Immigration aids the U.S. economy, despite myths to the contrary.
So concluded a panel held in town Tuesday night as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas.
WNPR host John Dankosky moderated the panel, which took place at the Yale Center for British Art and was entitled “Is Immigration Good for the Economy?” He led discussion and directed questions at forum participants: Yale economics Professor Ahmed Mushfiq Mobarak; Will Kneerim, director of employment and education services at Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS); and Shannon Dooling, an immigration reporter working with WNPR’s Dankosky-led New England News Collaborative.
“We see the effect [immigration] has on our society and our economy everyday. Statistically and anecdotally, the answer of whether immigration is good for the U.S. economy is an unequivocal yes,” said Kneerim.
According to a report published issued by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, an estimated 17 percent of the city’s population is foreign-born, compared to 13 percent nationwide.
Mobarak said studies show that immigration does not significantly decrease or increase the employment levels of native workers and leads to increased income per worker. He said the economic logic that advocates for the free movement of capital can be applied to advocate for free migration. One comprehensive 2016 study, for instance, undertaken by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, found that the rare occasions when immigrant hiring negatively affected other workers’ wages, those workers were low-skilled other recent immigrants; while increased consumer demand from immigrants and the hiring of high-skilled immigrants with complementary talents to existing workers actually pushes upward the wages of existing workers.
Immigrants have begun more than half of America’s job-creating startup companies valued at $1 billion or more, Mobarak noted. He added that America is not inherently “exceptional” but has managed to attract exceptional people through its historically welcoming immigration policies.
Mobarak distinguished between his economic data and the morality surrounding welcoming immigrant populations and, specifically, refugees.
“The reasons for us to support refugees, to bring them in, to give them a home, is very different and it exists regardless of their economic characteristics,” said Mobarak. “There is also humanitarian urgency. There’s moral imperative for us to be supporting refugees.”
Kneerim emphasized the barriers facing the clients he works with at IRIS, including language difficulties and translation of skills into a new market. Yet, he affirmed that within 6 months, approximately 90 percent of their clients have found a job.
The panel discussed a family –– the Macario brothers –– about whom Dooling reported. Their story followed three native-born siblings and one older brother who, like his father before him, was deported back to their home country of Guatemala. The oldest brother had formerly migrated to the states in order to meet up with his family. Since the deportation, the two youngest siblings have dropped out of high school while their mother seeks asylum in a church in Boston. Panelists argued that the story reflects the cycle of negative effects created by harsh immigration policy.
“He’s ready to come back to the U.S. by any means necessary,” said Dooling.
Following the talk, Dankosky opened the floor to the audience.
“Historically, we’ve always had countries that discriminated against new immigrants, but it’s these new immigrants that have really helped the country grow,” said David Tyson, a local economist.