The impact immigrants have on the American economy are complex. It's true immigrants benefit America, but it is not true immigrants benefit all Americans. The wealth generated by highly skilled immigration is not evenly distributed. Highly skilled immigrants tend to be concentrated in a few sectors, typically engineering and tech. Those sectors tend to be concentrated in a handful of geographic areas, typically anchored by coastal cities. The effect is that immigration sends money flowing to already wealthy people, and not so much others.
What does it all add up to? The fiscal burden offsets the gain from the $50 billion immigration surplus, so it’s not too farfetched to conclude that immigration has barely affected the total wealth of natives at all. Instead, it has changed how the pie is split, with the losers—the workers who compete with immigrants, many of those being low-skilled Americans—sending a roughly $500 billion check annually to the winners. Those winners are primarily their employers. And the immigrants themselves come out ahead, too. Put bluntly, immigration turns out to be just another income redistribution program.
Senators Tom Cotton (R-AK) and David Perdue (R-GA) propose to reduce immigration to the U.S. from 1,000,000 to 500,000. Their proposed bill is in line with the idea that immigration is hurting working class Americans. President Trump was elected with a mandate to put America first. Part of that is making sure all Americans citizens have a shot at the American dream.
“People with college and advanced degrees are doing just fine. At the same time, we’ve seen record numbers of immigration—almost all of it low-skilled or unskilled immigrants coming here. Of course, that level of immigration is going to hurt the availability of jobs for blue collar workers and put downward pressure on their wages. So I think we need to re-orient our immigration system to look out for American citizens—especially those American citizens who have gotten a raw deal in recent decades. My bill today would be a first and modest down payment by getting a handle on green cards because we give out a million a year and the vast majority of those are unrelated to unemployment and they let in low-skilled and unskilled workers. That needs to change.”
It's no secret Silicon Valley is built on the backs of immigrants. Many of these immigrants are top of their field, with extremely specialized skills. They're not displacing Americans; people with those skills simply don't exist in the United States.
"If you look at the great companies driving the U.S. as an innovation hub, you'll see that a lot of companies were started by immigrants or the child of immigrants, like Apple and Google," he said. Apple was co-founded by Steve Jobs, whose biological father was a Syrian refugee, and Google (now Alphabet) was co-founded by Sergey Brin, who was born in Moscow.
Immigrants put more into the economy than the average American. They're more likely to be employed, and they're more likely to own their own businesses. In short, immigrants—they get the job done.
Though immigrants make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, they contribute nearly 15 percent of the country's economic output, according to a 2014 report from the Economic Policy Institute. The report contains the institute's latest data on immigration and the U.S. economy."Immigrants have an outsized role in U.S. economic output because they are disproportionately likely to be working and are concentrated among prime working ages," the EPI report says. "Moreover, many immigrants are business owners. In fact, the share of immigrant workers who own small businesses is slightly higher than the comparable share among U.S.-born workers."
Proponents say framing immigration in the form of winners and losers misrepresents the situation. Immigration does not have to hurt blue collar workers. Immigration does not have to benefit only some groups. There are over 200,000 unfilled construction jobs in the U.S. and the 1,000,000 green cards issued to immigrants every year have not destroyed all the jobs.
The essential point is that immigrants don’t take native jobs on any sort of one-to-one basis. They drive economic activity all the way down the river, creating new jobs in some areas and then pushing native workers into more complicated jobs in others. A comprehensive study of non-European Union immigrants into Denmark between 1991 and 2008 found that immigrants did not push down wages, but rather freed natives to do more pleasant work.
Houston has very light zoning regulations, and as a result it has affordable housing and a culture that welcomes immigrants. This has made it incredibly diverse, with 145 languages spoken in the city’s homes, and incredibly dynamic — the fastest-growing big city in America recently. (Personally, I wish it would do a bit more zoning — it’s pretty ugly.)
The large immigrant population has paradoxically given the city a very strong, very patriotic and cohesive culture, built around being welcoming to newcomers and embracing the future. As the Houston urban analyst Tory Gattis points out, the Houston Rodeo has so many volunteers it has recently limited their special privileges. In 2015 it had the healthiest philanthropic sector in the nation. The city is coming together to solve its pension problems better than just about any other big place.