Immigrants: beneficial competition

Don’t be a bully.

Last week a federal judge ruled an 18-year-old girl in Florida should be deported because her parents brought her illegally from Colombia to the U.S. 14 years ago. NBC Miami quotes a woman arguing the girl should be deported because “her parents broke the law.” The deportation argument comes from a popular ethos, presumably born from fear.

And it’s an understandable fear for jobs. The Federation for American Immigration Reform, an anti-immigration lobbyist group, argues, “Access to lower-wage foreign workers has a depressing effect on wages.” That part of their argument is sound. As competition for jobs increase, wages decrease because companies have a greater supply of applicants than available positions. The lobbying group blames worker supply, concluding immigrants take jobs from Americans.

But the data tells a different story.

A 2007 report commissioned by the National Venture Capital Association found that immigrants formed 25 percent of all venture capital backed, publicly traded companies in the U.S., which combine for a total market capitalization of more than $500 billion. In addition, 40 percent of publicly traded high-technology companies were started by immigrants, such as Jerry Yang, the co-founder of Yahoo, and Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google. What is more, only 8.7 percent of the U.S. population is legal immigrants. Far from stealing jobs, immigrants documented and undocumented, are creating them.

A Duke University study found that as of 2006, 25 percent of U.S. patents are filed annually by foreign nationals residing in the U.S. Moreover, according to the Small Business Administration, 16.7 percent of all new small businesses in the U.S. are started by immigrants, generating $67 billion of the U.S.’s $577 billion annual small business income. Bear in mind only 8.7 percent of U.S.  residents are legal immigrants, which means some businesses are made by immigrants of dubious legality.

Scared stories of immigrants stealing jobs and creating an undue fiscal burden are common, but they’re untrue. According to the IRS, undocumented immigrants paid $50 billion in taxes from 1996-2003, and the IRS estimates 40 percent of undocumented immigrants work off the books. A legalization scheme, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, would raise $48 billion per year.

Here’s another perspective: DuPont, the world’s second largest chemical company, is a U.S. company started by a visiting French citizen. So is eBay, the website was started by a French-born Iranian. Andy Grove, the co-founder of Intel was an illegal immigrant from Hungary. Jen-Hsun Huang, the founder of NVIDIA, was born in Taiwan. Charles Pfizer was German. Even the great American Andrew Carnegie wasn’t American, he started the Carnegie Steel Company as a Scotsman. Alas, 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants —legal, temporary and illegal.

The world is changing fast and it’s being created by immigrants who are hungry for success.

The high school girl in Florida is poor and illegal yet became valedictorian. She could have her choice of Yale or Harvard, and wants to be a surgeon. She could make $400,000 per year, whereas statistically 66 percent of us will graduate and make under $40,000. Scary indeed, but no reason to pick on a girl.


 

Reach the columnist at whamilt@asu.edu

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