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BROOKS: The easy question of immigration reform

Over here in the department of punditry, we deal with a lot of hard issues, ones on which the evidence is mixed and the options are all bad. But the immigration issue is a blessed relief. On immigration, the evidence is overwhelming; the best way forward is clear.

The forlorn pundit doesn't even have to make the humanitarian case that immigration reform would be a great victory for human dignity. The cold economic case by itself is so strong.

Increased immigration would boost the U.S. economy. Immigrants are 30 percent more likely to start new businesses than native-born Americans, according to a research summary by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney of the Hamilton Project. They are more likely to earn patents. A quarter of new high-tech companies with more than $1 million in sales were also founded by the foreign-born.

A study by Madeline Zavodny, an economics professor at Agnes Scott College, found that every additional 100 foreign-born workers in science and technology fields is associated with 262 additional jobs for U.S. natives.

Thanks to the labor of low-skill immigrants, the cost of food, homes and child care comes down, living standards rise and more women can afford to work outside the home.

The second clear finding is that many of the fears associated with immigration, including illegal immigration, are overblown.

Immigrants are doing a reasonable job of assimilating. Almost all of the children of immigrants from Africa and Asia speak English and more than 90 percent of the children of Latin-American immigrants do. New immigrants may start out disproportionately in construction and food-service jobs, but, by second and third generation, their occupation profiles are little different from the native-born.

Immigrants, including illegal immigrants, are not socially disruptive. They are much less likely to wind up in prison or in mental hospitals than the native-born.

Immigrants, both legal and illegal, do not drain the federal budget. It's true that states and localities have to spend money to educate them when they are children, but, over the course of their lives, they pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. Furthermore, according to the Congressional Budget Office, giving the current illegals a path to citizenship would increase the taxes they pay by $48 billion and increase the cost of public services they use by $23 billion, thereby producing a surplus of $25 billion.

It's also looking more likely that immigrants don't even lower the wages for vulnerable, low-skill Americans. In 2007, the last time we had a big immigration debate, economists were divided on this. One group, using one methodology, found immigration had a negligible effect on low-skill wages. Another group, using another methodology, found that the wages of the low-skilled were indeed hurt.


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