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Economic Impact of Immigrants Complicates the Immigration Conversation

It’s depressingly clear that President Trump is using immigration as an issue to try to mobilize his base as the midterm elections approach. By all estimates, the migrant caravan won’t reach the U.S.-Mexico border for at least two more weeks, but we will send more than 5,000 troops to the southern border later this week to wait for them. Since the caravan has already decreased in number from 7,000 people to 3,500, Trump is deploying more troops to the border than there are people in caravan, a move that Jason Dempsey, an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, denounced in The New York Times. “This is using the troops as props,” he said. “We’re using a bunch of people to waste their time while they backstop the Border Patrol.” 

In a recent interview with Axios, Trump also floated the possibility that he would try to end “birthright citizenship” by executive action—a move that most legal scholars believe is unconstitutional. Because of his efforts, immigration has become an issue in House races in Idaho, Minnesota, and Arkansas—three states that have no direct tie to the southern border experience and in some cases, comparatively few undocumented immigrants to argue over.

It’s useful as the election approaches to understand what’s really happening and what immigration really means for a state. The American Immigration Council has compiled fact sheets for each state to demonstrate what the reality on the ground is, and how immigrants fit into the states’ economies. 

Louisiana, for example, has a relatively small immigrant population—only four percent of the state’s population—but it makes up nearly 23 percent of the work force in farming, fishing, and forestry. Immigrants are distributed fairly evenly across the educational spectrum, with 72 percent having at least a high school diploma and almost 25 percent with at least one college degree. Immigrant-led households paid $966.7 million in federal taxes and $363.3 million in state and local taxes in 2014.

The fact sheet presents additional data on the economic impact of immigrants on states and shows, in short, that immigration is good for business and for states’ economies. (See the fact sheet for your state here). 

The immigration conversation is not going away any time soon, so it falls to those who care about social justice to do their part to put a little reality into the public discourse to balance the manipulative dishonesty.

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