Exploring the Benefits of Immigration

For decades immigration has been a major source of controversy in the United States, and the debate has only become more heated over time. There has been a conflict between “nativists” and immigrants, beginning with the Irish in the mid-1800s and continuing to this day, though it is now Latino immigrants who are facing the most heat. This article aims to explore some of the ways immigration has benefited the U.S.

Large waves of immigrants should, according to critics, place a burden on a country’s well-being in multiple ways, but evidence gathered by Yuval Levin and Peter Wehner suggests that this is not the case. Peter Wehner wrote in his article “Keeping them out, letting them in” that between the years 1995 and 2004, while the number of illegal immigrants doubled, many improvements in welfare, crime, teen pregnancy and sexual activity, binge drinking and smoking, abortion, drug use, education, and divorce were observed. Furthermore, in the two decades leading up to 2008, the U.S. has maintained economic growth as well as witnessed increases in worker manufacturing activity and productivity, lower rates of unemployment and inflation, gains in incomes after tax, as well as “record-high” gains in the stock market and tax revenues.

Immigration also improves worker productivity in the U.S. in ways such as filling skill gaps and bringing new, innovative ideas to the U.S. According to Reuters Health e-line, an analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows that foreign medical graduates make up 18% of medical professors in the U.S. as well as lead 19% of clinical trials, lead 13% of research grants funded by the NIH, and produce 18% of biomedical research. The effects of increased immigration have impacted our medical studies so immensely that without more immigration there would be “fewer clinical trials conducted, fewer research papers written, and the overall pace of medical innovation [would] decline.”

The essay “Immigration and the Economy” by Stephen Drinkwater explains how a paper written by Peter Huber, Michael Landesmann, Catherine Robinson, and Robert Streher analyzed the effects of immigration on productivity in the workforce. The paper found that immigrants can bring new ideas, fill skill gaps, and make innovative advancements in the receiving country. This analysis explains why immigrants are such a vital part of medical research and shows that immigration’s effect on medicine is just one example of how immigrants provide innovative advancements. The analyses provided by these publications support the claim that immigration has a positive impact on productivity in the American workforce.

Contrary to popular belief, evidence suggests that higher rates of immigration lead to higher increases in wages for the majority of the population. The study “Effects of immigration on the 1980-1990 wage experience” analyzes data collected between 1980 and 1990 regarding the effects of immigration on wages. While the study looks at census data gathered in 1979 and 1989, the author, Maria E. Enchautegui, used mathematical figures to predict the effects of immigration in the future. Enchautegui found that there is no evidence suggesting that immigration had more negative effects in 1990 than 1980, but there is a point after which immigration will have negative effects on the hourly wages of natives. However, in 1990, this point was higher than in 1980. She wrote, “If anything, the ability of the labor market to absorb immigrants without penalizing natives improved during the 1980s," meaning that the economy’s ability to absorb immigrants is only growing.

Enchautegui also explained that the economy is not any less able to support immigration without negatively affecting Anglo (white), African-American, and Latino men native to the U.S. In fact, one model in Enchautegui’s paper shows that as the percentage of immigrants increases, the more the wages of Anglo men increase. Except for one region, all ethnic groups did better in regions with medium to high levels of immigration. (An area where recent immigrants make up at least 10 percent of the population is considered an area of high immigration; an area where recent immigrants make up 5 to 9 percent of the population is considered an area with medium levels of immigration.) This evidence shows that, contrary to the beliefs of those who oppose immigration, immigrants do not cause wages to decrease.

The study "The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration" claims that the overall effects of immigration are small, but that immigration's negative effects on unskilled workers and taxpayers are significant. The NRC study shows that the negative effects of immigration are more prominent when considering natives without a high school degree. This is since this skill group is the only group in which the proportion of immigrants is great enough to significantly, and negatively, affect wages. The issue here, however, is not immigration. Rather, it is that our economic system allows corporations to exploit undocumented immigrants more than documented citizens, allowing them to significantly lower wages for this skill group without facing consequences.