Jawhari: Issues exist with modern immigration reform

Sarah Jawhari, Columnist

Unless you are of Native American descent, you are a descendant of someone who did not originally inhabit the area that we now consider to be our nation. It seems this is a difficult truth to accept for conservative Americans touting immigration reform. The entitlement is not surprising, though it is frustrating. Before American borders expanded to California, there were people living on the land. Many “immigrants” in states like Texas and Arizona have family roots that run far deeper in America than the uprooted European lineage of their white counterparts.

Considering all that immigrants sacrifice to come to the United States—as well as all they have contributed and continue to give—why now are they receiving negative attention? We owe much of our diversity, our economic growth, our expansive infrastructure and our vast labor pool to immigrants and slaves—foreigners who came to the U.S. because their own countries could not provide for them, or foreigners who were brought here by force to work and be sold as property.

Banning immigrants from the nation or threatening to deport those who are here won’t do much to improve the U.S. In fact, their exclusion would quickly devastate the economy and cripple the diverse career fields of which they are a part.

If you don’t believe me, or if you’re still intent on ousting the immigrants who are “stealing” American jobs, we’ll start at your breakfast table. Let’s say the low-pay farmers that shipped those almonds to you are based in California. Unfortunately—and expectedly—there’s no accurate way to measure how many “illegal aliens” are working these jobs, but in September 2014, a massive study by the University of Southern California tried. The project found that undocumented Americans constitute up to 10% of the state’s workforce and contribute over 130 billion annually to California’s gross domestic product (GDP). Data was pulled and combined from the national census and other state logistics, including figures from the California Immigrant Policy Center. The same study found that undocumented Americans make up 38 percent of the agriculture industry, and nearly half of these immigrants have been part of the U.S. for over 10 years.

On the other side of the country, new economic data found that undocumented Americans contributed $588 million annually in state and local taxes in Florida. This figure was drawn from sales tax, excise tax and property taxes. Nationally—according to state and local tax data analyzed and published by the Institute on Taxation and Economy Policy—undocumented immigrants contribute $11.6 billion to the economy annually.

The downside is that few studies can predict or name the total “cost” of undocumented Americans. And like all citizens, they do consume services and resources. Their native-born children will attend American public schools to learn, visit hospitals when they are sick and generally benefit from public services—the same programs whose existence has been a question for the Trump administration since the days of his campaign trail. But if we are to simplify the complex cost-benefit debate, the numbers tell a positive story: cost is offset by benefit. It’s clear that undocumented immigrants are paying taxes, working low-pay jobs to reduce consumption costs for other Americans and contributing to the strength of our economy. At the end of the day, the main strain on the federal budget from undocumented migrants is the billions spent on enforcement including checkpoints, surveillance, Border Patrol weaponry and employees and private prisons; not to mention the border wall Trump has proposed and is currently planning, an unnecessary pressure on the American taxpayer that will—according to experts—do little to stop demonized “illegals.” We won’t raise the question of priorities here for the sake of space.

In September 2016, the National Academy of Sciences issued “The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration,” a 508-page report which outlined the benefits and detriments of immigrants living in the U.S. Because the subject is complex at its core, the report made no attempt to simplify or condense, and for this reason the data was interpreted differently in opposing political spheres. Conservatives quoted “lost wages” as the price Americans pay for immigrants, though there is no agreement on the extent or value of these lost wages. But the same report lists “businesses, landowners and investors” as those who reap nearly all the benefits from immigrants, and it is these same benefactors that comprise the Republican party.

In terms of crime, several studies have concluded that immigrants are far less likely to commit crimes than citizens. So essentially, the radical vilification of immigrants makes no sense. They are benefiting your pocket directly, they aren’t committing all the crime you claim they are and they are directly contributing to the economy through taxes, which you would otherwise have to pay yourself.

This is why strict immigration reform has roots in xenophobia and racism, because objectively immigrants as a group serve us more than they hurt us. But it is easier to point a finger at those different than us than it is to hold up a mirror and ask what is lacking in ourselves and lacking in America.