Proving that there is no kind of immigrant he thinks is good for America, Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) called a hearing on immigration in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, where he attempted to make the case that even immigrants with valid documentation are bad for America. Sessions pulled from the same narrow pool of “experts” who are often called upon to bash immigration in all its forms, including Stephen Camarota from the anti-immigrant Center on Immigration Studies and Jorge Borjas, one of the few economists who still does not recognize the value immigration brings to the U.S. economy.
Both Camarota and Borjas stretched to make the weakest of links between increases in immigration and employment trends of native workers. As usual, they point to those who work at the lowest rungs of the labor market to make the argument that immigrant workers negatively impact wages. They note that immigrant-workers hurt the prospects of African-American and white-workers with less than a high-school diploma while, as usual, ignoring the various other barriers that block their advancement.
David Kallick of the Fiscal Policy Institute quickly corrected the two in his testimony, noting:
“…reducing immigration is an ineffective way to improve the living standard of these groups, whose livelihood is being undermined by a number of social and economic forces that dwarf the possible impact of immigration. The best response is for Americans to become more educated –and, indeed, that is happening at a truly impressive rate. Even as the population increased, there were 3 million fewer men with less than a High School degree age 25 and older in 2014 than there were in 2000—including immigrants. Blacks, including black men, are improving at the fastest rate, though they are still not closing the gap with whites.”
In addition, Benjamin Johnson of the American Immigration Lawyers Association highlighted the bigger economic picture—ignored by most of the other panelists—which shows how important immigrants are and always have been to the U.S. economy. Johnson notes:
“The nation’s 25.7 million foreign-born workers comprised 16.5 percent of the labor force in 2014. These immigrants—whether they have legal status or are unauthorized—make enormous contributions to the U.S. economy as workers, consumers, taxpayers, and entrepreneurs. In fact, immigrants—including unauthorized immigrants—create jobs through their purchasing power and their entrepreneurship, buying goods and services from U.S. businesses and creating their own businesses, both of which sustain U.S. jobs. In 2013, immigration added roughly 0.2 percent to the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), which translates into $31.4 billion (in 2012 dollars).”
Kallick also explained why it makes economic sense to welcome immigrants, discussing the correlation between the size of a region’s immigrant population and it economic growth. He said:
“Increases in immigration are also closely linked to economic growth. In comparing 25 metro areas around the United States, we found that where there is growth there is immigration, and that the only places you’re likely to find little immigration are places with little economic growth. This doesn’t prove that immigration causes growth. It does suggest, though, that if you are serious about having a growing economy you should be finding ways to welcome immigrants.”
The fact that the Senate and House are using their time to attack those who come to the U.S. on immigrant visas and the President’s executive actions on immigration, rather than work on policies that move the issue and our nation forward is unfortunate. Nothing new was learned in the Senate hearing, as the voices against immigration used the same old arguments as they have in the past. Rather than attack immigration in all its forms, Congress should move forward with updating our immigration system. Immigration is and will continue to be a powerful economic force and the United States needs an immigration system that can best harness and channel that energy.
Photo by Gage Skidmore.