Obama vs Romney Immigration Reform: Why Immigrants Make America Stronger, Not Weaker


In a recent town hall meeting hosted by Univision news anchor Maria Elena Salinas, President Obama admitted his biggest failure was not passing more comprehensive immigration reform. With Mitt Romney claiming he'd use Arizona's stringent immigration law as a model and Paul Ryan suggesting he'd oppose the Dream Act, the issue of immigration reform is likely to be one of serious contention in the upcoming presidential debates.

While Obama may not have delivered on all his campaign promises with regard to this issue, he most certainly has tried, most notably on June 15, 2012 when he issued an executive order to stop deportations of illegal immigrants under 30-years-old who have lived here for five years. This Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Plan provoked the expected Republican opposition, many critics going so far as to suggest that Obama favors illegal immigrants over American workers. With all due respect to opponents of immigration reform, the above plan, while a useful start, does not go far enough. We should support a more open immigration policy because there is no evidence immigrants take our jobs, because ours is a melting pot culture, and because rather than taxing our system immigrants contribute immensely to it.

It is always surprising to watch news reports of protesters claiming illegal immigrants are "taking our jobs” After all, in the most basic sense, America was taken from the Native Americans. What we're doing to illegal immigrants is equivalent to the Puritan's landing at Plymouth Rock only to have the Pequot Indians say to them, "sorry, we've met our quota." But ignoring this caveat, the stats seem to refute the often-heard claim that undocumented workers steal jobs. One study, cited by Dan Fastenburg on AOL Jobs ("Are Illegal Immigrants Really Taking Our Jobs"), proved that "for every 10% increase in the share of foreign-born workers in a specific area there's less than 1% change in the average wage of legal residents, including for low skilled workers." In an article on FactCheck.Org Viveca Novak goes even further, reporting that countless studies show "immigrants grow the economy, expanding demand for goods and services that the foreign-born workers and their families consume, and thereby creating jobs." What is more, Novak suggests that economists have found strong evidence that immigrants as a whole "increase average wages for American-born workers." Simply because our economy is in shambles and jobs scarce does not mean we should jump to the conclusion that illegal immigrants are in any way adding to the problem.  

Just as important as the contributions immigrants make to the labor force is the way they contribute to our cultural diversity. America is often defined as a 'melting pot' nation. One of our principal strengths is that we champion this diversity, are inclusive and proudly heterogeneous. The wide range of cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds contributes to our uniqueness, complexity, and capacity for growth and innovation. In an article in The Atlantic entitled "How Diversity Leads To Economic Growth," Richard Florida confirms these notions by suggesting that an increasing number of studies highlight the relationship between diversity and economic success. Florida sums up research conducted by economists Quamrul Ashraf of Williams College and Oded Galor of Brown University, and released by The National Bureau of Economic Research, by claiming "diversity spurs economic development and homogeneity slows it down." He then goes on to point out that Ashraf and Galor believe that the benefits of cultural diversity on economic development have been evident through "the process of industrialization, from its inception through modern times."   

Diversity is our birthright. Nearly all of us are either immigrants or the descendants of immigrants -- a great many of us part of the influx of more than 25 million Europeans who arrived here after 1870 owing to cheaper, faster transport on steam ships. To deny others this same privilege, to say, in effect, I'm fortunate to have had these opportunities but the rest of you are out of luck feels fundamentally un-American. If we really want to be a nation of freedom, tolerance, and inclusiveness than it behooves us to have a more free, tolerant, and inclusive immigration policy.

Finally, it is time we dispel the myth that immigrants are taxing our system. A study by The National Academy of Sciences found that "on balance, immigrants pay substantially more than they receive from all levels of government combined." This study went on to suggest, "draconian measures such as massive deportations or major reductions in legal immigration levels would be counterproductive to the United States and its citizens." In sum, like the claim that illegal immigrants are taking our jobs, the claim that they are taxing our system seems rooted in irrational fear, prejudice, xenophobia, and antiquarian thinking. Immigrants contribute significantly to the work force, the economic potential of America as a whole, and the diversity and individuality that makes our country so great.

During his first inaugural address FDR famously quipped, "there is nothing to fear but fear itself." Nowhere is this statement more relevant today than immigration reform. Because there is no statistical evidence immigrants are taking our jobs, because ours is a melting pot culture, and because rather than taxing our system immigrants contribute significantly to it we ought to seriously consider a more open immigration policy.