On Immigration: Changing My Mind

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
from “The New Colossus”
by Emma Lazarus, 1883

(Note: This post was first published in June, 2013. The Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs report cited in the post was from 2009; the link is for the 2010 report.) 

Amazing what some simple, rational research can do for one’s perspective. Within a few weeks, I’ve come to believe that immigrants can benefit our country more than cost it.

For the most part, my “arguments” against immigration have been based on emotions. After 9/11, when the news broke that the Islamic terrorist group, al-Qaeda, was responsible for the attacks and that the 19 hijackers were here on visas, my initial reaction was to “close the doors until we can better track who’s here and where they are.” Also, I was all for any method that the government wanted to use to protect our country/its citizens from the terrorist sleeper cells that were surely lying in wait under our very noses.

Several years after 9/11 and before our last recession “settled in for the long haul,” I had become complacent about the immigration issue. Like a lot of other Americans, I felt safe and — economically — I was comfortable. However, I once again became emotional about the numbers of legal immigrants coming into the U.S. when — from 2009 to 2011 — I was helping to manage an after-school literacy program for at-risk youth in St. Paul, Minnesota. Many of my students were Hmong refugees who had come to the U.S. in 2005 when their refugee camp in Thailand closed. (Minnesota, California and Wisconsin have the largest Hmong populations in the U.S. Minneapolis is home to more Somalian refugees than any other city in the U.S.)

Learning English and assimilating into American culture seemed easier for the elementary school students, even if their parents and older siblings were not speaking English at home. However, the high school students, who came for homework help, struggled with learning English, and several of them were labeled “senior-seniors” because they were repeating their senior year of school — some of them more than once. It frustrated the program’s volunteers and myself because we couldn’t figure out how they were learning anything from their required courses by filling out scores of worksheets they could not read.

I was especially irritated (with “the system,” not the students) when I discovered that several of them were fulfilling their “second language” requirement by taking Spanish, French or … Japanese. This did not make sense to me, particularly regarding their chances of getting jobs and/or going on to college; during that time, the Minnesota unemployment rate was at its highest in 10 years — 8.5 percent. Across the country, anti-immigrant sentiment was also at an all-time high.

It broke my heart to think about what was going to happen to them. These were good kids who were working hard toward success in a “strange land.” I often spoke out (to friends and family) against “do-gooder social agencies” that intended to “save” refugee groups by dumping them into a system that could not support them educationally and economically. I wondered why the government didn’t just put the brakes on immigration during hard times.

Recently, I read “The Economic Impact of Immigrants in Minnesota,” a report from 2009*** from the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs (this report also offers information for the country as a whole). As a follow-up, I researched several Internet reports regarding the bipartisan Senate committee’s immigration bill that President Obama wants passed by this summer.

Among other things, I was glad to learn:

  • The bill calls for a Bureau of Immigration and Market Research that would analyze labor shortages and recommend whether the cap on visas should go up or down. Employers would be required to fill jobs (low-wage and higher-wage/higher education jobs) with Americans first.
  • As the economy grows, there is an increased demand for a younger workforce to meet growing demand for products and services. The tax benefits and increased productivity will make up for the gap created by the aging baby boomer demographic, who are retiring, not spending as much to “fuel the economy” and not paying taxes that support Social Security and Medicare.
  • Without new, young workers, certain sectors of the economy will continue to shrink. According to the 2009 report, if immigrants were removed from the labor force in Minnesota, the state would lose over 24,000 permanent jobs and $1.2 billion in personal income that, in turn, supports the larger economy.
  • In aging, rural communities across the U.S., new immigrants bring many fiscal advantages that come from filling agricultural and manufacturing jobs, maintaining home values and keeping schools open. Many immigrant businesses have been responsible for revitalizing downtrodden metropolitan neighborhoods.
  • The U.S. Council of Economic Advisers has estimated in earlier reports that the country’s net gain from immigration is $37 billion per year. Many studies have concluded that the tax payments generated by immigrants outweigh any costs associated with services used by immigrants. Even undocumented immigrants pay retail and property taxes, and many pay income and Social Security taxes through Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers.
  • Many immigrants who come to fill low-skilled occupations are not competing with a better-educated native-born workforce. Also, there are many higher-level occupations in science, math and engineering that are being filled by immigrants because there are not enough native-born citizens to fill those positions.
  • There are educational and health care costs associated with immigration, however most experts agree that these short-term costs are outweighed by the long-term benefits of a healthy labor force. Also, analysis has shown that wages for all workers rise when jobs are filled and consumption is increased.
  • Many supporters — conservatives and liberals — of the immigration reform bill agree that newly legalized immigrants would eventually become upwardly mobile, move into higher tax brackets, pay more in taxes and use fewer government services.

*** (Note: This post, first published in June 2013, was based on the 2009 report.) The 2009 report acknowledged “the different barriers to integration” faced by some of Minnesota’s newer refugee populations, but no recommendations were offered. Other research I conducted stressed the importance of employment as soon as possible as well as adoption of American ideals. Many of their and other immigrants’ benefits are not easily measured, but diversity in our communities and labor force brings new energy, ideas and skills that spark innovation and continues to enrich America’s “soul.” The country was founded by settlers seeking refuge from persecution; our Constitution and Bill of Rights are dedicated to protecting basic human rights. And, although we are not without our faults, turning away from those who are suffering because of oppression, violence and genocide has never been the American way.

* “The New Colossus” was written by American poet Emma Lazarus and donated to an auction of art and literary works to raise funds to build the pedestal. At first, Lazarus declined to donate, then changed her mind after a fellow literary artist convinced her that the statue would be a significant symbol for immigrants sailing into the harbor. Lazarus, born in America in 1849 to Jewish parents, became passionate about her ancestry and the immigrant situation, especially the indigent Russian Jews who were emigrating to New York during her lifetime because of the anti-Semitic violence against them in their country. “The New Colossus” was the only poem read at the auction but actually played no role at the statue’s opening in 1886. In 1901, a friend of Lazarus led the effort to memorialize her and the poem. In 1903, the engraved plaque was mounted on the inner wall of the statue’s pedestal.

** The Statue of Liberty (stock photo) was not intended to be a symbol for immigrants; originally, its message was to be one of “enlightenment” based on respect for laws that supported political freedoms. In fact, the statue’s connection with immigration was criticized by Nativists (Americans opposed to immigration) at the end of the 19th century; they felt that the U.S. way of life was being threatened by waves of immigrants.

7 thoughts on “On Immigration: Changing My Mind

  1. I love you, Nicki, but there is so much to argue with here. First of all, I live in a community that is overwhelmed with immigrants, both legal and illegal. Our schools swelled to over a quarter of a million students of which more than half were estimated to be from families of undocumented workers. Many citizens left the public school system to go to private schools just to maintain their competitiveness in the education world. The crime of the same immigrants is huge. We have many Mexican Mafia individuals here, along with the Russian Mafia, and god only knows what else. The amount of stolen social security numbers, and stolen return checks is overwhelming as well. There are times that over twenty people are on one social security number and none of them use the given name on it.

    The cultures are very different. I will not elaborate here, but in short, if they attempted to assimilate within our society, it would mean a lot to me. The hidden economy is enormous also. Many of these immigrants work under the rug and don’t pay taxes. They don’t stay in the lower paying jobs. Almost 100 percent of the construction jobs are taken by Spanish speaking employees, legal and illegal. Almost 100 percent of the truck driving jobs are taken by the same. Most of the restaurant jobs, including chefs, managers etc, are taken by the same folks. Nobody wants to stay in a low paying job. And this includes the hidden illegals and legal aliens. Our teenagers in Los Angeles have one devil of a time finding minimum wage jobs as a result.

    Having been in the Marketing business for many years before teaching, I can tell you those think tanks can skew their information any way they wish and no one can prove differently. I have seen the information both ways. They bleed us and they feed us…not sure which is absolutely right, but my guess is neither one is completely right.

    I frankly don’t care if people immigrate. I prefer they do it lawfully instead of starting out in the country as a criminal and continuing that legacy down the line as they fall in place.

    Some states get hit harder than others. This should be a federal problem, and not a state one. If we allow uncontrolled immigration, then we also need to allow the entire country to pay those states that are overwhelmed by this issue.

    Teachers in our system have been told they are not allowed to teach in certain schools because they aren’t bilingual. They didn’t say Spanish speaking, which would make more sense, they said bilingual. A year after telling several teachers they were being released to teach at other schools for lack of bilingualism, they were asking those same teachers to come back when they couldn’t get the students to act right. Being bilingual was no longer a requirement. My reaction was “say what????”.

    We need a comprehensive program. One that screens for mental health and physical health issues. We need immigrants that are law abiding, not those who will clog up our judicial system with all kinds of violations and criminal acts. We need people who love the USA, not just our money. We need people like the Marko family who came here to add to the program, not to take from it. I could go on and on about this subject, but the bottom line is this: Allow those who are willing to follow our laws, our cultures and add value to our country come in. There are many of those folks. Remove the ones who are committing crimes, running in gangs and who are terrorists.

    And on the subject of terrorist cells….did I ever tell you my mother in law had a cell living RIGHT NEXT DOOR to her when 9/11 occurred? We told the FBI right where they were and they couldn’t find them….another story.

    Love you.


    1. Dear CA Friend (let me know if I can call you by your “real” name ;),
      Excellent comments … Thank you! And, thank you for signing up to follow my blog!
      You’re right about California being one of the hardest hit — if not THE hardest hit — state re: costs (not all monetary) of immigration, and I agree w/ you re: Fed’s responsibility to CA & other states that carry the burden. Hopefully, this Immigration Bill, if passed, will do the job it’s intended to do, esp in terms of keeping the “bad guys” out. That set of immigrants & the ones who have difficulty assimilating really do “cost” us. The older Tsarnaev brother (Boston Marathon bombings), for instance, had alienated himself from most people & was esp hostile toward American ideals. He was in the queue to be naturalized; his younger brother had already “passed.” (Then again, their radicalization had begun at home.) I read a very interesting Wall Street Journal (Weekend edition) article, written by a new Muslim citizen, who makes a very good case about why the screening process needs to change. See if you can access: “Swearing in the Enemy” by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, published Saturday – Sunday, May 18 – 19.
      I look forward to more comments from you, CA Friend 😉


  2. Dear Nicki:
    I am going to refrain from giving my “real” name online, because those who know me realize I am a kind hearted person with deep feelings for my country. Those who do not may be inclined to label me as “racist” a term that is frequently thrown around Los Angeles when you disagree with the immigration policies of this country (as if immigration affects only one race…go figure). It is far too easy to find people in this country, and in my very dangerous town, it is not something I constantly want to be looking over my shoulder about. So thanks for respecting that.

    About fifteen years ago, Warren Buffett predicted Los Angeles and most of California would be populated by two classes of citizens, the uber rich and the lower class. He didn’t say how long that would take, but I can tell you, it is not far off. I have a feeling that is why he thinks our tax issues are very lopsided too. The folks making millions of dollars have lots of shelters, and the rest of us..not so much…

    But that is another blog (see, I even give you some ideas along the way).

    Border states, such as California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas are feeling the brunt of the immigration issues. Coastal states, such as New York and Florida, and California, are getting some of it too. In Arizona, people walk across the border into ranchers homes and rob them at will without too much problem. The cartels have taken over the state parks to the tune that there are warnings in California advising travelers to avoid that area. Imagine someone walking over the border and into your personal kitchen. The border patrol is far too small to effectively cover the 2000nmnile border as well as the other entry points to the USA. Canada experiences similar immigration problems. Most of theirs come from overseas and the middle east countries.

    Not only that, in California, the Asian countries are allowing their pregnant women to come to “birthing” houses to have their children just so they can have rights as American citizens, and they take the babies home as dual citizens. These are all over Southern California and very likely in many other states.

    Our freedoms and our policies allow us to be run over by those who wish to take advantage. I can remember articles in the LA Times that discussed the “refugees” from Russia who were using the system as a medical rehab system, not because they were afraid of their own country.

    I wish I could believe so many folks want to come to the USA because they want the ability to be free and to prosper. I am sure they do….some of them…but the scam artists come right along with them. We need to do things to protect our valuable country. If the millions of folks who wish to freely immigrate to the USA came, they would take areas like Minnesota over after they finish taking over the big cities.

    I guess what I am saying is this: there needs to be stop gap protections to keep birthing homes and their products out of our country, and if you leave before the first five years of the baby’s life you risk their automatic citizenship. I can foresee these armies of babies being legally allowed to return and immigrate to the USA and invading our country silently, taking over our style of life and taking it away from us.

    I guarantee there are more Tsarnov brothers out there. the question is where and when are they going to hit next? And how do we prevent it?


  3. CA Friend, you are an excellent, smart writer … Thanks for the blog idea, but you should consider developing your own! WordPress makes it very easy. Thanks so much for following me & for the interesting discussion!


  4. 🙂 Thanks for your faith in me. I think I would have a tendency to bee to radical about my ideas. Maybe too old school….who knows.


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