Immigration has become a hot-button issue in the United States currently. The national election brought the issue to the forefront after years of partisan bickering. The topic became important as the leading candidate for the presidency—and the current president—announced time and again that illegal immigrants were hurting the American economy and making the country less safe. In tweets and in speeches, Donald Trump time and again referred to the presence of illegal immigrants streaming over the border as one of the top national security issues that the US was not properly addressing. This has led to charged opinions on the matter, and the facts have been divorced from the narrative at some points. Missing from the conversation has been the discussion of the topic of this research. Namely, amid all of the discussions about what undocumented people are doing wrong, what laws they are breaking, and how their existence seemingly harms the cities where they live, there has been a missing conversation on the economic impact of undocumented immigrants. Namely, when immigrants come to the United States illegally, what impact do they and their next generation have on the American economy? This question is one that must be approached from the textualization method mainly because it is a question that can answered with facts, studies, and research. Visual interpretations, including television commercials and other forms of multimedia have been used in fearmongering about undocumented immigrants but have not been effective at providing insight into what impact these people are actually having on the world around them, which is altogether positive in most instances.
There has often been concern about whether immigrants are “stealing” jobs that might have otherwise gone to American citizens. Research suggests, however, that this effect may be overblown. LaLonde and Topel (1997) conducted a preliminary study almost twenty years ago in which they concluded that undocumented people rarely make wages that approach the median for wages of American citizens. What they concluded was that immigrants coming to America are often working in jobs that American citizens otherwise would not want to work in. The effect is to provide the American economy with a gap filler, allowing industries like farming to survive with the help of labor that would not have otherwise been there in that situation. Bean et al (1988) supported this study with their own, noting especially that the jobs of undocumented immigrants tended to be complementary to the jobs held by American citizens, meaning that they are not so much competing for the jobs of citizens, but rather, providing a labor pool stream for jobs that were otherwise unlikely to be taken anyway.

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Saiz (2007) conducted research that is important but far outside the bounds of what is normally reported and studied. The author looked at the impact of immigration on housing rent and home values in the US. He found that a one-percent increase in immigration, including both legal and not legal—will cause a one-percent increase in home values in cities where it takes place. While there has been much gnashing of teeth over the presence of immigrants, many people have been benefitting from extra equity in their own homes, an effect that has to be due to the immigrants coming into those cities.

Becerra et al (2012) conducted a study in which they found that the impact of undocumented people on the US economy differs depending on the region, mostly because state and local spending can vary so widely across the US anyway. However, the authors found that on the federal level, undocumented people are a net positive, contributing more in taxes and economic growth than they consume in government services. This data strikes at the heart of what is wrong with some of the discussions, since those one-sided discussions focus more on what immigrants are consuming and less on the clear evidence of what they contributing to society.

Herman and Smith (2009) wrote in a recent book that the American worker need to look no further than the children of illegal immigrants to see where America’s future lies in terms of economic growth and recovery. The book cites studies that indicate that the children of undocumented immigrants—the so-called “Dreamers”—are more likely to engage in entrepreneurship. They are more likely to start their own businesses, putting their new ideas into a marketplace that desperately needs ideas. Other studies have supported this, too, showing that the first generation children of undocumented immigrants are more likely to take risks and help to grow the economy through their innovation.

Ultimately the hang wringing over undocumented immigration is a conversation that almost always fails to take into account the facts as revealed in multiple texts. Often these conversations are driven by fear, with people listening to ads from politicians who would like to scare them in order to win votes. Illegal immigration has produced a major phenomenon in the US, with people coming in from Mexico and elsewhere and making a mark on the economy. While it might seem as if these people are a net negative, taking up resources that might have been spent elsewhere, the facts as revealed in text do not reveal this to be true. Instead, the suggestion is that in addition to whatever these people add to the cultural fabric of the US, they are also contributing in myriad ways to the economy, growing the tax base, filling up jobs that might have been too lowly for domestic workers, and training their children to start businesses and take risks in order to improve their own lives.

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  • Baker, K. (2016). America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World. Artisan Books.
  • Bean, F. D., Lowell, B. L., & Taylor, L. J. (1988). Undocumented Mexican immigrants and the earnings of other workers in the United States. Demography, 25(1), 35-52.
  • Becerra, D., Androff, D. K., Ayon, C., & Castillo, J. T. (2012). Fear vs. facts: Examining the economic impact of undocumented immigrants in the US. J. Soc. & Soc. Welfare, 39, 111.
  • Herman, R. T., & Smith, R. L. (2009). Immigrant, Inc.: why immigrant entrepreneurs are driving the new economy (and how they will save the American worker). John Wiley & Sons.
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  • LaLonde, R. J., & Topel, R. H. (1997). Economic impact of international migration and the economic performance of migrants. Handbook of population and family economics, 1, 799-850.
  • Mahler, S. J. (1995). American dreaming: Immigrant life on the margins. Princeton University Press.
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