New Facts On Immigration

The immigration issue—how to deal with illegal immigrants, their impact on society and the economy, and “pathways” to citizenship are issues that have cropped up in virtually every presidential debate this year. On Saturday night it emerged, as The New York Times “>here and “>study that revealed that for the first time since the 1940s more Mexicans are leaving the United States than are coming here. The director of the Pew Hispanic Center’s research, Mark Hugo Lopez, observed, “Mexican migration to the US has been one of the world’s great migration stories, and this data shows it has come to an end”

Between 2009 and 2014 about 1 million Mexicans returned to Mexico. The number of Mexican in the US—legal and undocumented—-decreased to 11.7 million from 12.8 million in 2007.The number of undocumented has gone from 6.9 million in 2007 to 5.6 million in 2014.

Another “>article entitled, The Thorny Economics of Illegal Immigration. It reported on studies it commissioned and data it collected in an effort to determine what the impact has been in the state of Arizona (which turns be a petri dish for determining the accuracy of many assertions regarding the impact of illegal immigrants). The assumption underlying the Journal study is that one might draw some conclusions from Arizona's experience, even if it is not a demographic mirror of the entire nation. Between 2007 and 2012 Arizona lost 40% of its illegal immigrant population.

Yes, you read that correctly—-about 200,000 illegal immigrants have left Arizona since 2007. In a state with about 6.7 million residents that is a decline of about 3% of the population. It is the greatest percentage reduction of illegal immigrants of any state over the past decade—-illegal immigrants in California declined by 12.5%, in New York by 25% and in Illinois by 13.6% over the same period.

The Journal tried to figure out what the impact of the decline has been—who won, who lost and by how much. It hired Moody Analytics to conduct a study of the impact of illegals on the economy of the state— both their presence and now their absence.

The research concluded that the departure of the illegals has reduced Arizona’s gross domestic product by an average of 2% a year between 2008 and 2015. As a direct result of the departures total employment in the state was 2.5% lower than it would otherwise have been during those 7 years.

Most interesting and also counter-intuitive, Moody’s found that “low-skilled U.S. natives and legal Hispanic immigrants since 2008 picked up less than 10% of the jobs once held by undocumented immigrants.” A similar study found that employment declined for low skilled white workers in the state during 2008-2009 notwithstanding the decline in illegal population.

A related phenomenon on the other side of the ledger is the reduction in government spending —- governmental budgets can be trimmed when there are fewer people needing government services. Arizona’s governmental expenditures declined appreciably as the population decreased.

One estimate has state spending on schooling going down by $350 million because of the reduction of some 80,000 students as the illegal immigrants left. Also declining was spending on emergency room care for non-citizens (minus $61 million) and state prison spending for non-citizen felons (minus $22 million).

But those cost reductions need to be set against not only the reduced gross domestic product (cited above) but also the worker shortage that ensued in industries that relied on immigrant labor. The increase in labor cost for farmworkers (up 15%) and construction workers (up 10%) was not insignificant. The immigrant heavy construction industry has added 15,000 jobs in Arizona since 2011, but that total is still half of what it was in 2006.

Predictably, even having relevant and meaningful data doesn’t quell the passions and the varying interpretations of what they mean. The same data are interpreted differently depending on the political prism through which they are viewed. The Federation for Immigration Reform (a group seeking to reduce immigration) asserts that undocumented workers cost Arizona taxpayers about $1 billion /year after accounting for the taxes they pay. On the other hand, the Udall Center for Public Policy in Arizona asserted that all immigrants (legal and illegal) netted a plus $1 billion in tax revenues over costs to the governments in Arizona.

That’s a two billion dollar swing, not insignificant. Despite the varying interpretations of the data it is clear that they must inform the discussion and can’t be ignored.

If illegals were to vanish tomorrow there would be profound economic impacts—-there would be labor shortages, the GDP would likely decline and some labor costs would quickly rise (though it is unclear who the beneficiaries in the workplace would be). Alternatively, government expenditures in certain areas would be significantly reduced.

The new data demand that the immigration debate be re-framed to take into account the present day realities—-there are now more Mexicans leaving than coming to the US,  Mexico has greatly increased intercepts on its southern border, and we may well be facing labor shortages and a declining GDP if immigrants already here were to be deported ; fewer illegals also mean smaller education, healthcare and law enforcement budgets. Each side of the debate can prefer its own values and priorities but they cannot ignore the facts. Recent data, not templates and talking points from campaigns past, ought to dominate the discussion; hyperbole, fear and misinformation should not have a role.