In nearly every state in the country, including the ones that have almost no exposure to its effects, immigration has become a highly contentious political issue.
Of course, any ire over the topic is fundamentally ironic, as the country already houses the largest immigrant population in the world, and estimates project that minorities will become the majority by 2043. So, in a way, critics should just do everyone a favor and save their fight for something they can change.
Still, while discussing even the issue of immigration can make people furious, the topic of illegal immigration is boiling to a head. As a result of the perfect storm that is a Trump presidency, refugee crisis and increasingly automated workforce, the thought of unwelcome, potentially dangerous newcomers to the country can leave a sour taste in the mouths of many. For all the overblown hype of the issue though, illegal immigration constitutes only about five percent of the U.S. labor force. Yes, you read that right—five percent.
The common misconception driving xenophobia is the idea that undocumented immigrants are draining the taxpayer, driving down the wages of U.S. workers and stealing local jobs, jobs that native-born citizens are apparently entitled to as a result of where their mothers gave birth.
Though this distortion of truth has gained momentum under Trump’s conflagratory rhetoric, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, illegal immigrants and U.S workers don’t even compete in the same job market. What’s more, the presence of illegal immigrants actually creates jobs that would evaporate without them. In other words, if all illegal workers were deported, the U.S. job market would actually shrink.
Another misconception is that illegal immigrants are a burden on the average taxpayer. Even though undocumented workers don’t hold any legal status in the U.S., they pay a host of taxes and many file their tax returns.
According to the Social Security Administration, undocumented immigrants have paid around $100 billion in social security taxes in the last decade. In fact, despite paying their taxes and contributing to the U.S. economy, illegal workers are unable to take advantage of any of the benefits that legal taxpayers are able to enjoy.
Still, there is no denying that illegal immigration can have a negative impact on wages of legal U.S. workers. Because the majority of illegal immigrants have little-to-no formal education, they accept extremely low-skilled jobs that U.S. adults without high school degrees would normally have taken.
Since illegal immigrants are able to accept wages much lower than the minimum wage, dropouts are left with the choice of either accepting lower wages or looking elsewhere. As a result, economists have suggested that illegal immigration has around a 0.4 to 7.4 percent impact on the wages of uneducated Americans, a feat that could easily be achieved by technological advancements as well.
Illegal immigration may have a slight impact on unskilled U.S. labor, but they have a surprisingly positive impact on skilled labor.
Giovanni Peri, an economist at UC Davis, discussed how undocumented workers don’t compete with skilled workers; in fact, they positively complement them. In economics, a complementary good or service means that if the demand of one good increases, the demand for its complimentary good or service does as well. According to Davis, as undocumented workers increase, so does the demand for skilled workers.
From a political standpoint, the impact of illegal immigration may be a highly controversial issue, but from an economic view, there is little debate. Immigrants, illegal or not, positively impact the economy, and little can be said to deny that. According to Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, “There is a consensus that, on average, the incomes of families in this country are increased by a small, but clearly positive amount, because of illegal immigration.”
Despite the positive impact that illegal immigration has, the current, tense political climate has left many families in distress. If President Trump acts on his promises to deport illegal immigrants, he will create a severe economic downturn.
According to research conducted by economists at Queens College in New York, illegal workers account for three percent of the gross domestic product in the private sector, which has amounted to around $5 trillion over the last decade. In the event that all undocumented immigrants are deported, not all states will be affected evenly. States such as Texas and California, whose economies rely heavily on illegal immigration, could end up in a recession by the end of the Trump administration.
Criminal immigration may have its downsides, but they are far outweighed by its positives. A mass deportation of immigrants that call this country home, most of whom have lived here for over a decade, does not align with the values that the United States represents.
Instead, it benefits the country more to legalize the undocumented workers that work hard, contribute to the economy and pay taxes without reaping any of the benefits. According to “The Independent,” legalization would lead to a increase in their economic contribution of around 20 percent. Plus, if finances are the issue, consider that it will cost more to deport them than to legalize them.
So, if you remain unswayed by moral, political or even economic arguments, consider listening to a purely self-preservational pitch. If the 11 million undocumented workers in America are deported, the U.S. economy will suffer, as will your life and the lives of your friends, family and peers.