ABC News: "Without immigrants, the US economy would be a 'disaster,' experts say"

by Joseph McKeown

Economic experts tell ABC News that the US economy and workforce would be a "disaster" without immigrants. "If all immigrants were just to disappear from the US workforce tomorrow, that would have a tremendous negative impact on the economy," Daniel Costa, the director of immigration law and policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, an economic research think tank based in Washington, D.C., tells ABC News. "Immigrants are overrepresented in a lot of occupations in both low- and high-skilled jobs. You'd feel an impact and loss in many, many different occupations and industries, from construction and landscape to finance and IT."

Although US-born workers could fill some of those jobs, Costa claims, there would nevertheless be large gaps in several sectors that would cause a decline in the economy. Immigrants earned $1.3 trillion and contributed $105 billion in state and local taxes and nearly $224 billion in federal taxes in 2014, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy and based on analysis of the US Census Bureau's latest American Community Survey. In 2014 immigrants had almost $927 billion in consumer spending power. "Immigrants are a very vital part of what makes the US economy work," Jeremy Robbins, the executive director of the Partnership for a New American Economy, a group of 500 pro-immigrant Republican, Democratic, and independent mayors and business leaders, tells ABC News. "They help drive every single sector and industry in this economy,” he says. “If you look at the great companies driving the US as an innovation hub, you'll see that a lot of companies were started by immigrants or the child of immigrants, like Apple and Google,” he notes, referring to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, whose biological father was a Syrian refugee, as well as Google (now Alphabet) co-founder Sergey Brin, who was born in Moscow.

Although immigrants make up about thirteen percent of the US population, they contribute almost fifteen percent of the country's economic output, according to an Economic Policy Institute 2014 report. "Immigrants have an outsized role in US economic output because they are disproportionately likely to be working and are concentrated among prime working ages," the EPI report says. "Moreover, many immigrants are business owners. In fact, the share of immigrant workers who own small businesses is slightly higher than the comparable share among US-born workers." David Kallick, the director of the Immigration Research Initiative at the Fiscal Policy Institute, says that immigrants do not “steal” jobs from Americans. “It may seem surprising, but study after study has shown that immigration actually improves wages to US-born workers and provides more job opportunities for US-born workers," he tells ABC News. "The fact is that immigrants often push US-born workers up in the labor market rather than out of it." Kallick adds that studies he has done found that "where there's economic growth there's immigration, and where there's not much economic growth, there's not much immigration." 

Meg Wiehe, the director of programs for the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, says undocumented immigrants also contribute a substantial amount in taxes. "Undocumented immigrants contributed more than $11.6 billion in state and local taxes each year. And if the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants here were given a pathway to citizenship or legal residential status, those tax contributions could rise by nearly $2 billion." Additionally, she says, the “vast majority” of undocumented immigrants pay income tax using the I-10 income tax return form.

To raise awareness and demonstrate the impact of immigrants in the American economy, many cities across the US last week held “A Day Without Immigrants” protests, when immigrants refused to go to work, attend school, and shop. The protests were held in response to President Trump’s anti-immigrant executive orders to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants, build a wall along the US-Mexico border, and conduct "extreme vetting" of immigrants from seven predominately Muslim countries. Hundreds of business owners in Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, Boston, Philadelphia, and other cities participated. But not everyone supported the protesters. Jim Serowski, founder of JVS Masonry in Commerce City, Colorado, fired his foreman and thirty bricklayers who failed to show up for work. "If you're going to stand up for what you believe in, you have to be willing to pay the price," he tells CNN. Others feel that support for undocumented immigrants is misplaced.  “Of course, nobody wants to do without immigrants—they are what made America,” Sarah Crysl Akhtar from New Hampshire tells the New York Times. “But there is a difference between legal immigrants and illegal aliens.” The latter, she says, “bring down the quality of life for everyone.”

While the economic impact of the Day Without Immigrants protest is not clear, many recent anti-Trump boycotts and protests have raised awareness and put pressure on lawmakers and the Trump administration. For Andy Shallal, an Iraqi-American entrepreneur who closed all six locations of his D.C.-area performance venue chain Busboys and Poets, it was a chance to call for "humanistic" immigration reform. "I want to make sure that immigrants, such as myself and others, don’t live in fear," he says. He adds: "There are times when standing on the sidelines is not an option. This is one of those times."