The Benefits and Cost of Immigration and Immigrants

In many of the conversations regarding immigration, there is invariably a question around whether immigration is a net cost or benefit to the receiving country. The answer isn’t always clear, and will change over time and from place to place and country to country. But, the general consensus – and the available evidence to support it – is that immigration is a net economic benefit, contributing either directly or indirectly to all sectors of the economy.  Immigrants often fill positions that the average citizen doesn’t want, and won’t want even the prospect of a paycheck. Others contribute directly into the high tech, health, and research sectors of the economy. Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, pay into the tax system, but are much less likely to draw on social welfare programs since they do not qualify for them.  So, they pay in, but don’t take out.

There is also a strong demographic case for immigrants. In Canada, immigration now represents two-thirds of the country’s population growth.  In the US, population growth is increasingly dependent on immigration flows, particularly at smaller scales where some communities have used immigration to grow their population in the face of out-migration. Their loss, locally and nationally, will have an effect.

I have already written that even with a border fence that spans the complete US – Mexico border, people will find a way into America, such is the level of desperation amongst so many.  We also know that the net flow of undocumented immigrants into the US has dropped to zero, raising the question of whether the wall is really needed. Of course, there are also costs to the removal and deportation of immigrants, a policy of the Trump Administration. But, at least one estimate puts the border wall at $2.8 million to $3.9 million per mile. Add to that enforcement costs, including Border Patrol Agents and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the various pieces of hardware that is utilized in securing the border – more than $19 billion a year (NYT, 26 February 2017).

Missing from so many of the arguments is the emotional and mental costs of stricter border enforcement and deportation. President Trump has very quickly created an atmosphere of distrust and fear amongst the immigrant community, including those that have entered the country through legal, regular means.  The potential result is a further marginalized and more vulnerable sub-section of society. There is also the simple argument that diversity is good – there is a huge academic literature that extolls the virtues and needs for a diverse culture (and economy), and that such diversity results in greater economic productivity over the longer term.

Is immigration good and net benefit? Yes.

Further Reading:

For an accounting of the economic benefits of immigration, see: The Costs of Mr. Trump’s Dragnet, The New York Times, 26 February 2017, p. SR8. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/25/opinion/the-costs-of-mr-trumps-dragnet.html?hpw&rref=sunday-review&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=well-region&region=bottom-well&WT.nav=bottom-well&_r=0

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