Welcome to Hispanic Business LiveChat. We would like to welcome our guest, Jeff Passel, senior research associate at the Pew Hispanic Center, taking questions on immigration reform and the impacts of immigrants on American society/communities.
Juan Nunez from Rockville, MD
What can be done to campaign against the current popular xenophobic anti-immigrant movement?
I'm not a politician, but a demographer. However, I'd note that throughout the country's history, public attitudes about immigration have generally been anit-immigrant and xenophobic. I try to point this out and also make the point that very often it's the descendants of immigrants who ere hated, feared, and villified who are making these xenophobic argument.
The U.S. today is a product of immigration and we should try to view today's immigrants in that context. Our history has been one of absorbing disparate groups and there's no reason to think it isn't still happening.
Thomas from Sacramento, CA
My name is Thomas Sanchez and I am a student at CSU-Sacramento. It is hard to find a lot of positive information about immigrants, could you comment on some of the positive aspects of immigration (it does not just have to be about Hispanics).
I’ve always viewed immigrants as a revitalizing force for the United States. Immigrants are hard-working and have come to this country seeking a better life. Examining some of the data more directly, we find that legal immigrants tend to have a higher proportion of college graduates than US natives and make substantial contributions (both fiscally and intellectually). In addition, there are major segments of the US economy that could not function efficiently without the presence of immigrants. Finally, in a more “demographic” sense, the US population is still growing, albeit slowly, and is not suffereing from some of the demographic ills facing many European countries. These include very low birthrates, few children, and rapidly growing shares of elderly. Although immigrants will not “solve” the Social Security “problem” the demographic structure of the US is much better than most other developed countries—we have immigrants to thank for this.
Victoria from Hesperia, CA
Some people feel illegal immigrants in the US bring down the minimum wage opportunities for American citizens because illegal immigrants provide low skilled labor at a cheaper rate and enable the farm industry and low skilled industry to hire illegal workers rather than offer minimum wages for American or legal workers.
Will an immigrant job policy or work permit policy force the farm and low skill industries to increase wages for American and Legal immigrant workers? How would it be enforced?
One of the few research results that is widely accepted is that undocumented immigrants have an effect on wages of other immigrants and low-skilled natives. The effect is not huge (about 8-10%) but is noticeable—especially if it’s your wages that are affected. I’m not very optimistic about an immigrant work permit policy having much of an impact here—partly because that would not be the major purpose of such a policy. Enforcement has always been an issue. It’s hard to envision effective enforcement without some sort of verifiable national ID card or work force database—things that I don’t truly believe the American people are ready to accept.
Angel Medina from New York City, NY
As we speak about impact,
What would be the impact on the US, if the hispanic population were to go on strike for 3 days?
Wasn’t there a movie with this as the theme? Hispanics are now found throughout the country and in a very wide range of jobs. It would be hard for the country to function with 10+% of its workers “on strike”
Xavier from Neira, OK
We see large numbers of native Oklahomans leave the state for work opportunities in neighboring states. At the same time, we see an influx of immigrants to the state. My questions is two-part:
1) Do you have any data that would show that the apparent trend is actually occuring; immigrant population growth, employment data, etc.?
2) There is an argument that immigrant workers are lowering the wages of workers in the state as a whole. We think the lower wages are directly related to the the number of professional workers leaving for neighboring states. Is our preception correct? If so, do you have any data to substantiate our perception?
I’m not familiar with the details of the situation in Oklahoma. It is one of about 22 states that have seen very rapid growth in their immigrant populations in the last 10-12 years. The immigrants are generally attracted to places where employment is growing, not where it’s declining. Overall, there’s no real evidence to suggest that an influx of immigrants leads to an outflow on natives. In fact, places that are attracting large numbers of immigrants also tend to attract natives. If wages are going down overall, it’s more likely due to professionals leaving (if indeed they are). For data, I’d suggest the 2000 Census, the Current Population Survey, and the American Community Survey.
Esteban from Washington Court House, OH
Why has it taken so long to pass a law that gives Immigrants a legal status in this country? (Since the brazero days we have not seen much change).
Immigration reform is always tough to pass. There are a lot people opposed to constructive reforms – such as ways to allow immigrants to obtain legal status. Also, there are strong forces that are satisfied with the status quo. For example, even though many segments of the business community would like to see reforms that make hiring immigrants easier and legal, they oppose some of the enforcement strictures that would likely be attached.
Andrea from Atlanta, GA
I have two questions:
Is there really an immigration reform on the way, or is the government just saying that to keep the Hispanic Community off their backs?
How much money is the illegal community providing to the government through the taxes withdrawn from their paychecks?
See my previous answer about why it’s so hard to pass immigration reform. The amount of taxes contributed by undocumented workers is substantial. The Center for Immigration Studies—a group favoring restrictions on immigration and opposing any sort of amnesty—estimates that the average undocumented household pays over $4,000 in Federal taxes alone.
Joseph from Santa Fe, NM
Where is the emphasis coming from for enhancing intruction techniques for Hispanic children who in a short time will constitute up to two thirds of the work force?
I don’t know of any data to suggest that Hispanics will ever constitute two-thirds of the workforce. Projections I’ve seen and ones I’ve done myself point to about 25% of workers being Hispanic in about 2050. We still need to improve education of all children, Hispanics included. It’s certainly an area that needs more attention and one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention or resources in my opinion.
Thomas from Chula Vista, CA
Is there any proof to the theory that immigrants are a drain on public resources?
In my opinion, most of the studies that find substantial negative impacts of immigrants on public resources have been done by groups wanting to restrict immigration. Two of the best are a bit dated, but the results are still relevant. “Setting the Record Straight” by Michael Fix and me (at www.urban.org ) concluded that immigrants paid about $25 billion more in taxes than they used in services (using data from the early 1990).
The National Academy of Sciences also addressed this issue in their 1997 study called “The New Americans.” They tried an innovative approach that looked at the lifetime contributions of immigrants, not just the current costs. They concluded that the lifetime impact of each new immigrant in 1994 was a positive contribution of $80,000 on public finances. The federal government was the principal beneficiary, not state and local governments. (This average included both legal and undocumented by the way). In contrast, the average “new native” (that is, each new birth) generated a net COST of $25,000.
Having said this, there is a burden on state and local governments to pay for educating the children of immigrants. However, most of these children are natives and the cost is, in my opinion, better viewed as an investment in the country’s future.
Todd from Fort Worth, TX
You mentioned that we have immigrants to thank for our advantageous position with regards to healthcare. However, demographically speaking, where do the long term challenges of accomodating immigration actually exist?
I didn't actually mean healthcare per se. I meant the overall demographic position of the US. For example, most European countries are facing very serious crises concerning their social insurance programs. The US, on the other hand not withstanding the current discussion of Social Security, is not facing anything like what Germany, Japan, Italy, and many others are facing. Very small improvements in the assumptions relating to Social Security projections and very small "tweaks" in the program will delay any serious problems for at least 50 years and possibly indefinitely.
Long-term, the challenges of accommodating immigration are much as they have always been--making sure that immgirants are integration socially and demographically plus making sure their children get good educations.
John from West Lafayette, IN
You wrote: "there are major segments of the US economy that could not function efficiently without the presence of immigrants." Can you give details on what those segments are?
Immigrants are a substantial presence in the high-tech industry in this country. They are also important in agriculture, food processing, construction, health care, leisure and accommodations. While the country could undoubtedly function in any of these areas without immigrants, it might be difficult in some and would certainly take time to adjust in any.
Major league baseball, anyone?
Herman from St Louis, MO
What is your view on the reluctance of immigrants to seek emergency medical assistance since some laws are being passed to report to the USCIS such events?
I consider this a very serious negative aspect of welfare and legal “reform.” We should be careful in designing policies to separate policing aspects from public (and private) health issues. I do not support such policies, in part, for the very reason you mention.
Paul from Sacramento, CA
Hello. The amount of media coverage on the American immigrant population as of late has been overwhelming. However, haven't these immigration numbers always existed and weren't they in fact projected?
Immigration numbers have increased steadily over the last 30 years. In each of the last 2 decades the US got more immigrants that ever before. However, in terms of the numbers relative to the size of the population, we got larger shares in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Also, for a long period of time—from roughly 1924 to 1965—we got relatively small numbers of new immigrants. The presence of immigrants in the population (measured by the percent of the population that is foreign-born) hit an all-time low in 1970 at 4.7%. Today, we have about 11-12% foreign-born in the population. This is much, much higher than a generation ago. However from about 1870 to 1920 we had 13-15% foreign-born.
Art from Pittsburg, CA
What is being done to address the language issue in learning? I see a lot of effort to instruct in native language. Will this benefit those in the long run in an English based country? Spanish is such a valuable language to capitalize on but English would be required as well.
There is a great deal of debate in the education community about the best way to teach English to children of immigrants. The tension, as I understand it, is between making sure that the kids learn the subject-matter material and the best way to bring them up to speed in English. Although it is not my field, my sense is that there is more emphasis today on teaching English than there was 5-10 years ago.
One thing that all of the data clearly support is that the immigrants themselves want to learn English and they their children to master it too. It is widely accepted in the immigrant community that speaking English leads to higher incomes.
Juan from El Paso, TX
Do you have any recent data on the number of immigrants that go through the Texas / Mexico border?
Most immigrants who pass through the US-Mexico border go through California and then Arizona. Texas sees a large number but not as many. Overall, my data point to about 500-600,000 or so new immigrants from Mexico SETTLING in the US each year. The numbers don’t actually increase this fast because several hundred thousand go back to Mexico annually. Also, not all of those passing through the border actually intend to settle in the US. Rather they are coming for shorter periods to work or visit. All told, probably about 750,000-1,000,000 people sneak across the border each year. Most of these don’t end up in Texas, Arizona, or California, but rather go on to other states.
(If you’re talking about LEGAL crossings through the ports of entry, the numbers are much, much higher – in the tens of millions.)
Andrea from Atlanta, GA
Why doesn't the government punish these companies that are profiting from the illegal community?
Most companies that hire undocumented workers (and probably essentially all of the large companies) are obeying the letter of the law. All that’s necessary for them to meet the legal requirements is to request documentation for ALL workers hired and that the documents “appear valid on their face.” Companies are not required to strictly scrutinized all documents for evidence of fraud. The government would have a hard time proving violations even if they tried.
Eduardo from New York, NY
Hispanic Immigration is creating a xenophic trend in the US. How do we mitigate this impact in the American Society?
I think it is important to place today’s immigration in historical context. What the country is experiencing is not all that different from the great waves of immigration of the past. The reactions (often negative) are also distressingly similar to past xenophobic responses. We can point out how wrong the critics were before. Also, it’s important to point out the positive contributions of immigrants in a wide range of areas.
This concludes our Hispanic Business LiveChat. A big thanks to Jeff Passel and the Pew Hispanic Center. For more information on immigration reform and the impacts of immigrants on American society/communities please visit www.pewhispanic.org.