this has been sufficiently persuasive, Christians should recall that even Jesus, Mary, and Joseph (and perhaps other members of their family) were undocumented refugees who fled possibly to Matariya, in the suburbs of Cairo at Heliopolis in Egypt, to avoid the threat of death. Later in life when Jesus set off on his mission, he took up the life of a displaced person with “nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8.20; Luke 9.58). He also asked those who acted for him to go out without a bag or a change of clothing, essentially to walk along the road like destitute refugees who had suddenly fled, relying on the generosity and hospitality of ordinary people whose villages they entered (Mark 6.8–11; Matthew 10.9–11; Luke 9.3). No one considering themselves to be Christian should ever consent to closing the door to refugees.

Even the early American colonists, many who fled Europe to avoid religious persecution, were “illegal” immigrants who settled without permission from the Algonkin, Iroquois, Pequot, or other long-established nations along the East Coast. That pattern then continued with expansion westward, all without consent from Native American nations they entered without approval.

Before scorning immigrants or refugees, everyone should explore their own family’s history; it will be filled with people who chose to improve their future regardless of the many barriers they faced. All Americans should then ask themselves who they would be if not for that ancestral immigrant.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Grover Glenn Norquist is U.S. Republican and political advocate who is founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, an organization that opposes all tax increases.

[2] Zong, Jie, Jeanne Batalova, and Jeffrey Hallock. Frequently Requested Statistics On Immigrants And Immigration In The United States, Migration Policy Institute,, 8 February 2018.

[3] Fingerhut, Hannah. Most Americans Express Positive Views Of Country’s Growing Racial And Ethnic Diversity, Pew Research Center,, 14 June 2018.

[4] Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German Nazi politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945 who advocated for extermination of the Jews in the Holocaust.

[5] Justin Bank. Cost of Illegal Immigrants, Factcheck,, 6 Apr 2009.

[6] LeGrain, Philippe. How To Convince Sceptics Of The Value Of Immigration?, The Economist,, 1 June 2018.

[7] Ye Hee Lee, Michelle. Donald Trump’s False Comments Connecting Mexican Immigrants And Crime, The Washington Post,, 8 July 2015.

[8] Shifting Public Views On Legal Immigration Into The U.S., Pew Research Center,, 28 June 2018.

[9] The Total Fertility Rate (TFR), the average number of children born by one woman, is 1.84, in the U.S. It needs to be around 2.2 in order to maintain a steady population base.

[10] Why America Needs More Immigrants, The Economist,, 25 June 2018.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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