The impact immigrants have on the American economy is 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. This means immigration sends money flowing to already wealthy people, but not to 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) want to reduce immigration to the U.S. from 1,000,000 to 500,000. The RAISE Act would favor immigrants who score highly on a rubric meant to determine the value they'll add to American society. 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.
Here's how Senator Cotton pitched the bill in Breitbart:
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.
If you're wondering if you'd qualify to immigrate to the United States, TIME has a quiz you can take here:
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 across the nation. Obviously, 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.