Immigration Reform: Battling Fear with Facts

It’s often said that the road to perdition is paved with good intentions. Given the political machinations surrounding immigration reform, some observers might be tempted to add a corollary: that even the best-intended legislation is no match for misinformed or deliberately tendentious debate.

According to journalist Juan Williams, President Bush’s attempt to pass comprehensive immigration reform, in 2007, was doomed by what he calls the “dagger” of an idea: that our southwestern border had become a literal walkover for illegal immigrants. [See Opinion: Dispensing with a New ‘Dagger’ Against Immigration Reform, by Juan Williams, The Hill, 18.Feb.2013.] That rhetorical dagger was blunted, Williams says, by “a record number of border patrol agents now in place, along with electronic surveillance and even walls to seal off the borders. Illegal border crossings are now so low that some estimate more people are leaving than arriving.”

Though immigration reform enjoys more bipartisan support than it did in 2007, a dwindling group of die-hard CIR opponents is aiming a new “dagger” at the latest reform effort, Williams says: the notion that “Immigrants, both legal and illegal, are ‘Takers’ not ‘Makers.'” In other words, they claim the costs of immigration vastly outweigh the benefits; and that immigrants come here “looking for handouts.” Williams forcefully refutes this view, citing a raft of economic studies that find precisely the opposite: “The factual reality is that the vast majority of immigrants – legal and illegal – contribute more to this country than they take in social services.”

According to Williams, economists and demographers have determined that:

  • Immigrants are helping to keep the Social Security trust fund solvent for the next wave of retirees, and will contribute $611 billion to Social Security coffers over the next 75 years.
  • Legal immigrants use social support programs like welfare, food stamps and Medicaid at the same rate – or less – than native-born Americans.
  • Immigrants get less in Social Security and Medicare benefits than their native-born American counterparts.
  • Immigration reform, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented currently living here, would increase U.S. GDP by $1.5 trillion over ten years.

Meanwhile, over at The New Yorker, James Surowiecki takes the edge off another metaphorical dagger aimed at CIR: the fear that it will be “bad for American workers” and potentially harm the economy. [See Immigration Reform and the American Worker, by James Surowiecki, The New Yorker, 22.Feb.2013.] Surowiecki counters by drawing a straight line between immigration, innovation, and job creation, noting that immigrants are overrepresented in the ranks of entrepreneurs and patent holders here, and that “in 2011, for instance, three-quarters of the patents from the country’s ten most prolific research universities had immigrants among their contributors.”

Surowiecki is quick to point out that low-skilled immigrant workers also benefit the U.S. economy because their skills are complementary – not competitive – with those of native-born American workers. Without foreign-born dishwashers and busboys, Surowiecki argues, fewer native-born Americans would have jobs as waiters and bartenders; a similar dynamic is present in the construction industry, he says.

Both articles make excellent reading, and provide a healthy factual counterbalance to the misinformation that’s still circulating about comprehensive immigration reform. Implicitly, they make a larger point: facts matter, and are indispensable to reasoned public decision-making. As in any public debate, good information is more than half the battle.

Copyright © 2013, MURTHY LAW FIRM. All Rights Reserved

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.