The Pathway of Undocumented Immigrants

undocumented immigrants
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Our first seven presidents – George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson – were foreign born “undocumented immigrants.” Most transitioned into citizenship because they were residing in a territory when it was adjudged to be the “United States.” It wasn’t until Martin Van Buren was elected as our eighth president that America had its first native born president. The “Magnificent 7” came to America before there was a country or an immigration policy.

There is an estimated 11.4 million undocumented immigrants (UI) living in the United States. The top countries of origin (as of 2012) are Mexico (59 percent), El Salvador (6 percent), Guatemala (5 percent), Honduras (3 percent), Philippines (3 percent), and Europe, Canada, Africa, et. al (11 percent). From these numbers, only an estimated 1 million UIs have been deported under the Obama administration’s immigrant enforcement program called “secure communities,” which includes, in its calibrations, the status of immigrants booked into county jails in participating jurisdictions. The approximate number of today’s foreign born population in the United States documented and undocumented is 40 million. 662,483 UIs were apprehended in 2013; 64 percent were from Mexico. However, 438,421 UIs were removed from the United States. Seventy-two percent were repatriated to Mexico, 11 percent to Guatemala, 8 percent to Honduras and 5 percent to El Salvador.

Against this heady review of key members of population percentages in the United States associated with immigration (documented and undocumented), startling underreported costs reveal the biggest surprise. Consider the following:

  • UIs paid an estimated $11.2 billion in taxes in 2010.
  •  Half of all UIs pay some form of federal taxes.
  • As of 2010, uninsured UIs cost taxpayers $4.3 billion annually in health care costs.
  • If all current UIs were legalized, the federal government could accrue an additional net tax revenue of $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion over three years.
  • An additional $1.5 trillion would be added to the U.S. GDP over 10 years with the passage of a comprehensive immigration reform plan (like Obama’s plan, which hasn’t been passed by Congress), if it legalized all UIs currently living in the United States.
  • The majority of UIs pay income taxes using individual taxpayer identification number (ITINs) or false social security numbers.
  • An estimated 75% of UIs pay payroll taxes.
  • The majority of taxpayers using incorrect or false social security numbers are UIs. This group contributes approximately $7 billion to social security and $1.5 billion to Medicare.
  • Tax revenue contributing UIs on the local, state and national levels are ineligible for most government benefits, including Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps.

Considerable discussion about the alleged adverse effects of undocumented workers on U.S. workers has been largely exaggerated. Immigration has little to no negative impact on native-born workers; even those who compete directly with immigrants. Contrary to assertions within the current political realm, workers whose wages are affected the most from UI’s employment are other foreign-born workers. Ironically, there’s some evidence that some workers’ wages benefit from the influx of immigrants. Further, the prevailing opinion among most employers and economists is that UIs fill important gaps in the U.S. labor markets. Additionally, UI productivity in low skill, low-wage jobs create spillover effects in the economy.

Another misleading stereotype concerns the assumption that immigrants do not make learning English a priority. According to surveys, 57 percent of foreign-born Latino immigrants believe immigrants have to speak English to assimilate into American society. Further, about 52 percent of foreign-born Latinos living in the United States speak Spanish and English. Finally, according to the same survey, 96 percent of foreign-born Latinos believe it is very important to teach English to children of immigrants. Also, don’t doubt native Spanish-speakers’ interest and motivation to learn English. They dominate English as a second language (ESL) classes throughout the country. Nationwide, ESL programs for adults are overbooked, overcrowded and have resulted in long waiting lists. For example, 57.4 percent of ESL providers through the United States reported waiting lists for prospective students, with some wait times ranging from weeks to three years. In New York City alone, waiting lists have been replaced with a lottery system that turns down three out of four applicants.

The following legal immigration statistics reported by CNN (as of 2013) articulates the UI’s immigration statistics with clarity:

  • 990,550 people were granted lawful permanent residence in the United States.
  • 40% were “green card” recipients or LPRs, born in Asia. 32% were born in North America. The top countries of origin are Mexico (14%), China (7.2%), India (6.9%), Philippines (5.5%) and the Dominican Republic (4.2%).
  • The top U.S. states for legal permanent residency are California (19.4%), New York (13.5%), Florida (10.4%), Texas (9.4%) and New Jersey (5.4%).
  • New LPRs are probably female and married, but younger on average than native-born residents.
  • 2.7 million UIs were legalized under the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
  • 779,929 people became naturalized U.S. citizens in 2013, with the greatest percentages from these birth countries: Mexico (12.7%), India (6.4%), Philippines (5.6%), Dominican Republic (5.1%) and China (3.9%).
  • Residents from North America have a 10-year wait time in LPR status, three years longer than the median. From the statistics, the following immigration facts are evident:
  •  Immigrants create jobs as entrepreneurs and taxpayers without competing for jobs with native-born workers.
  • Immigrants increase productivity and stimulate investment, slightly boosting the wages of most Americans.
  • Immigrants replenish the U.S. labor force as baby boomers retire.
  • UIs pay billions of dollars in taxes each year, without receiving benefits.
  • Documented immigrants face stringent eligibility restrictions, but UIs aren’t eligible for public benefit programs.
  • Immigrants buy homes and assimilate into U.S. society.
  • Immigrants have lower incarceration rates than native-born Americans (only about 0.7% – five times lower than the 3.5% incarceration rate for young nativeborn men).

Pervasive misinformation, much of it politically driven, guides the perception of many native-born observers of the U.S. immigration process. Immigrants, documented and undocumented, significantly benefit the U.S. economy. Job creation complementing the skill sets of the U.S. native workforce has a net positive impact on the overall wage rates.

The inherent dignity of UIs must be recognized and a pathway to citizenship allowed for all who want to contribute positively to our society. Rodney G. Gregory

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