Basic economics has largely led the debate on immigration reform in the US. Lawmakers and citizens frequently make the claim that undocumented immigrants’ access to public education drains the US economy. But with the recent passing of Colorado’s ASSET Bill, legislation that allows undocumented immigrants to go to college for in-state tuition rates, a look at Brooking’s Institution’s 2010 report on the economic impacts of immigration will help illuminate why educating the 11 million of undocumented immigrants is a net-positive for the US economy.
First, a look at the actual terms of the new law. The law will approve in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants, so long as they graduated from a Colorado high school. The law is intended to encourage young first and second generation undocumented immigrants to go to college, even if they have not yet gained US citizenship status. The idea is that the law would give amnesty to young immigrants who, by no fault of their own, were brought to the US illegally in prior waves of immigration and give them a more certain path to citizenship. Thirteen other states already have legislation like it.
The passing of the bill in the House last week was a major turn-around for this type of legislation in Colorado. This was the seventh time legislation like it was proposed by lawmakers, but the first time it passed both the Senate and the House. Now, the bill only has one last step; to be signed by Governor Hickenlooper; a full supporter of the bill. (A video of him, the sponsors and other supporters rallying the bill early in the legislative season is below).
Most opponents of this and other immigration reform bills say that the US should not have to pay for immigrants who come to the US and put a drain on its resources. The basic idea is that immigrants come, take jobs, take money that belongs to US-citizens who pay taxes, and overally, contribute less to society. In short, it is assumed that the costs of immigration are much higher than its benefits.
Looking at the report written by Brookings Institution in 2010, but still relevant, the facts surrounding the economic impacts of immigration show that increasing the availability of resources to immigrants does not reduce the economic and social wealth of the US. In fact, the overall wealth of the average American citizen and the social and economic wealth of the US overall, is improved.
A look at a few of Brooking’s facts related to the economic and social wealth impact of immigration in the US:
1. On average, American lives have improved due to immigration
The Brooking’s Institution report says that the greater number of immigrants has led to higher standards of living for the average American. Further, it notes that regardless of the immigrant’s education level, low or high, it has improved the prices of goods and increased the wages, on average, for US citizens.
2. The actual costs of an immigrant in the US is NOT higher than the benefits
Simply speaking, the report shows that the cost to the US of an immigrant in the US is LESS than the benefits it receives from the taxes they pay and other economic and social benefits that result from immigration. For example, an immigrant is three times more likely to start a business than a US-born citizen, generating a higher amount of revenue for himself and others around him, according to the report*.
*One of the limitations of this rule, however, is that state-governments may not always be the benefactor. If the immigrant moves into another state, because the costs of living (including education) is too high, for example, the future benefits of that worker’s life might go to another state. That is why state-law is so important in growing its educated workforce and the opportunity for immigrants to have a productive life.
3. Immigrants currently have lower education levels than US-born citizens, but have a greater number of PhD’s than the US.
It may not be a surprise that there is a higher number of uneducated (no high school diploma) immigrants in the US. (Could it be because the cost of college is too high?) But it might be surprising that there are more immigrants with PhDs in the US than there are US-born citizens with PhDs. This may suggest that US-born citizens’ privilege of getting discounted in-state tuition rates still does not put them ahead of immigrants in terms of higher education, and, furthermore, that the number of immigrants with PhDs might spurt if legislation that broke down educational barriers was passed .
Other surprising facts from the report:
- Overall, the US is behind in educating its immigrant population and countries like Canada, New Zealand, and Australia that have immigration policies specifically geared towards education, consequently have higher rates of education. (In Canada, for example, 22% of immigrants have a lower level of education compared to US’s 46%.)
Look at the graph of the education levels of immigrants in each of the countries:
- Also, immigrants are NOT a strain on the law enforcement and prisons, as many people think. (There are at least three-times as many US-born felons in US prisons than foreign-born.)
As ASSET moves on to the governor’s desk, it may still be a long time before Colorado sees the real effects of immigration reforms like this. But it is apparent, however, that a stronger pipeline of educated immigrants in-state is likely to result in positive net economic impacts for Colorado.
(Video footage provided by Mark Montoya, edited by Diana Aqra)