Wednesday, March 3, 2021

An America without Immigrants

Guest blogger: Shakira Zavala, law student, University of San Francisco

What would happen if the wish of anti-immigrants came true? They have no idea how much value immigrants actually bring. I’ve heard many arguments from people and sources on how immigrants are bad and detrimental to the U.S. These arguments range from, “immigrants come here and steal American jobs,” “immigrants come here and want government handouts,” “immigrants are lazy,” “they need to go back to their Country because they don’t contribute to the U.S.” However, I have a rebuttal.

The IRS estimates that undocumented immigrants pay over $9 billion in withheld payroll taxes annually. Undocumented immigrants also help make the Social Security system more solvent, as they pay into the system but are ineligible to collect benefits upon retiring. In 2010, $12 billion more was collected from Social Security payroll taxes of undocumented workers than were paid out in benefits.[1] “Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, paid an estimated $328 billion in state, federal, and local taxes in 2014 alone. And the estimated 4.5 million people with Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs), which are available only to noncitizens, paid $23.6 billion in total taxes in 2015.[2] In other words, undocumented immigrants contribute to the system that is paying social security benefits to the same people that want immigrants to “go back to their Country.” Not only are immigrants contributing to the U.S. by helping fund government benefits to Americans, benefits that many of them will not be able to reap, but they are also working jobs that many “Americans” are unwilling to do.

Immigrants help fill keys gaps in the U.S. economy. In fact, a 2015 report, a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) panel of experts determined that immigrants’ economic contributions would be hard to replace. Stating that, high employment levels for the least educated immigrants indicate that employer demand for low-skilled labor remains high. There are still many jobs in the United States for low-skilled workers that natives are either not available or unwilling to take. Among the important reasons cited for this high demand have been the substantial shrinkage since 1990 of the U.S.-born, younger, less-skilled working-age population; the aging of Baby Boomers; higher educational attainment among the U.S.-born; and a fertility rate below the replacement rate for the U.S.-born.[3] Taking this into account, it is unfair to say that immigrants are “lazy” when they are the ones working the undesirable jobs that are needed for the economy to work properly.

Lastly, for those anti-immigrants who say that immigrants get government handouts, the truth is that undocumented immigrants, including DACA holders, are ineligible to receive most federal public benefits.[4] Only those with lawful permanent resident status may receive limited public assistance, however, not until they have resided as a legal resident for five years. Additionally, the legal immigrants who do use federal public benefits, do so at a lower rate than U.S.-born citizens. In other words, rather than coming here and “milking” the system as many anti-immigrants allege, undocumented immigrants are not eligible for many of the federal or state benefits that their tax dollars help fund, and immigrants actually pay more into public benefit programs than they take out.

In conclusion, if the wish of anti-immigrants came true, Americans would be negatively impacted. By removing undocumented residents from mixed-status households, the median household income would drop about 47 percent, which would plunge millions of U.S. families into poverty. The nation’s housing market would be jeopardized because a high percentage of the 1.2 million mortgages are held by households with undocumented immigrants and thus, would be in danger of default. Gross domestic product would be reduced by 1.4 percent in the first year, and cumulative GDP would be reduced by $4.7 trillion over 10 years.[5] More significantly, their contribution from paying taxes may lead to a reduction or elimination of social security benefits that so many Americans benefit from.

So, is it reasonable to say I have rebutted the assumption of anti-immigrant’s beliefs on immigrants? I would say so.




[3] National Academy of Sciences Panel on the Integration of Immigrants into American Society, The Integration of Immigrants into American Society, National Academies Press, 2015, p. 266,




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