Most of the news these days is on the economy — the recent financial institution crisis and how it will affect the presidential elections and American society going forward. But as an example of interconnections between social issues, as CBS News reports, the number of immigrants coming into the U.S. (both legal and unauthorized), significantly declined in the past year, with the economy being a big reason:
The wave of immigrants entering the United States slowed dramatically last year as the economy faltered and the government stepped up enforcement of immigration laws. The nation added about a half million immigrants in 2007, down from more than 1.8 million the year before. . . .
The Census Bureau’s’ estimates for immigrants include those in the country legally and illegally because the agency does not ask about legal status. . . .
One other obstacle could be the 69 percent increase last summer in citizenship fees, about 281,000 immigrants applied to become U.S. citizens in the first half of 2008 – less than half the number of applicants in the same period last year. . . .
Much of the nation experienced a housing boom in the first half of the decade, providing jobs that attracted immigrants. The housing bubble burst last year, sending housing markets tumbling and contributing to a slumping economy that some economists believe is in recession.
It should not come as a surprise that with the economy slumping that there are fewer economic opportunities for immigrants (both legal and unauthorized), so that the numbers of immigrants entering the U.S. has declined significantly in the past year.
Of course, the political controversy over unauthorized immigration and high-profile efforts to round up and deport undocumented workers have also contributed to a less-hospitable climate in general. Critics of unauthorized immigration are undoubtedly rejoicing at these numbers, but as sociologists have tried to point out, these issue exist in a larger context of institutional and historical factors that require a longer-range focus if we want true and fair immigration reform.
To go along with the Census’s latest report, the Congressional Budget Office has put together a list of Congressional reports and publications relating to immigration, both legal and unauthorized.
Of particular interest is their report released in December 2007 on “The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments.” For those who are too impatient to read the whole report, it basically confirms what previous research has suggested:
- State and local governments incur costs for providing services to unauthorized immigrants and have limited options for avoiding or minimizing those costs.
- The amount that state and local governments spend on services for unauthorized immigrants represents a small percentage of the total amount spent by those governments to provide such services to residents in their jurisdictions.
- The tax revenues that unauthorized immigrants generate for state and local governments do not offset the total cost of services provided to those immigrants.
- Federal aid programs offer resources to state and local governments that provide services to unauthorized immigrants, but those funds do not fully cover the costs incurred by those governments.
So in other words, on a national level, unauthorized immigration constitutes a slight positive benefit for the American economy but on the state and local governments have to bear a disproportionate share of the financial costs, so at the state and local levels, unauthorized immigration constitutes a slight net loss on their budgets.
That is also a big reason why opposition to unauthorized immigration is so vehement — people situate themselves at the local setting, within their own city, town, or neighborhood — not at the national level. So they mainly see what is immediately around them, rather than taking a national-level perspective.
In that sense, it’s easy to see why people are opposed to the costs of unauthorized immigration that their city or state must bear, rather than recognizing the net benefit at the national level.
As sociologists have also pointed out, part of the solution needs to include the federal government sharing more of those net benefits with the state and local levels, to offset the disproportionate burden of costs that states and cities have to bear. Unfortunately, in today’s financial climate, that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.
Update: As more evidence that unauthorized immigration to the U.S. is slowing down, last week, the Pew Research Group reported that for the first time in about a decade, between 2005 and 2008, the number of unauthorized immigrations was lower than the number of legal immigrants. Secondly, they also estimated that the number of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. has fallen from about 12.4 million last year to about 11.9 million this year.