Make Mexico Pay for the Blog

When Facts Don’t Matter

Truly unlike any other national election campaign in recent memory, a presidential nominee campaigned on unabashed nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiments… and it worked. Better than anyone could’ve anticipated, actually. Trump clearly tapped into some veiled, widespread contempt for immigrants, specifically undocumented ones. About two-thirds of Trump supporters saw immigration as a “very big problem” while nearly 80% supported his calls for a border with Mexico. To Trump’s supporters, immigrants are a “burden” to hardworking taxpayers, and their “consumption of costly social services” symbolizes the supposed money drain that is the welfare state. But are Trump and his devotees right to argue so disdainfully against the easing of immigration restrictions?

Let’s start with the idea that a strong border is a positive asset. Most politicians, no matter their party affiliation or stance on immigration as a whole, have no problem pursuing aggressive border security policy. Voters have all but taken the idea as given. A “real country” must have “real borders,” right?

Conversely, studies indicate that the way legislators have approached border security has had a very real opposite impact than intended. The pursuit of the “the militarization of the border” has been designed “in a way that [is] disconnected from the actual size of undocumented flow.” The undocumented population in the U.S. has grown from 3 million in 1986 to its current estimate of about 11 million despite a “twenty fold increase in nominal funding” for border security. Legislators have failed to see that the economic benefits of coming to America continue to outweigh the dangers posed by increased border security, so people still come illegally but now stay much longer. In 2004, 34% of undocumented immigrants had resided in the U.S. for over ten years; by 2014, that number jumped to 66%.

But this wasteful border policy wouldn’t be in effect if it weren’t for the misguided and stringent overall immigration policy of the United States. A common argument is that undocumented immigrants steal jobs and labor market opportunities from natives (usually of lower education levels) while simultaneously not paying any taxes. First of all, undocumented immigrants actually contribute a net-positive tax revenue, contrary to popular belief. They often find ways to pay local and state taxes so as not to arouse suspicion, and they are also barred from receiving the benefits that they help fund.

There is also little job competition that occurs between natives and undocumented immigrants (as they possess entirely different sets of skills), and no evidence to support the idea that natives experience any sort of increased unemployment as a result of immigration influxes. If anything, immigrants could be an economic boon. By some estimates, severe barriers to immigration leave trillions out of the global GDP. A five-year path to citizenship could mean a windfall to the tune of $1.1 trillion to the U.S. GDP alone.

Many people appreciate the cultural melting pot that is the United States, but question why these migrants can’t just come here legally. If it was as simple as “waiting in line,” they would. Much of the symbolic vilification of immigrants that has developed among American politicians and voters would probably be far more subdued if not for policies that create unrealistic quotas (50,000 immigrants per nation per year) and force willing workers to wait years just for a green card. But when the average American struggles to make ends meet and feels the precarious economy weighing down him, it’s easy to turn around, see undocumented immigrants “cutting in line” and “taking jobs,” and blame them for a lot of the country’s economic turmoil.

Unfortunately, the discourse surrounding immigration is perhaps more symbolically driven than any other salient issue – people simply don’t know the facts. For the voters and politicians who so dramatically rail against the catastrophe of open borders and paths to citizenship for undocumented workers, I have a couple questions. It would be one thing if immigrants had negligible economic impacts, but what if they actually facilitate growth? How far does your desperate nationalism extend that you can justify excluding others at the economic detriment of your own country? Even if you are unable to muster any sympathy for the millions of needy people searching for better opportunities, immigration is a good thing no matter how you look at it.

We must stop letting traditional partisan attachments mask the facts of the debate. We are losing real revenue by turning away millions of people whose only goals are to work hard and provide for their families. We are a nation of immigrants, and those values seem pretty American to me.

Ryan • December 11, 2016

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