We need Dreamers; immigrants add far more to U.S. economy than they take

A woman held up a sign in support of the Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during an August immigration reform rally at the White House.
A woman held up a sign in support of the Obama administration program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during an August immigration reform rally at the White House. Associated Press

Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals was implemented by President Barack Obama to grant temporary legal status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, as long as they are enrolled in school or working. Given President Donald Trump’s recent decision to end DACA, Congress must work on a policy solution that will allow the nearly 800,000 “Dreamers” currently enrolled in DACA to remain legally in the U.S.

There are both moral and economic reasons to do so.

A recent letter signed by nearly 1,500 economists cites the benefits of immigration as the following: increasing the number of entrepreneurs; bringing young workers who help offset the retirement of the Baby Boomers; increasing the flexibility and productivity of our workforce; and increasing the number of workers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields that create jobs and increase American productivity.

These benefits from immigration are significant, and outweigh the costs, particularly when combined with effective policies to increase the productivity of American-born workers. This is particularly true of the young people affected by DACA; they are enrolled in school or working, and cannot have been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors.

The American system of higher education is consistently recognized as the best in the world, and this reputation depends on the ability of U.S. colleges and universities to hire the best faculty members and attract the best students in a global market.

There are significant spillover effects into the private sector: more than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, including American icons like Apple, Budweiser, Google and McDonald’s, were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants.

Immigrants who come to the U.S. to study or work, even temporarily, pay taxes (even workers being paid under the table pay sales taxes), despite often not being eligible to access all government benefits.

Even refugees, who are eligible for more government assistance than most immigrants, are estimated to pay $21,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits, on average, during their first 20 years in the U.S.

As the Baby Boom generation retires, there will be fewer workers supporting the young and the retired; younger, working-age immigrants can help fill this gap. A larger workforce minimizes the tax burden on all workers, and allows for additional government support for young and retired Americans, reducing inequality and improving many lives.

Many immigrants are hired, legally and illegally, in industries such as construction and agriculture, where jobs are often temporary or seasonal. Recent immigrants tend to be more mobile than the native-born population, willing to move to areas with more job openings. This flexibility of immigrant workers helps sustain the productivity of the American economy.

A strong education system that prepares all American workers with skills valued across industries and the ability to adapt to future economic changes, combined with retraining opportunities for current workers, would allow all of us to benefit from a strong economy.

National security and employment are definitely important concerns, but broad restrictions on immigration are not an effective way of addressing them. An Iranian doctor practicing in Whitesburg is unlikely to have terrorist intent, and a Guatemalan hired to work at Churchill Downs after weeks of local ads went unanswered is unlikely to be taking a job from an American. A Dreamer who has grown up in the U.S. and is currently enrolled in college here is a great asset to our country, not a priority for deportation.

Any immigration reform must recognize the many ways in which immigrants enhance the American economy, and must allow them to continue to do so.

Jenny Minier is a professor of economics at the University of Kentucky and a faculty affiliate of UK’s Center for Equality and Social Justice. This is a condensed version of a position paper written for the center.