Who’s Right About Immigration?

Editor’s Note: The following article was written by Jonathan Caglianone, a student in Professor Koslosky’s Journalism Workshop class. You can find this article, along with other election coverage at HuskiesVote2016.wordpress.com.

The fateful day when Americans will finally cast their ballots for the 2016 presidential election has nearly arrived. Now it’s time to determine once and for all who’s closer to the truth about one of this election cycle’s major topics of contention: the economic effects of immigration.

The Donald Trump campaign largely portrays immigration as a problem in need of fixing, saying that it hurts the American worker and puts heavy costs on the federal government. Conversely, the Hillary Clinton campaign describes immigration as a system that needs to be reformed, since it helps to grow the economy and as president she would advocate for immigrants’ rights.

With a clear divide in opinion between the major party candidates, it is not surprising to see a similar divide in the opinions of Bloomsburg University’s own Campus Republican and Democrat presidents.

“Illegal immigration greatly harms American workers, but not in as direct of a way as some state,” said Carissa Jones, president of the Campus Republicans.

“While, for the most part, illegal immigrants do not steal American jobs in mass numbers, illegal immigration costs the average United States household $1,117 a year (Fairus.org). Therefore, American workers end up losing their hard-earned money due to costs associated with illegal immigration.”

Timothy Heier, president of the Campus Democrats, believes immigrants are taking the jobs most Americans aren’t willing to.

“The reality is that we need people to hold these tough, low-paying jobs such as agricultural workers, grounds keepers, as well as housekeepers, for our economy to work. I believe these people deserve much better pay, because they are often times given even lower than the minimum wage because they are paid under the table. I honestly don’t believe that illegal immigrants are as vast as they make them out to be; these people simply want a better life, so why deny them that? Either way, more people means more production, and makes for a better economy overall.”

George J. Borjas, an economics and social policy professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, is among the experts who have delved into digging up the facts behind this debate. He published the findings of his research, which was once even cited by Trump in a convention speech, to an article on Politico’s website.

According to Borjas’s findings, neither Trump nor Hillary is telling the whole truth. To begin with, he estimates the increase in wealth to the native U.S. population as a result of immigration to be about $50 billion annually. However, the collection of lower skilled, lower educated immigrants who receive more financial benefits than they pay into with taxes creates a fiscal drain of about $50 billion annually on the native population.

While this would seem to balance out and not create a significant effect on the economy, this does not end up being the case. The native born Americans who would normally take jobs which do not require a high level of skill or education now have to compete with immigrants who move into new areas and take those jobs for less pay.

“To the extent there is something to fear, it stems from not providing legal status to unauthorized immigrants, and from guest worker programs where workers have limited rights and are tied to one employer,” says the Economic Policy Institute, describing the dilemma faced by immigrant workers.

“A useful framework for thinking about this is that any situation where workers’ individual bargaining power is reduced is going to put downward pressure on their wages, and therefore also on the wages of workers in similar occupations and industries.”

Cheaper labor leads to higher profits for employers and business owners, but can lower the prospective earnings for those who are native born.  To add to this, a comparison of population surveys from 2000 and 2013 taken from the Center for Immigration Studies reveals that although the native born U.S. population accounted for the majority of the increase in the working-age population, there was a decline of 1.3 million natives who were actually working, as opposed to an increase of 5.3 million immigrants who were working.

What ends up happening as a result of all this is the wealth in the United States is reallocated to different sects of the work force.

“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,” says Borjas, in summarizing his findings.

“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.”

The question voters are left with now is whose immigration policy is going to benefit them. If someone relies on multiple low wage jobs to make ends meet, then more immigration may yield a challenge. If someone owns a business or has a career with a higher degree of education, then more immigration could either have a positive effect or not much effect at all.