op-ed vol1:2

A Fact-based Immigration Policy

Illustration by Stephen Rockwood
Illustration by Stephen Rockwood

The immigration debate has divide America and paralyzed our Congress for decades, never more egregiously than in the last two years. Driven by passions more than thoughtful analysis, far more heat than light has been generated on the subject, with the sad result that the true interests of the nation have been all but lost in an endless fog of misinformation and xenophobic demagoguery.


The presence of millions of people in the United States who entered the country illegally is a serious national issue that requires a comprehensive and just solution. The security of our borders is vitally important to the safety and well-being of our nation and its people, and one of the duties of our government is to secure our borders against people who reject our values and intend us harm. As to these facts, there is virtually unanimous agreement in the country, irrespective of political label or party.


Immigration policy, like all policies of national importance, should be based on facts, informed debate, and rational and fair consideration of all the competing interests involved, including, of course, the national interest. In an effort to give more than lip service to the proposition that “FACTS MATTER,” here are some facts about immigration in this country.

  • The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the average immigrant contributes, in net present value terms, at least $92,000 more in taxes than he or she receives in benefits over their lifetime.
  • In 2013, 29% of all research doctorates in science, engineering and health were awarded to immigrants, and an astonishing 48% of all PhD’s in computer science and mathematics were awarded to immigrants.
  • According to the National Foundation for American Policy, in the last seventeen years, immigrants have won 39% (33 of 85) of the Nobel Prizes awarded to “Americans” in Chemistry, Medicine and Physics. All six of the U.S. Nobel Prize winners in 2016 were immigrants, and of the ten Nobel laureates in the last two years who live and work in the U.S., only one was born in the United States.
  • Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, and overall crime rates are lower in areas where immigrants live. A Cato Institute study released in March of last year found that, relative to their percentage of the population, the incarceration rates of immigrants, including unauthorized immigrants, are less than those of native-born Americans. The so-called “Dreamers” (people illegally brought into the U.S. as children who have lived here all their lives) have the lowest crime rates of all – only one quarter of one percent have ever been convicted of any crime.
  • Since June 2008, more Mexicans have left the U.S. to return to Mexico than have come to the United States. From 2009 to 2014, more than a million Mexicans and their families left the U.S. for Mexico, most of them of their own accord.
  • 42% of the approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. didn’t sneak across the border, they overstayed their visas.


Notwithstanding these facts, President Trump and others continue to demagogue and distort the immigration issue by demonizing immigrants and mischaracterizing their contributions and role in American society. The President continues to insist on building a wall on our southern border that has little, if any, practical justification, and that will cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars. His latest “take-it-or-leave-it” immigration proposal to Congress calls for, among other demands, creation of a $25 billion trust fund to pay for a wall that is more political monument and symbol than anything else.


The President’s current proposal also calls for cuts in legal immigration approaching 50%, which Joel Prakken, Co-Founder of Macroeconomic Advisers, estimates would reduce the rate of U.S. economic growth by about 12.5% from currently projected levels. As David Bier and Stuart Anderson of the Cato Institute have pointed out, this problem worsens as the U.S. population ages and we need more immigrants in the U.S. labor force to maintain our economic growth.


In the face of these realities, Trump persists in seeking to cut legal immigration even more. He wants to end the Diversity Visa Program, which allows 50,000 permanent resident visas each year to people from countries that are underrepresented in the U.S. More significantly, he seeks to prevent citizens and lawful permanent residents from sponsoring their parents and siblings for immigration consideration.


The protection, education and support of American workers and their families has historically been, and always should be, one of our nation’s highest priorities, but we should not view the future as a zero sum game. Since the earliest days of our country, immigrants have benefitted our nation with their work ethic, their skills, their cultural diversity, their ambition, and their dedication to the idea of America and the principles and values it has always embodied. We can, and should, in the nation’s interest as well as our own, make room for people from other countries who aspire to and cherish the American dream and who bring to our shores a constant flow of new ideas, new perspectives and new energy.


For a change, why don’t we approach the issues, challenges and opportunities of immigration policy with open minds and hearts, common sense, informed self-interest, and an abiding appreciation for the value of facts. Who knows what we might come up with?