Sunday, May 01, 2005

Immigrants R Us

Like it or not, “Past immigration alone ensures that it [marriage across ethnic and racial lines] is our demographic future,” according to James P. Smith.
Smith’s byline states “James P. Smith holds the chair in labor markets and demographic studies at Rand Corp. He led a panel for the National Academy of Sciences on the economic and tax effects of immigration.” The report of that panel has been quoted in this blog before. Smith’s clear and sober treatment of the current immigration issue is in today’s Los Angeles Times “Opinion” section, which is devoted to the immigration debate. He draws major conclusions from statistical evidence of the advantages to our society of immigration, both documented and “undocumented”--or as the knee-jerk detractors would call “illegal”--immigrants.

Smith draws comparisons and contrasts between immigrants of today from Latin America and immigrants of the past from Europe and Asia, blasting holes in several long-held stereotypical assumptions with simple facts. For instance:

Some have contended that because of language, a common border or unwillingness to assimilate, U.S.-born children and grandchildren of Latino immigrants will not enjoy the spectacular generational successes achieved earlier by European migrants. That's simply not true. The education advances of Latino immigrants across generations are larger than they were for Europeans.

The op-ed piece is worth reading just to garner arguments for debate next time one of our xenophobic friends or relatives makes a remark like “We (meaning “regular Americans, white and mostly Christian”) pay for illegal Mexicans’ medical care and they give nothing in return.” Smith's study proves otherwise:

Immigrants also benefit federal taxpayers over the long term. They are young,they pay taxes, and the most expensive federal programs are for the elderly.Immigrants will not come close to solving our impending budget shortfalls caused by an aging population, but they help on the margin.

Smith also notes that in some areas, like California, the cost of education for immigrant children exceeds the benefits linked to immigration. Overall, the boost to the economy of immigration, both legal and illegal, is in the billions of dollars. The substance of the issue is complex, and there is the added confusion of emotional content “more cultural than economic,” to both sides, according to Smith. Smith’s discussion, based on facts and figures, rather than erroneous bigoted attitudes, provides intelligent ground for solution of the immigration issue, rather than continuing the ignorant hatred. This country’s government certainly is not going to round up millions of undocumented immigrants and send them back to their homes of origin.

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