Immigration has been so important to the development of the United States that our national motto — E Pluribus Unum — refers to it. Out of many, one. But these days right wing fear-mongers led by Donald Trump have caused many of us to oppose robust immigration. Tightening immigration, especially for counter-factual or racist reasons, is contrary to this country’s long-term economic interests. But it is fair to question how well immigrants integrate into existing society and to consider what costs we incur along with the benefits.
Integration is the process by which immigrant groups and the host population come to resemble one another. Integration depends on the participation by immigrants and their descendants in the major social institutions of the country, such as schools and the workforce, and their social acceptance by other Americans.
In some developed countries, such as France, integration has been a problem. But not here. First and second generation immigrants represent one out of four members of the U.S. population.
These immigrants have become Americans, embracing American identity and citizenship, serving in the military, working hard in jobs up and down the economic spectrum, and enriching American art, music, and cuisine. Immigrants are home owners, taxpayers, college students, and contributors to American society across the board.
Many of the following statistics and comparisons come from The Integration of Immigrants Into American Society, published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2016.
Education. Despite large differences in starting points of their parents, most second generation immigrants — men and women — meet or exceed the schooling level of third+ generation native born Americans. This is, in part, because many immigrants are already highly skilled when they arrive.
More than a quarter of our foreign-born now have a college degree or more. Educational integration is more challenging for Mexican and Central American immigrants and their children, who start with lower levels of education and English proficiency.
Labor Force Participation. First-generation immigrant men have high employment rates. This is especially pronounced among the least educated, who are more likely to be employed even than comparably educated native-born men. Obviously, they are filling a need in the U.S. economy. Immigrant women begin with lower employment levels than natives but reach parity by the third generation.
Competition with Native Americans. Unskilled immigrants (both lawful and unlawful) compete with those most similar to themselves in the U.S. economy – immigrants who arrived just before them and unskilled, undereducated natives. Unskilled immigrants may reduce employment opportunities and slightly lower wage rates for these competing groups in the short run. But they have no effect on the overall longer-term availability of jobs or the wage rates in the U.S. economy.
Political Ideology and Party Identification. Immigrants tend to be less committed to one political party than native born Americans. The largest percentage of foreign-born (44%) consider their views to be moderate, while 31% consider their views to be conservative and 25% to be liberal. When it comes to political parties, the foreign born are much more likely than native-born to consider themselves “independent.”
Crime. Increased prevalence of immigrants is associated with lower crime rates — the opposite of the common right-wing trope. Among men ages 18-39, immigrants are incarcerated at one-fourth the rate of the native born. Cities and neighborhoods with high concentrations of immigrants have much lower levels of crime and violence. This is born out by a Cato Institute study which looked at crime conviction statistics in Texas for 2019.
Still you hear that immigrants, especially illegal immigrants crossing our southern border, harbor large numbers of drug-related criminals. Donald Trump, playing on racist fears, claimed that Mexican immigrants were drug dealers and rapists. Others now claim that the Biden Administration’s border policy is allowing large quantities of fentanyl to enter the country. That is baloney. Here are the facts.
Most of the people convicted of fentanyl trafficking between 2018 and 2021 were American citizens, not Mexicans or asylum-seekers. In FY 2021 American citizens were 86.2% of those convicted. Still, Mexican drug cartels are responsible for the bulk of fentanyl entering the U.S. The drug is transported by land, sea, air and even tunnels to safe houses in Los Angeles, Phoenix and El Paso, to be distributed across America. No absurd border wall will be effective in stopping fentanyl because the traffickers don’t wade across the Rio Grande.
While We Dither on Immigration Policy, Other Countries Take Advantage. Recently, The Wall Street Journal published an article detailing how Canada has opened up its immigration system to foreign-born workers in America on H-1 temporary visas in a clear bid to lure away highly-educated foreigners frustrated by the restrictive U.S. immigration process. H-1 visa holders have advanced degrees and are eagerly sought by tech companies who are unable to find similar U.S. workers.
Canada’s proposed work permit would allow H-1B visa holders to move to Canada without a job and look for one once they arrive. The types of immigrants who would qualify for the program could also quickly become permanent residents under that country’s merit-based points immigration system.
So while we suffer from political fear-mongering and Republican opposition to immigration that has no factual support, we will continue to lose ground to other countries and put our long-term economic security in jeopardy. This is insane.