The primary reaction many Americans have to the topic of illegal immigration is one of xenophobia, the fear of the foreigners. Americans believe that immigrants steal wealth from honest citizens. However, immigrants are an integral part of our economy and our survival as a nation. If America wishes to continue growing and expanding, Americans must encourage more immigration and allow the assimilation of immigrants, legal or illegal.
A lack of knowledge on the subject of immigration has lead the public to many misconceptions. One of those misunderstandings is that illegal immigrants take more from our society’s economic resources than they give back. Although there are no studies in composing all the costs and benefits of immigrant workers, immigrants do pay into Social Security. However, since they do not have Social Security numbers (SSN), they withdraw almost nothing from Social Security. Additionally, an estimated 80 percent of undocumented workers’ earnings remain in the United States.
Furthermore, illegal immigrants voluntarily seek to pay their taxes despite the personal risk. This is legally accomplished by using a little known program run by the IRS called the ITIN Program. The IRS gives an “individual taxpayer identification number” (ITIN), much like a Social Security number, to individuals without a Social Security number so they can pay taxes. The ITINs always begin with 9 to distinguish them from SSNs. Since 1996, seven million individuals have voluntarily signed up and paid their federal income taxes, despite the risk of deportation.
How many Americans would go out of their way to voluntarily pay taxes each year?
Voluntary tax payments are not the only reason immigrants are beneficial to American society. America also needs immigrants if the country wishes to continue having a youthful and growing population. Why? A country requires a youthful population to support its older citizens. In addition, growing populations overtake shrinking populations.
The real-life realization of this threat is already eminent in Japan, a nation that had its baby boom one generation before us. The result: Japan has fewer young workers supporting more and more retirees, exasperated by the fact that Japan has almost no net immigration. Zero to be exact. This, in turn, has led to a decade long recession in the Japanese economy.
In the United States, our low birth rates and aging population are offset by a large net immigration of young workers. Consequently, the economy is able to grow out of ever increasing Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid costs. As strange as it sounds, if the United States is to avoid recession or worse, depression, Americans must encourage more immigrants to enter the country and have more babies in the U.S.
If these arguments on the economic benefits are still not convincing; perhaps the costs will be more compelling. There are 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States. Imagine the manpower required to detain all of them, the money and land required to imprison them and the shear number of buses running day and night necessary to send them out of the country. Even worse, after this great effort most will simply renter the country. America simply does not have the resources necessary to criminalize over 11 million people.
Xenophobia is not only a fear, but an irrational fear. Americans should understand, as a nation of immigrants, that encouraging more people like themselves to seek the American Dream will only benefit us all.
Alexander Thornton is a civil engineering freshman and Mustang Daily guest columnist