Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Time and the Economics of Immigration

HuffPost Voces Latino blog post en espanol:

impuestos estados unidos
Time and the Economics of Immigration

Terri E. Givens 

Organizations who oppose immigration will point to studies that show that immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants, are a drain on the system, particularly for education and healthcare. These organizations, like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) tend to minimize what these immigrants pay in taxes as well as what they provide in terms of economic activity and growth. Pro-immigration groups, like the Immigration Policy Center, focus on the positive impact that immigrants have had on the U.S. economy, also noting that deporting all of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S. would reduce our GDP by $2.6 trillion dollars over 10 years. 

In a country that was built on immigration, it is this debate that often animates our discussions around immigration and immigration policy.  Personally, I get frustrated with these debates, because the anti-immigration organizations pick the data that supports their perspective, and the pro-immigration organizations do the same. The reality is that this is a story that has to be told over time.  One hundred years ago, members of Congress were concerned about the flow of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, and moved to restrict those flows.  Yet, those immigrants became well-integrated and soon became valued citizens.  They helped to build this country during very difficult times, including the World Wars, the Great Depression and the consolidation of the United States as a world military and economic power. 

When Congress changed our immigration policy from one that focused on quotas, mainly for Northern and Western Europeans, to one that focused on preferences, including skills and a strong preference for family members of citizens, few foresaw the huge demographic impact that this would have on our country.  With fewer restrictions on immigration from Asia, Africa and Latin America we have seen greater diversity in immigration ever since this important policy change.  We have also seen ups and downs in our economy.  One small part of this is that the kind of technological innovations that have come from immigrant entrepreneurs would have been much less likely if we hadn’t opened our doors to engineers from around the world. 

Another example is the workers who have played an important role in the maintenance and rebuilding of infrastructure, housing, and construction.  They have all helped to maintain the United States’ position as the top economy in the world. This does not mean that there aren’t problems with our immigration system.  I firmly believe that providing opportunities for undocumented immigrants to get visas and work permits would give a boost to our economy. Workers would be able to come out of the shadows, hopefully get paid more reasonable wages, and lead to more job creation.
I also believe that any kind of regularization or amnesty needs to go along with comprehensive immigration reform that would provide a more reasonable number of visas to meet the demands of employers, while taking into account the concerns of organized labor and others who have a vested interest in these processes.  This is going to be a difficult process, because there are many interests that have taken positions for and against reform, but all agree change is needed.  It will take pressure from both inside and outside of Washington, DC to get Congress to move forward, but it is in everyone’s interest from both an economic and human perspective to push for change. As history has shown, America’s strength comes from our ability to adapt, grow and incorporate people from diverse backgrounds.  We need not fear change, we can embrace it and maintain the economic engine which has been the envy of the world.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Debating immigration

In case you missed it - here's the candidates discussing immigration in last night's debate:

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Investing in a Dream

This week's blog post -
Link to Spanish version on HuffPost Voces Latino:


Investing in a Dream

Terri E. Givens 

Immigrant advocates often focus on the economic benefits that immigrants provide, but as a university professor, I get to experience the hopes and dreams of my students, many of whom are from or have ties to other countries, mostly from Mexico.  I never cease to be amazed by the diversity I see in my classrooms, which vary from 65 to 350 students.  I often tell my students that this is what America is all about, that students from all types of backgrounds can come to a place like the University of Texas at Austin and get a great education.
Our university accepts undocumented students for admission, and if they provide evidence that they have resided in Texas for at least three years and graduated from a high school in the state, they can qualify for in-state tuition. If they are in the top 8% of their graduating class, they are guaranteed admission to the University of Texas.  Many of these students also qualify for state grants and financial aid, although they are not eligible for federal financial aid.  In any case, in many ways we are subsidizing the educations of these students, who clearly are high achievers to make it into the Texas university systems.
The disconnect comes when they are working their way through college, and realize the limitations they will face, even if they are successful and complete their degrees. For example,  I often encourage students in my classes to consider studying abroad.  It can be a great experience for students who want to learn about other countries in an up-close and personal manner, learn a new language and broaden their horizons.  I tell them about how my first trip abroad to France changed my view of the world, particularly seeing the Normandy beaches and the military cemeteries from WWII.  It made me realize that for most Europeans WWII is still very much a part of their lives, not ancient history. 
After telling this story in one of my classes, a young woman approached me and told me how inspired she was by my experience.  She wanted to study abroad, but there was a complication – she was undocumented.  I told her that it would be impossible for her to study abroad under the circumstances.  We both felt disappointed.  I felt that here was someone who had benefitted from public education in Texas since she was a small child, felt that she was American, yet couldn’t take advantage of all that a university education could offer.
I certainly would never ask a student’s status, but since I teach a class on the politics of immigration, I often have students who come to talk to me about their particular situation. Many of the students I have met over the years find themselves with few options to do internships, work or pursue many of the opportunities that their fellow students take for granted, because of their lack of documents.  What we end up with is wasted potential.  A story in the Texas Tribune talks about a student with a degree in biomedical science that went on to work in a restaurant because he couldn’t provide employers the proper documents to get a job in his field.  This is in a country where employers complain that we don’t have enough high-skilled workers and that we must import workers from other countries.  We shouldn’t ignore the talent we have here – I want the tax dollars that I have invested in this state’s education system to pay off for all students.