Tax Analysts Blog

Immigrants Are Good for Us

Posted on Apr 29, 2015

Immigration is one of the great polarizing issues in American politics. It is the issue that riles my conservative friends the most. They oppose anything that smacks of amnesty, open borders, or more people entering the country illegally. They argue that those people are prone to committing crimes, lazily devour welfare (while simultaneously taking our jobs), and refuse to assimilate. Those claims are largely untrue. But opponents of broad immigration reform also argue that people who have entered the country illegally broke the law -- and in a nation built on the rule of law, that should mean something. They also argue that a nation must be able to control its borders. Those are valid points.

But overall, immigrants are good for the United States. Modern immigrants, like those who came before, are here to work hard and provide for their families. They want economic opportunity. They embody the American dream -- and they happen to be good for state governments' bottom line.

A terrific report from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) says that immigrants who entered the country illegally paid about $12 billion in state and local taxes in 2012. The revenue per state, of course, varies. ITEP found that these immigrants paid about $3 million in Montana (where few live), but over $3.2 billion in California, where an estimated 3.1 million are living. The point is that these immigrants are contributing to the public fisc. They are working.

More significantly, ITEP found that if the estimated 11.4 million immigrants who entered the country illegally were granted legal status, the taxes they would pay would increase by about $2.2 billion. Yes, that requires some kind of amnesty or forgiveness -- but their crime was wanting to be us. It's not as if they are former concentration camp guards or henchmen for Pol Pot. More practically, these 11.4 million immigrants are not leaving, and there is no mechanism for getting them out. They are here cutting our grass, cleaning our houses, and working on our farms. They are also contributing to financing our government. And that is a good thing.

This is an excerpt of an article that appeared in State Tax Notes.

Read Comments (10)

edmund dantesApr 29, 2015

They are also taking jobs away from Americans at the lowest rungs of the
economic ladder--and up several rungs from the bottom as well. In my state,
the new standard crew for home repairs and renovations is a white crew chief
supervising spanish-speaking workers. No apprentices. They are all
hard-working, and do quality work, quickly, and at a lower price than such work
cost in the past. Great for consumers, not so much for others in the building
trades, or those who want to get into them.

Perhaps our current effectively open borders policy may have contributed to the
Baltimore situation? While I agree that immigrants can make a positive
contribution, including paying taxes, shouldn't we be taking care of Americans

mr. sal s.Apr 29, 2015

Edmund, many Americans don't want those low rung jobs. So, immigrants who
"take" those jobs aren't doing so at the cost of American citizens. Also, the
open borders policy has nothing to do with the Baltimore situation. It's more
about the excessive use of force by police departments in communities that have
a long history of endemic poverty and racism and feel no justice is being
carried out to address this excessive use of force. How about taking care of
our fellow Americans here?

David, I mostly agree with you. I would also add that many of the illegal
immigrants that come to our country are coming here because they are refugees
from countries who have been hurt by our foreign policy, whether it be unfair
trade agreements/practices or illegal and unjustified wars. So, for
conservatives complaining about the illegality of some immigrants, look at
what's actually causing the problem and they'll see that those who run our
country are partially to blame, and they are usually conservatives. Also,
there is some racism involved with this issue.

mr. sal s.Apr 29, 2015

Edmund, I would also add that it seems hypocritical for conservatives who are
pro-competition to complain about immigrants working at lower cost. Also, why
do conservatives feel it's ok for corporate America to take away jobs from
American citizens by outsourcing jobs to countries where workers are paid lower

david brunoriApr 29, 2015

Edmund, I tend to agree with you on most issues. But in this case, I am
doggedly pro immigration. I believe that immigration (the pursuit of the dream)
has made this country great. People come from all over the world for economic
and political freedom.

As far as taking care of Americans, I talked to a farmer from Alabama during
one of the immigration debates down there. He told me he could not find natives
willing to work. The pay was too low and the work way too hard. I suspect that
was the case when Italian, Irish, and Polish immigrants came to Pennsylvania to
work in the mines.

Anyway, my point was that immigrants come to work and pay taxes. IF more were
legal they would pay more taxes. And I don't even like taxes.

emsig beobachterApr 29, 2015

Edmund Dantes:

This argument, in one form or another, has been made for nearly 250 years. No
one here welcomed your ancestors who came here with open arms. Immigrants also
"create" jobs because they also spend part of their earnings here; and, will
take care of us in our dotage as both care givers and contributors to
retirement funds.

The social and economic problems of the inner cities and many rural areas have
been and are caused by technological change, environmental concerns
(drastically reduced demand for coal), and growing international trade. It's
quite possible that among the demonstrators and rioters are descendants of
those who once had good jobs at US Steel at the Sparrow Point plant and the
Baltimore Black & Decker plant. Both have long since closed.

The last paragraph of your post hits the nail on the head!!

edmund dantesApr 30, 2015

"I believe that immigration (the pursuit of the dream)
has made this country great. People come from all over the world for economic
and political freedom. "

Could not agree with you more, for most of our history.

However, today we are in a very difficult, very slow growth period. Job growth
is not matching population growth, and wages are stagnant. Lack of jobs clearly
has contributed to the misery in Baltimore that is the "root cause" of the
riots. Did an immigrant take a specific job that could have gone to a poor
Baltimorean? Probably not. But does importing vast numbers of unskilled
workers to compete at the low end of the wage skill hurt under-employed
Americans? I would say yes.

There may well be some agricultural jobs that Americans "won't do." I would
argue that in a free market the wages for that work should rise until Americans
will do it. But my point was that I personally have witnessed immigrants
taking jobs in the building trades that Americans very much do want--or did,
until the value of those jobs was bid down.

Just because something is good doesn't mean we should consume an unlimited
amount of it.

edmund dantesMay 2, 2015

And then we come to corporate abuse of H1-B visas to deliberately substitute
cheaper foreign workers for American workers. Came across this item by
coincidence today. Apparently Disney fired their long-time IT staff for
cheaper workers from India, over whom they will have extra leverage.

Hans GruepckeMay 5, 2015

Mr sal s - so in your view immigrants come here because of what America did to
them abroad. Thanks for blaming America.

The idea that no Americans will work in a given job for the pay is a right one
but what does that translate into in reality? If that is the only criterion
then we have to ask how low can we go? Are we going to have one worldwide
labor market - if so there are people in Africa and Asia who would probably do
this work for less than people from Latin America. Moreover, given the
birthrates in some of these countries which are totally out of whack with any
ability by the same countries to provide jobs for the newly born, you are in
effect condemning the low-skilled labor in your own country to competing for an
increasingly limited number of jobs with people willing to work for close to
nothing. How about robots working for free?

If we are asking why there is an increased income inequality in this country,
global competition surely plays into it.

Add to that the fact that people are clannish and it is one thing to ask a
Norwegian to pay for social services for another Norwegian than to do the same
in a simmering pot like America. The only way this can be done is via a
stronger and stronger government that intrusively forces people to do things
they won't do themselves (something that economic liberals in theory oppose).
This in turn breeds distrust and contempt of government, cynicism and all kinds
of shirking of civic responsibilities (including where the rich try not to pay
their taxes - the poor would rather not either but, of course, they can't
afford the high priced tax advisors). California can no longer provide water
for its farms and its people. But it was able to do so when its population was
half its current size. So Californians will have to choose between plastic
lawns and no agriculture - and maybe they'll get both. Was life better for
them 30 years ago?

The people who do not see that are people who are (willingly) spoon fed by the
ideologues of Cato and similar organizations.

As for the person who wrote:

"and, will take care of us in our dotage as both care givers and contributors
to retirement funds."

I am glad you are selfishly thinking of yourself and not your children or maybe
you don't have any (which would be in keeping with such selfishness).

In any event, I say, good luck with that - when the last thing you see is the
underside of a firmly pressed pillow, I hope you will (briefly) recall what you
wrote here.

BTW a better (and cheaper) column on the subject would come from someone, say
in India. Someone at TNT should look into that.

HooeyMay 27, 2015

It is impossible to ship home all 11 million illegal immigrants. We should not
give them safe harbor, however. Leave them at risk for deportation.

The problem is self-correcting. Their children will be born here and will not
be illegal. Over time, the illegals die or go home. That's the bargain they
struck when they cam here illegally.

We have no duty to solve their self-imposed problem, created by flouting our

As far as collecting tax from them goes, the tax law has nothing to do with
whether they are illegal, and taxes can be collected just as readily from an
illegal alien as a legal alien.

edmund dantesJun 2, 2015

The NYTimes has finally noticed the outrageous conduct at Disney.

I would end H-1B visas entirely until this corporate abuse is ended. I suspect
that one big motivator for Disney's action is to reduce their Obamacare costs,
as well as save on direct payroll.

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