Next to abortion, immigration maybe the most polarizing topic in the country today and it’s a deep rooted issue as old as the country. Starting with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, this country has had periods of deep anti-immigration fervor often correlating to difficult and challenging economic times. The great recession of 2007 – 2009 was no exception and in states like Arizona, the debate has moved from the streets to the state house to the court house where the anti-immigration forces blame immigrants, legal and otherwise, for the high unemployment, state expenses, crime, and other societal ills. Blaming illegal immigrants is easy as they have way of really fighting back. But do illegal immigrants cause more crime, higher unemployment, state services costs, and contribute to negative economic impacts? That depends on who you chose to listen to as there are some extremely partisan reports out there. I chose to look at two university papers: the exhaustive 2008 study by Judith Gans, manager of the Immigration Policy at the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute’s analysis “Illegal immigration vs. Arizona’s fiscal crisis.”
The simple formula is revenues generated form taxes minus healthcare, law enforcement, and education costs. The Gans paper goes much deeper into the analysis, methodology, and assumptions and is quite comprehensive. And while it is based on 2004 data, this study shows that the presence of immigrants is a $1 Billion gain for the state and the presence of non-citizen immigrants is neutral or slightly positive. The Morrison Institute piece states the economic impact is minimal.
Non-citizen immigrants do take low paying jobs form the less educated and they depress wages. But they also keep employer costs down, and they make up a significant percentage of agricultural, construction, and service workers. Doesn’t it make sense to find some method to bring these people into the fold and make them citizens? Instead our state government focuses on further anti-immigration legislation even though immigrants (naturalized and non-citizen) are less likely to commit crimes compared to native citizens.
The economic problems in this state are not due to immigrants, it is due to structural failures from a lack of revenue to cover the expanding expenses.
Tighten the border and crack down on drug and smuggling crimes and pay less attention to challenging birthright citizenship and drivers licenses, those aren’t people to be worried about.