Voices of our Community

Dec182014

Immigration Dialogues

by Hope Revelle, 2014 Immigration Dialogues Participant

This fall, members of the Atlanta community came together to study and discuss the issues that face immigrants and to attend a series of informative presentations provided by the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Through my experiences as an immigration attorney, I have witnessed the various civil and human rights challenges facing immigrants (both undocumented as well as those with lawful status), and I have struggled with the numerous shortcomings of our current immigration system. However, working at a personal level with my clients, I had not realized the significant impact our foreign-born neighbors have on our national economy. Our “Immigration Dialogues” helped me overcome the misconception that immigrants are somehow a financial drain on our country. The data presented below demonstrates only a few ways which immigration (both lawful and otherwise) actually benefits our economy and that practical reform would stimulate further growth. 

BACKGROUND

As of 2010, 40 million immigrants comprised 12.9% of the American population. Amongst those, 37% were naturalized U.S. citizens, 31% were lawful permanent residents, 4% held nonimmigrant visas (i.e., student and temporary work visas), and 28% were undocumented. More than half of these immigrants (23.1 million) represented 16.4% of the civilian labor force. 

 

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS AND JOB CREATION

Half of graduate students at U.S. universities are foreign nationals. However, lengthy backlogs for employment-based green cards and insufficient visa caps for temporary work visas leaves many immigrant graduates with no option but to seek opportunities in competing foreign markets. The following chart describes the significance of international students in three key Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields:

 

Field of Study

% of U.S. Ph.D.s Issued to Foreign Students

% of U.S. Masters Degrees Issued to Foreign Students

Electrical Engineering 65.1% 60%
Computer Science 50.2% 47%
Mathematics & Satistics 46.5% 39%

 

We train quality researchers and engineers and then prevent them from contributing to and developing American industries. As politicians and members of the media bemoan that immigrants are “stealing jobs from Americans,” the truth is that the immigrant population creates American jobs and sensible reform would create even more. Click here to review the full blog with links additional resources.

TAXES AND THE EARNINGS SUSPENSE FILE

Another myth we confronted revolved around the perception that undocumented immigrants do not pay taxes but still collect government benefits. It is undeniable that there are portions of our work force that do not pay taxes (including natural-born Americans and profitable corporations). First, only “qualified” lawful immigrants are eligible for most welfare programs and then only under limited circumstances, so undocumented immigrants are not collecting food stamps or subsidized housing. Second, in 2010 alone the Social Security Administration reported more than $10 billion in paid payroll taxes for workers whose names did not match the social security number provided. It is estimated that at least 75% of these taxpayers are undocumented immigrants using fake social security numbers and will never be able to benefit from the public programs into which they have paid.  Notably, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that, “a path to legalization for unauthorized immigrants would increase federal revenues by $48 billion but would only incur $23 billion of increased costs from public services, producing a surplus of $25 billion for government coffers.”

PRESIDENT OBAMA’S EXECUTIVE ORDER

The president’s executive order addresses some of these issues, but common sense reform is still necessary to achieve the full financial benefit foreign students and workers offer. The deferred action program for parents and the extension of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will make 5 million undocumented immigrants eligible for work permits. This group may create new taxpayers if they are not included in the 7.3 million workers in the “earnings suspense file.” There is a vague provision to “enhance opportunitiesfor entrepreneurs, but no concrete details have been released regarding implementation. Finally, we are told to expect the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program for student and recent graduates to be “expanded” and “extended,” but again, it is unclear what types of changes the Department of Homeland Security will effectuate. Currently, students are limited to a maximum of 12 months of post-graduation employment under their student visas before they must try their luck in the lottery of the already over-saturated H-1B visa category. 

The numbers speak for themselves. Not only is immigration reform necessary to solve the severe humanitarian crisis in Central America, but it simply makes economic sense. 

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