Trump’s wrong on immigration

Mexican farm workers in California
Mexican farm workers in California Getty Images

Donald Trump is the Republican presidential nominee largely because of what he said in his announcement speech in June of 2015. He made immigration a threat to the United States and combating that threat a central element of his candidacy.

The text of his speech included only two lines on immigration, but the New York Times reports that Trump decided to go on a riff about the subject. He said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Then he added, “It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably – probably – from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening. And it’s got to stop and it’s got to stop fast.”

But as is so often the case with Trump’s bombast, facts are getting in the way of his assertions. Indeed, the facts are the opposite of his most potent contention. Rather that hurting the United States, immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere are a boon to it.

That’s the conclusion of a new report from the National Academies of Sciences and Medicine, a consortium of private, nonprofit institutions chartered by Congress. The report assesses U.S. immigration trends over the past 20 years and weighs their impact on the labor market and their cost to government.

Important benefits

Francine D. Blau, professor of economics at Cornell University and chair of the 14-member panel of professors and researchers that conducted the study, says, “The panel’s comprehensive examination revealed many important benefits of immigration – including on economic growth, innovation and entrepreneurship – with little to no negative effects on the overall wages or employment of native-born workers in the long term.”

The report did find that new immigrants raise the cost of local government, primarily for public schools. But that expense pays big benefits. A summary of the report says, “As adults, the children of immigrants (the second generation) are among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population.”

Trump claims that the threat is not from immigration itself, but primarily from immigrants who enter the nation by illegally pouring across the nation’s southern border, thus his promise to build a wall covering 1,000 miles or more. But the report found a sharp decrease in such immigration with the onset of the Great Recession. Since 2009, the population of unauthorized immigrants has remained stable with about 300,000 to 400,000 arriving annually and about the same number leaving.

Lower crime

The new report does not address Trump’s reference to immigrants and crime, but the National Academies of Science and Engineering and Medicine did look at the issue in a report last year. That report found that neighborhoods with a high percentage of immigrants had lower crime rates and foreign-born men aged 18-39 are jailed at one-fourth the rate of native-born men of the same age.

Trump’s candidacy is built on fear and wrong impressions. The tide of immigrants is not hurting American workers and it’s helping the economy, immigrant communities are safer than most in America and the population of unauthorized immigrants is not on the rise. There may be reason to vote for Trump, but a threat from immigration – legal and unauthorized – is not one of them.