Why Immigration is Good for your Finances (and the Country)

Like a large majority of Americans, I’ve been incredibly disturbed and saddened by the latest news cycle of documented torment reaped upon the families of our fellow humans that seek refuge in our country from extreme violence and poverty. There are legitimate, humane strategies to address the challenge of undocumented immigration, but tearing babies, toddlers, and children from their parent’s arms and separately warehousing them in tents and cages (and even drugging them against their will) is not one of them. I like to think that we have a moral responsibility to be better than that.

And while I could spend an entire article debunking the overall crime threat posed by immigrants – I’ll just share a few highlights. The data analysis from the largest such study looked at Census Bureau and FBI crime data across 200 metropolitan areas in every census year from 1970 to 2010, and found that:

“In 136 metro areas, almost 70% of those studied, the immigrant population increased between 1980 and 2016 while crime stayed stable or fell. The number of areas where crime and immigration both increased was much lower — 54 areas, slightly more than a quarter of the total.”


“The 10 places with the largest increases in immigrants all had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980.”


“While the immigrant population in the county has more than doubled since 1980, overall violent crime has decreased by more than 50%.”


“After controlling for age, level of unemployment, labor market structure and other factors, the researchers found a reduction of almost five violent crimes per 100,000 residents for every 1% increase in foreign-born population.”

Another study, focused just on Texas, found:

“Immigrants in the country illegally were 25% less likely to be convicted of homicide than native-born Americans. (Legal immigrants were 87% less likely.) Immigrants in the country illegally were also 11.5% less likely than native-born Americans to be convicted of sexual assault and 79% less likely to be convicted of larceny.”

While yet another found,

“The results from fixed‐effects regression models reveal that undocumented immigration does not increase violence. Rather, the relationship between undocumented immigration and violent crime is generally negative.”

Finally, the numbers show that of the 303,000+ migrant crossings in 2017, 228 (0.0007) were MS-13 related.

A zero tolerance policy to apprehend and criminally charge refuge/asylum-seeking families only makes us LESS safer, as it takes away resources that could be used to apprehend and prosecute real criminals (the shortfall from misdirected resources has even resulted in military lawyers being called in from the Pentagon to process migrant families). It’s also very expensive to detain immigrants for misdemeanor prosecutions, reportedly costing:

“$775 per person per night to keep the newly separated children of families who cross the U.S. border illegally in “tent cities.”… The per-person cost at certain detention centers that would keep families together is $298 per night.”

We’re paying for that. We shouldn’t be.

So now that we’ve debunked the imaginary threat, let’s talk about a real threat: the economics of less immigration.

Economic Growth is Dependent on Population Growth, and Population Growth is Dependent on Immigration in the U.S.

The total fertility rate of the US fell below the replacement level for the ninth straight year in 2016, according to data published by the CDC.

us fertility and replacement rate

The implication of this is that without immigration, the U.S. population would be declining. And if you don’t think that is a problem, please reference the last few decades within Japan and Europe. In fact, even with legal and illegal immigration, the total working age population in the US has slightly declined over the last decade, which is a shocking departure from most of the last century (when economic growth was skyrocketing):

working age population

Among other things, this is catastrophic for Social Security, which is a generational transfer of funds that cannot survive an extended population decline.

You would think that the working population decline wouldn’t be the case, with all of the inflamed rhetoric about how the workforce is being over-run by undocumented immigrants. But, in reality, the total immigrant population as a share of the total US population is just 13.5% – which is lower than the average of the world’s most developed countries. And there have actually been far more departures of undocumented immigrants than arrivals over the last decade.

net immigration flow

We may need to build a wall, after all… to keep them IN.

Trump’s Federal Reserve has noted that shortage of workers is becoming a problem across many industries – particularly industries that have been heavily reliant on migrant workers – farming, restaurant, hospitality/tourism, and factory work.

The U.S. farming industry has been particularly hard hit, with crop and revenue losses, because native-born Americans don’t want to do the jobs and the work is simply not getting done. And the medical field is about to face a catastrophic shortfall of 120,000 physicians that could be filled by legal immigrants if our system allowed for it. These are men and women that could be saving our lives, but they can’t get green cards.

Then there is the immigration impact on economic growth. And it’s a biggie. Research shows that for every 1% increase in the U.S. population that is made of immigrants, GDP rises 1.15%. Deporting the estimated 11.3 million undocumented people in this country would be an almost $8 trillion hit to the economy over the next 14 years (and ending DACA alone would result in a loss of $460.3 billion from the national GDP over the next decade). Alternatively, legalizing undocumented immigrants could boost GDP by almost $2 trillion in that same time period.

immigration and GDP growth

The following passage tells a cautionary tale of what could have happened to America’s economic standing in the world without population growth from immigration:

“In the past decade, American population growth has averaged 0.8% a year, 8 times faster than Europe’s, and Japan’s population has not grown at all. Increasingly, then, the underlying difference between the fast- and slow-growing economies is explained more by the differences in population growth than by productivity. And the US now relies more than ever on demographics to defend its economic power. In the past decade, population growth, including immigration, has accounted for roughly half of the potential economic growth rate in the US, compared with just one-sixth in Europe, and none in Japan. Since 2005, per capita gross domestic product has grown on average by 0.6% a year in the United States, exactly the same rate as in Japan and virtually the same rate as in the 19 nations of the eurozone. In other words, if it weren’t for the boost from babies and immigrants, the United States economy would look much like those supposed laggards, Europe and Japan. Indeed, if the United States population had been growing as slowly as Japan’s over the last two decades, its share of the global economy would be just 15%, not the 25% it holds today

Despite the overwhelming mountain of evidence that shows the economic benefits of immigration (undocumented and documented), the current administration would not only like to reduce undocumented immigration, but also has backed a law that would CUT documented immigration by half over the next decade.

We should be competing for more and more legal immigration – not turning away people who desperately want to be here who can simultaneously help us fill labor and growth needs (while making the country safer).

Immigrants Are Very Entrepreneurial and are Job Creators

A 2016 study by the Partnership for the New American Economy found that 40% of all Fortune 500 companies were founded or co-founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. Taken together they employed 19 million people and had revenues of $4.8 trillion. Comcast, eBay, Kraft, Google, Pfizer, AT&T, and many more share one thing in common – they all had immigrants as founders.

I’ve personally benefited from this phenomenon – my employer over the last 11 years was founded by an immigrant.

But it’s not just today’s massive corporations – it’s small businesses and startups as well. Another study found that 51% of current U.S. billion dollar startups were founded by immigrants and yet another found that immigrants were more than twice as likely to start a business than native born citizens, and start more than 25% of all businesses in 7 of the 8 sectors of the economy that the U.S. government expects to grow the fastest over the next decade.

How many future businesses will never have the chance to be conceived, grow, and flourish as a result of a restrictive immigration policy?

Immigrants are a Huge Net Positive on the Country’s Finances & Pay Significant Tax Revenues

I’d like to dispel another myth: that immigrants and refugees are somehow a massive drain on the country’s finances. But don’t just take my word for it, take… the Trump administration’s word for it.

The Trump administration ran a study that concluded last July trying to prove their own hypothesis that refugees were a drain on the country’s finances. Instead, their study concluded that refugees have contributed a net positive (after subtracting costs) of $63 billion to government through $270 billion in federal, state, and local taxes paid over a 10-year time period.

So what did they do with the study? They hid it (it was later leaked to the press).

Then there are the undocumented immigrants. A recent study found that about half of undocumented workers in the United States file income tax returns. The most recent IRS data, from 2015, shows that the agency received 4.4 million income tax returns from workers who don’t have Social Security numbers, which includes a large number of undocumented immigrants. That year, they paid $23.6 billion in income taxes.

Undocumented workers pay taxes for benefits they can’t use, such as Social Security and Medicare. They also aren’t eligible for benefits like the earned income tax credit, Medicaid, and ACA subsidies. Even green card holders, who are permanent residents of the US, have to wait five years to qualify for nearly all social welfare programs.

You Benefit from Immigration

Whether it’s more jobs/business created, higher GDP growth, lower prices paid on goods, foods, and services, or more tax revenues to help pay for infrastructure, education, health care, Social Security, and other governmental programs – it’s very clear that we all benefit in some way financially from immigration.

I am not calling for “open borders” (nor do I know anyone who is). Rather, we need to increase legal immigration (not cut it by 50%) and put more resources into safe, documented, and vetted opportunities in this country for more refugee and asylum seekers. It’s the right moral and ethical choice – and it’s becoming increasingly clear that it’s also the right financial choice as well.

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