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Monday, April 9, 2018

Immigration: Just the Facts

        Lately, the news has been filled with all sorts of statements and proposals related to immigration. I have been hoping that one of the news networks would produce a special report to give us the facts, rather than simply sharing perspectives on the issues.  However, failing that, I went looking online forsome facts.  The Pew Research Foundation has published several pieces.  Here are links:
Five Key Facts about U.S. Lawful Immigrants  first published on August 3, 2017.
5 Facts about Illegal Immigration in the U.S.  first published on November 18, 2014, but updated for the web publication.
updated March 18, 2018.
This blog will look at what these reports tell us. 
A Historical Perspective
            First, though, let’s take a look back to the period between 1890 and 1920, when immigration was a major concern.  Prior to 1892, individual states regulated immigration, but with the opening of Ellis Island, the U.S. established its first federal immigration center.  In the 1890s, immigration was at a low point due to a financial depression.  When the depression ended, immigration grew rapidly, reaching a high of 9 million in the first decade of the 20th century.  The majority came from countries like Italy, Poland, Russia, and other eastern European countries that had not been major sources of immigrants in the 19th century and that did not share the culture and language of the majority of U.S.-born residents at the time.  They came for economic opportunity, but also to escape political and culture conflict in their home countries.   Many of these new immigrants stayed in the cities rather than moving to farms or the now-closed frontier.   They staffed our steel mills and factories.  Russian Jews re-invented American entertainment.  However, in many ways, it was a tough time to be an immigrant.  The derogatory terms that people used with these immigrants stayed with their descendants through the 1950s.  It was only in the 1960s—as the grandchildren of the immigrants gained adulthood—that they lost the hyphens and became simply Americans. 
Facts About Legal Immigration
            Pew Research Center author D’Vera Cohn writes that today, using 2015 data, there are nearly 44 million foreign-born residents in the United States.  This is 13.4% of the total population, down just a bit from the historic high of 14.8% in 1890 (when the total foreign-born population was 9.2 million).   Of the 44 million foreign-born residents in 2015:
·      33.8 million are lawful immigrants.
o   Of these, 19.8 million hold U.S. citizenship,
o   11.9 million are lawful permanent residents who do not hold citizenship,
o   2.1 million are temporary lawful residents.
·      11 million are unauthorized immigrants.
The Pew Research Center reported these five facts about lawful immigrants:
1.     One million immigrants receive lawful permanent resident status—i.e., a green card—every year, which puts them on a path to citizenship; the majority (57%) of people who get green cards already live in the U.S. on temporary visas.
2.     Lawful immigrants are most likely to come from Asia (29% in 2013), Europe and Canada (16%), and the Caribbean (12%).
3.     Lawful immigrants tend more to be concentrated in metropolitan areas than is the case with the general population, with New York and Los Angeles having the largest numbers.
4.     Lawful immigrants are more likely to be of working age (18 to 64 years) than people born in the U.S.  Lawful immigrants make up 12% of U.S. residents who were working or looking for work in 2014.  They account for 20% of farming, fishing, and forestry workers, but only 9% of office and administrative support workers. 
5.     Not all lawful immigrants who are eligible to apply for citizenship do so.  While 67% of lawful immigrants eligible to apply for citizenship had obtained it by 2015, there are sharp differences based on country of origin.  For instance, only 42% of eligible Mexican lawful immigrants had obtained citizenship by 2015, compared with 83% of immigrants from the Middle East.
Facts About Illegal Immigration
            In their article , Jens Manuel Krogstad, Jeffrey S. Passel, and DeVera Cohn of the Pew Research Center provided these five facts about unauthorized immigration:
1.     Unauthorized immigration saw a “small but statistically significant” decline between 2009 and 2015.  Unauthorized immigrants represented 3.4% of the total U.S. population in 2015, compared with 4% in 2009.
2.     The percentage of Mexicans among unauthorized immigrants appears to be on the decline—about 5.6 million in 2015, compared to 6.4 million in 2009.  Numbers from Asia and Central America increased during the same time, offsetting the decline in numbers from Mexico and South America.
3.     5% of the U.S. civilian workforce—about 8 million people—are unauthorized immigrants.  This percentage has held fairly constant since 2009.  These unauthorized immigrants are over-represented in farming (25%) and construction (15%).  They are outnumbered by U.S.-born workers in all industries and occupations.
4.     Most unauthorized workers live in six states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.  Seven states saw declines in the number of unauthorized immigrants.  Six states saw increases:  Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington.  In all but one case (Louisiana), the increases were from countries other than Mexico.
5.     Increasingly, unauthorized immigrants have lived in the U.S. for at least a decade.  Two-thirds (66%) of adult unauthorized immigrants had been in the U.S. that long in 2014, compared to 41% in 2005.  The report notes that “only 7% of Mexican unauthorized immigrants had been in the U.S. for less than five years in 2014, compared with 22% of those from all other countries.”
Immigration Policy Issues
            The thirdPew posting,  authored by Jens Manuel Krogstad and Anna Gonzalez-Barrera of the Pew Center, provides background on some of the policy issues that are now in the news. 
·      Family-based Immigration—sometimes called “chain migration”—is the most common way for an immigrant to get a green card.  In FY 2016, just over 800,000 people were approved for lawful permanent residence because they already have a relative (parent, sibling, spouse, or child) with U.S. citizenship living in the country.  Under current law, any one country may account for no more than 7% of all green cards in a given year.  Currently, the Trump Administration is proposing to limit family-based green cards to spouses and minor children.  The Senate has a bill that would allow for a limited number of green cards through a “skills-based point system.”
·      Refugee Admission – The U.S. has reduced the total number of refugee admissions over the past two years.  In FY 2016, 84,995 refugees were admitted; in FY 2017, this dropped to 53,716; in FY 2018, admissions were capped at 45,000, which is the lowest number since the program was created in 1980.  In 2017, the Trump Administration froze admissions from 11 countries; that was discontinued in January 2018.
·      Employment-Based Green Cards – In FY 2016, 137,893 green cards were issues to foreign workers and their families.  A Senate Bill proposed replacing the current eligibility criteria with a point system.  One feature of the proposed system is to eliminate a green card for immigrants who invest money in commercial enterprises that are intended to create jobs or benefit the economy.
·      Diversity Visas – This is also called “the visa lottery.”  Each year, about 50,000 people get green cards through this system, which is designed to diversify the immigrant population.  The lottery is not available to legal immigrants from countries like Mexico, Canada, China, and India that generate high numbers of immigrants.  The Trump Administration has said it wants to eliminate the program.
·      H-1B Visas – This program provides temporary visas for highly skilled workers. In FY 2016, it provided visas for 180,057 workers—about 24% of all temporary visas.  While Congress has made efforts over several years to expand the program, the Trump Administration is considering restricting the number of years that a foreign worker can hold a H-1B visa.
·      DACA – This stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. As of September 5, 2017, it allowed about 700,000 unauthorized immigrants who came to the country as children to have temporary work permits and protection from deportation.  The Trump Administration ended the program in September 2017.
·      Temporary Protected Status – Under this program, immigrations from ten nations have temporary visa protection as victims of war and natural disasters.  The Trump Administration has indicated it will not renew the program for people from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Sudan—who constitute 76% of enrolled immigrants.
Some Thoughts
            The facts suggest several things.  While the facts suggest that Mexicans are not storming over the southern border to sell drugs, it is worth noting that the southern border is an entry point for refugees from Central American countries.  Americans should be asking two questions related to the proposed “wall.”  First, how do we effectively halt illegal drug smuggling?  Second, how can we best respond to an ongoing crisis in Central America that is sending refugees north to the U.S.?
            Second, we should ask how we can use immigration laws to encourage immigration by workers who are most needed for the U.S. economy.  This includes highly skilled technologists and scientists, but also farm and construction workers in areas where there is a worker shortage.  I see no reason to limit the number of years that a skilled worker can live in the U.S. as long as that skill is needed.
            Third, chain immigration has a value just as healthy families generally are good for society.  It makes sense to encourage families to settle here. 
            In any case, it is important that we understand the facts as we try to make sense of today’s immigration politics.  It is a tough world out there.  That’s a fact.