Issue brief: Immigration

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THE ELECTORAL ISSUE:

America's immigration policy does not attract and retain high-skilled immigrants and it does not address the fate of the estimated 11.5 million undocumented immigrants living here.

THE CHALLENGE:

How to secure the border, manage undocumented immigrants and admit immigrant workers of all skill-levels without undermining the domestic job market.

PROBLEMS:

Undocumented Immigrants

There are approximately 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in America. Their impact on the budget is disputable. A study from conservative group FAIR asserts that undocumented immigrants cost U.S. taxpayers $113 billion per year. The Congressional Budget Office has found that the impact "is most likely modest."

The cost of services provided to undocumented immigrants by state and local governments is not quite offset by the tax revenues these individuals generate. Finally, by reducing the cost of labor, undocumented immigrants also reduce the cost of food, construction, tourism, and other services, which benefits U.S. consumers.

High-Skill Immigrants

Highly-skilled immigrants are in high demand in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (the so-called STEM fields). Many immigrants come to America to study these disciplines but must leave when their student visa expires, a policy described by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg as "national suicide."

High-skill immigrants are job creators: an additional 100 immigrants in STEM fields would generate an additional 262 jobs for native-born workers, according to the conservative American Enterprise Institute, High-skill immigrants are innovators: foreign-born inventors were behind a majority of patents filed by many major U.S. companies, including Qualcomm (72 percent), Merck (65 percent), and General Electric (64 percent). High-skill immigrants are entrepreneurs: a study from the Partnership for a New American Economy found that over 40 percent of the companies in the Fortune 500 were founded by immigrants or their children, a trend that is accelerating. Between 1995 and 2005, more than 25 percent of internet startups were founded by immigrants, resulting in over 450,000 new American jobs.

The H1-B visa, the employment visa for highly skilled workers, is capped at 65,000 annually. We reached this quota for 2012 in July, leaving many companies unable to fill high-skill vacancies.

Border Security

Many policymakers have identified border security as the foremost problem with our immigration system, citing concerns about drug smuggling, border violence, national security, and domestic employment. There is evidence that the border is porous: in July (and many times previously) authorities discovereda complex network of underground tunnels along the U.S.-Mexico border, some of them crossing the border, that were presumably used to smuggle drugs or people. But there are also signs that it is becoming less porous.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the number of foreign nationals apprehended illegally entering the United States declined 61 percent between 2005 and 2010, from 1.189 million to 463,000, though the deterioration of the American economy during that time period likely contributed to the decline in illegal border crossings. Deportation is also proceeding at a rapid clip: in 2011, an all-time high of 396,906 individuals were expelled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And the Border Patrol is more heavily staffed than ever before, currently employing over 20,000 agents, nearly double the number of agents in 2004.

American Character

The social conscience and cultural character of a country built on the contributions of immigrants should be maintained in whatever policies are offered to manage immigration.

Next page: Solutions

  • Jake Miller

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