Thu, Jul

Immigrants, ‘Legal’ or Otherwise, Make America


JOB FORCE - Most people living off Social Security, and especially most people who will in the near future, don’t know that they owe a good deal of their check to the very “illegal” immigrants they call “invaders,” rapists, and murderers.

There were plenty of alarming debt and deficit numbers when the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office last month released its Economic Outlook for the next 10 years.

The country’s getting older and sicker. If taxes remain as low as they are–shareholders are getting a free ride, higher incomes are paying the bare minimum, the middle class is not paying a fair share, and “pimps for Wall Street,” as Fiorello LaGuardia once called business lobbyists, are still running the show–it’ll go bankrupt, too: we cannot afford a Reaganesque tax structure in a country hobbling with Ronalds and Nancys.

But Phil Swagell, the CBO’s director, summed up some brighter takeaways of the report. For starters, the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 that every reactionary Republican opposed–every Republican who wanted a government shutdown in the name of fiscal responsibility–will reduce the deficit by $2.6 trillion over 10 years. That cleans up the previous occupant’s muck: The CBO calculated that the 2017 tax cut and other laws fomer President Donald Trump signed that year would widen the deficit by $2.7 trillion over 10 years. There’s no guarantee Trump won’t muck it up again after our fearsomely deranged country elects him again in November.

The brighter takeaways were all about immigrants. Not just legal immigrants. Any immigrant, the “illegal” ones included.

We shouldn’t be closing down the border. We should be welcoming those migrants with open arms.

They have a lot to do with that diminishing deficit. “The labor force in 2033 is larger by 5.2 million people,” Swagell says, “mostly because of higher net immigration. As a result of those changes in the labor force, we estimate that, from 2023 to 2034, GDP will be greater by about $7 trillion and revenues will be greater by about $1 trillion than they would have been otherwise.”

Most people living off Social Security, and especially most people who will in the near future, don’t know that they owe a good deal of their check to the very “illegal” immigrants they call “invaders,” rapists, and murderers: Those “illegals” contribute billions to Social Security every year, because even the undocumented are required to pay a payroll tax. Most will not reap a penny of it. Yet they’re helping keep Social Security solvent.

Between 2010 and 2019, net immigration averaged 900,000 a year. Only in 2019, the CBO estimated that net immigration would grow by 1.1 million a year. It was was 2.6 million in 2022, and 3.3 million in 2023. Almost  1 in every 5 workers in the United States is foreign born. A quarter are undocumented. Call it an invasion if you like. But be thankful for it.

Economists were puzzled when the country never went into recession in the past year or two, until they figured out that the 2 million jobs added to the economy since Covid includes 1 million more than the budget office had predicted before Covid. The reason? Immigrants. It’s a good time now for you to look right and left, find an immigrant, and thank him or her for keeping us out of recession, and for keeping this country going over the next decades, if we let them.

The Congressional Budget Office numbers don’t distinguish between legal and undocumented immigrants, just as the economy doesn’t. A worker is a worker, and usually, an immigrant is a harder worker, a worker more likely to start a business, more likely to create jobs, less demanding on social services (most of the foreign born are in the 25-54 age group, healthy, toiling, and making babies rather than requiring healthcare services).

If the immigration pipeline into the United States is turned off, we’ll certainly get a recession.

And yes, a safer worker: A Federal Reserve Bank brief concludes that“research overwhelmingly indicates that immigrants are less likely than similar U.S. natives to commit violent and property crimes, and that areas with more immigrants have similar or lower rates of violent and property crimes than areas with fewer immigrants.” Another study concluded likewiseabout undocumented immigrants.

We shouldn’t be closing down the border. We should be welcoming those migrants with open arms. That doesn’t mean open borders. Controls are obviously necessary. But smart controls, not walls or SS tactics.

The bi-partisan compromise immigration bill President Joe Biden was pushing last month was draconian–making asylum almost impossible for the next three years while raising the bar on who may be an asylum seeker, institutionalizing a gulag along the border, and giving the government immense “emergency authority” to deport migrants until border crossings are very low. But it also seeks to manage the asylum system more efficiently and give some people a path to work permits, feeding that vital job pipeline.

Ronald Reagan would have found this bill way too harsh in his day. No Democrat, not even the racist Woodrow Wilson or the preachy Jimmy Carter, would have come near it: It has more in common with the xenophobic 1924 Immigration Act that kept all Asians and most others out of the country than it does with give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to think America couldn’t be this cruel.

But in the spirit of compromise, Biden embraced it. And really, who could blame him? Who wouldn’t want some kind of solution, some kind of breakthrough at least as a baseline from where to craft something saner. Of course, a solution is the last thing Trump Republicans want. It would have demolished their campaign platform. They’d have had only Hunter Biden and disappearing inflation to exploit. So the bill is dead, because Republicans need the border crisis to win.

They’ll win, too, or at least Trump will, and his executive orders will clang: seize, shackle, deport, and make border crossings as appealing as Gaza’s Rafaa.

History, including ours, tells us what happens to countries that make war on people they don’t want. Every time Jews were expelled from England, Spain, Portugal, or Italy after the Middle Ages, those countries’ economies would tank. When the French expelled protestants in the 16th century, their economy tanked (and wherever Jews and protestants went, economies flourished). When the United States all but halted immigration in the 1920s, we had our last depression.

That, in essence, is what invasion-inveigling anti-immigrants want, what this xenophobic war amounts to: expulsions no different than those of Jews and Protestants of former times.

If the immigration pipeline into the United States is turned off, we’ll certainly get a recession. But there’s a longer-term reason why the United States can only survive through immigration. Americans are no longer making babies, at least not nearly enough to keep the population going. By 2040, all the net population increase in the country will be owed to immigrants.

You don’t need to look far into the future to see it if you live in Palm Coast. You’re living it now. Almost 30% of Palm Coast’s population is 65 and over. That’s a huge proportion, compared to the national rate, which is barely more than half that. At least neighboring counties can send in their workforces to care for those older folks. But by the end of the century, America will look exactly like Palm Coast, according to the Census Bureau’s latest projection. Nearly a third of the population will be 65 or older.

Who’s going to be there caring for the old, keeping Social Security and Medicare going, filling jobs in a country with a declining population? Certainly not native-born Americans. They’ll be the old ones. They’ll need help. So will this country.

Immigrants, voluntary and involuntary, legal, illegal, immorally bought, shipped, shackled, raped, and dehumanized, made America. They saved America more than once, not least in the Civil War. They made America prosper in its industrial and Gilded ages, and in ages of vanity since. We need saviors. We’ve always needed saviors. That’s what the overwhelming majority of the people at our borders are. They’re no different than their predecessors whose land is their land. They’re not an invasion. They’re not a crisis. They’re a lifeline: theirs and ours.

(Pierre Tristam is a journalist, writer, editor and lecturer. He is currently the editor and publisher of FlaglerLive.com, a non-profit news site in Florida. A native of Beirut, Lebanon, who became an American citizen in 1986, Pierre is one of the United States' only Arab Americans with a regular current affairs column in a mainstream, metropolitan newspaper.)