In praise of Latin American immigrants

By Bernd Debusmann
April 30, 2010

The United States owes Latin American immigrants a debt of gratitude. And Latin American immigrants owe a debt of gratitude to lawmakers in Arizona. How so?

Thanks largely to immigration from Latin America (both legal and illegal) and the higher birth rates of Latin immigrants, the population of the U.S. has kept growing, a demographic trend that sets it apart from the rest of the industrialized world, where numbers are shrinking. That threatens economic growth and in the case of Russia (U.N. projections see a decline from 143 million now to 112 million by 2050) undermines Moscow’s claim to Great Power status.

A country’s population starts shrinking when fertility falls below the “replacement rate” of 2.1. births over the lifetime of a woman. For white American women, that rate is around 1.8 now. For Latin American immigrants, the rate is 2.8. According to the U.S. census bureau, nearly one in six people living in the U.S. are Hispanics. By 2050, they are projected to make up almost a third of the population.

That translates into the biggest minority group of consumers. Their spending is expected to exceed $1 trillion by next year despite the recession. A point worth noting but rarely mentioned in the often overheated debate about immigration: illegal immigrants in effect subsidize social security payments to Americans over 62.

This is because people working with false papers have their social security taxes withheld from wages but are not entitled to receive benefits. The sums involved are substantial — the Social Security administration has an “earnings suspense file” of payments under names that do not match social security numbers. The file has been growing by around $7 billion a year which goes to pay benefits to legal workers.

And the benefit to immigrants of the Arizona law?

“It may finally wake up the whole country to the consequences of the current approach to illegal immigration in which ever tougher border enforcement is seen as the only solution to the problem,” says Edward Alden of the Council on Foreign Relations, a New York-based think tank. “That approach is gravely flawed.”

So is the argument that the federal government has done so little to secure the U.S.-Mexican border that states need to take things into their own hands? The number of Border Patrol agents along the 2,000-mile frontier has doubled in the past five years, to 20,000. Arrests of border crossers have dropped 60 percent since 2000, evidence that tighter controls are discouraging illegal crossings (as does a shortage of jobs at a time of high U.S. unemployment).

A MESS THAT NEEDS FIXING
Under the law, the toughest of its kind in the country, state and local police are required to “determine the immigration status” of anyone “where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is illegally present in the United States.” Failure to carry identification documents at all times would be grounds for arrest. Critics say “reasonable suspicion” opens the door to racial profiling.

Despite the acrimonious debate sparked by the Arizona law — which faces legal challenges and might never take effect — there is common ground on the issue between a good number of politicians on both sides of the aisle: the present system is a mess that needs fixing.

The last serious attempt to fix it was in 2006, when the U.S. Senate failed to agree on a bill that would have paved the way to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants — the most widely used estimate is around 11 million, most of them Mexicans — and introduce a guest worker program to meet demand for unskilled and low-skilled workers.

At the time, the late Senator Edward Kennedy, the Democrats’ most vocal champion of immigration reform, asked its opponents what they were planning to do with the millions already in the country. “Send them back …? Develop a kind of Gestapo here to seek out these people that are in the shadows?” Critics of the Arizona bill think that prediction has come true.

Much of the immigration argument has glossed over the fact that for decades both the authorities and employers turned a blind eye to illegal immigration because the country has been deeply dependent on cheap labor — in effect one of America’s ways of competing with the low-paid workers of the Third World.

The link between demographics and economic growth has rarely featured in the discussion but this week former president Bill Clinton took it up and added a frank interpretation of the anti-immigrant anger reflected by a nationwide poll that showed 60 percent of voters nation-wide favoring Arizona-type laws.

The real reason for anti-immigrant sentiment, he said, was the fact that the economic downturn in the last few years disproportionally fell on white males without college degrees, such as factory workers. “But they’ll get more jobs if the economy grows. Their taxes will be lower if we’ve got more taxpayers. The pressures on Social Security … will be less if we have more people contributing to the system.

“So I don’t think there’s any alternative but for us to increase immigration,” he said, adding that bringing in more immigrants must be part of the overall strategy.

So far it is not.

137 comments

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I have a Hispanic last name-my family migrated to the US legally.They paid taxes, never received food stamps or assistance. I reside in Arizona, I now carry my passport with me and I do not mind being racially profiled as long as it is conducted respectfully.I can write a book about everything I have gone through for having a Hispanic last name since I moved to Phoenix in 1998. Illegals give us all a bad name. I have had my identity stolen, everyone assumes I am Mexican, I have often considered a name change. Other countries in the world have a national id no big deal. I am ready to carry my passport or id and I am all for getting rid of the illegals. I am also all for getting rid of birthright citizenship immediately!!! As many other countries have done and this will help reduce the amount of illegals receiving state funded health insurance and govt funded food stamps for their children. They know how to work our system better than any of us. Why do we have to politically correct all the time? Other countries should take care of their own poor crack down on corrupt government and seek ways to employ their own instead of pawning them on the US!!!….I am all for this Arizona law as are 90% of legal Hispanics all over the US….

Our teaching standards in the State of Arizona have been lowered to accomadate the illegals this leaves our kids behind in a very tough Global job Market. Our hospitals are bankrupt, our states are bankrupt, most of the ones in AZ work for cash under the table and do not pay taxes or have unclaimed taxes, their anchor babies provide them with food stamps and health care. All this while the rest of us get taxed on unemployment and pay high insurance premiums, get no food stamps. They have it made.

The illegals do not speak for ALL HISPANICS. They should protest in your own countries about civil rights and injustices not here!!!

MEXICO & OTHER COUNTRIES SHOULD FIX THEIR OWN PROBLEMS TAKE CARE OF YOUR OWN AND STOP PAWNING THEM ON THE USA. I SUPPORT OUR GOVERNOR, JOE ARPAIO, AND ANY GOVT OFFICIAL WILLING TO GO THE EXTRA MILE TO RID THIS STATE AND OUR BELOVED COUNTRY OF ILLEGALS. WE DON’T KNOW IF THEY ARE MURDERS OR DRUG DEALERS OR RAPIST WE ARE JUST NOT SAFE!!!

Why not take pride in doing things right instead of pushing themselves down everyone’s throat? What kind of model citizens are you if you preach illegal immigration? Why don’t they take it out on your own countries which you are all so proud of for not taking the necessary steps to take care of you and provide jobs and care for the poor and uneducated. Why do you think it is a United States problem? Those countries have failed failed them and they expect the US to pick up the tab. Protest in Mexico and see what happens? Want to talk about Civil Rights?

I have my passport on hand and ready to vote!!! Sorry for those in Govt. that oppose you will not have my vote.

Posted by AZ4theLaw | Report as abusive

I have a Hispanic last name-my family migrated to the US legally.They paid taxes, never received food stamps or assistance. I reside in Arizona, I now carry my passport with me and I do not mind being racially profiled as long as it is conducted respectfully.I can write a book about everything I have gone through for having a Hispanic last name since I moved to Phoenix in 1998. Illegals give us all a bad name. I have had my identity stolen, everyone assumes I am Mexican, I have often considered a name change. Other countries in the world have a national id no big deal. I am ready to carry my passport or id and I am all for getting rid of the illegals. I am also all for getting rid of birthright citizenship immediately!!! As many other countries have done and this will help reduce the amount of illegals receiving state funded health insurance and govt funded food stamps for their children. They know how to work our system better than any of us. Why do we have to politically correct all the time? Other countries should take care of their own poor crack down on corrupt government and seek ways to employ their own instead of pawning them on the US!!!….I am all for this Arizona law as are 90% of legal Hispanics all over the US….

Our teaching standards in the State of Arizona have been lowered to accomadate the illegals this leaves our kids behind in a very tough Global job Market.

The illegals do not speak for ALL HISPANICS. They should protest in your own countries about civil rights and injustices not here!!!

MEXICO & OTHER COUNTRIES SHOULD FIX THEIR OWN PROBLEMS TAKE CARE OF YOUR OWN AND STOP PAWNING THEM ON THE USA. I SUPPORT OUR GOVERNOR, JOE ARPAIO, AND ANY GOVT OFFICIAL WILLING TO GO THE EXTRA MILE TO RID THIS STATE AND OUR BELOVED COUNTRY OF ILLEGALS. WE DON’T KNOW IF THEY ARE MURDERS OR DRUG DEALERS OR RAPIST WE ARE JUST NOT SAFE!!!

Why not take pride in doing things right instead of pushing themselves down everyone’s throat? What kind of model citizens are you if you preach illegal immigration? Why don’t they take it out on your own countries which you are all so proud of for not taking the necessary steps to take care of you and provide jobs and care for the poor and uneducated. Why do you think it is a United States problem? Those countries have failed failed them and they expect the US to pick up the tab. Protest in Mexico and see what happens? Want to talk about Civil Rights?

It my right and civil duty to vote – illegals can’t.
I have my passport on hand and ready to vote!!! Sorry for those in Govt. that oppose you will not have my vote.

Posted by AZ4theLaw | Report as abusive

Regarding being pulled over as how this is racial profiling. While this no doubt does happen, the fact is that anybody can have this happen. I am a white male of Irish background with blue eyes, (which means I am as white as they come).

I have been pulled over at least 5 times where there was no probable cause (and I was a former reserve officer so I know probable cause).

One they claimed that my car matched one used in a robbery. The only problem is that my car at the time was a 1968 California Special mustang what was and is a very rare special edition car that does not look like other mustangs, especially from the rear (it has 63 Tbird lights that are horizontal that look more like Camero lights, not the 3 vertical slashes of a normal Mustang).

I have had other times when I was pulled over. Once the officer said I failed to stop (not true) and the other time the officer did not know the law and I informed him of the correct law (use of a turn signal, which is not required when there are no other cars around moving – he was parked). So, just because you are pulled over don’t assume it is because you are a minority. Sometimes officers go fishing and sometimes the don’t know the law themselves. Stuff happens.

Posted by dragoon6779 | Report as abusive

gobnait said: “would you kindly explain to me why you refuse to differentiate between ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ immigrants? Furthermore, kindly comment on how any illegal alien can pay taxes without a Social Security number? At least be honest in your comments.”

I’ll ignore the “at least be honest with your comments” part. First of all, I don’t use the term “illegal”. I use undocumented. Kindly read the original comment. As for paying into Social Security, they use an unregistered number that they give the employer. The employer uses that number to deduct TAXES, SOCIAL SECURITY DEDUCTIONS, and ALL OTHER DEDUCTIONS that most other Americans pay. Now, that I told you how they contribute to Social Security, do you agree that undocumented citizens are good for the economy? That was a rhetorical question, by the way. I don’t plan to waste my time trying to educate ignorant people who refuse to accept reality.

Posted by Messinger | Report as abusive

we are all in this together people

except a small number of us control most of the income and wealth

that small number is NOT the “illegal” immigrants

and THAT is the problem

i know many latinos in Los Angeles – why is it that when I see them talking amongst themselves they are speaking English, have JDs and RNs and/or are just plain hard working people?

Must be because they are people of integrity and good values

I say legalize every last one of them

QUESTION: All else being equal, if an economy doubles in size, what is the main reason for that

ANSWER: The population doubles

The entire “illegal” immigration issue is a Red Herring and Scape Goat

Sincerely,
Dennis Allard
oceanpark d o t com
Santa Monica, California

Posted by dennisallard | Report as abusive

According to some people, this land belongs to the Native Americans. With that type of argument, you could say the US belongs to Russia -> Europe -> Africa. After, that is where the first humanoids first appeared.

Good read.

Posted by isarubio | Report as abusive

Stupid friggin right-wing idiots! Don’t you understand that YOU TOO can now be arrested if you do not carry ID no matter how white you are? You always claim to be in favor of freedom and the constitution but you will freely give away that freedom because you think it will only affect other people – not yourselves!

Let’s forget about the right and wrong of the concept of arresting illegal immigrants by the police who – I am sure – have better things to do with their time.

What you are saying here is that any American citizen can be stopped without cause and thrown into jail for not having proper ID. American citizens!!

Since Bush was in office you now need a passport to return from Canada. Now you need one just to walk the streets of Arizona. Sounds like the Soviet Union to me. Did you know that everyone there needed an “Internal Passport” to travel in their own country? Not much difference in Arizona.

Is this your idea of freedom?

Posted by jmmx | Report as abusive

The main reason the Federal government has not done anything to “legalize” undocumented immigrants is because of pressure from ignorant voters who are victims of their racism and demogogic politicians.
Even Bush knew they are needed in this economy.
Contrary to popular belief, undocumented people pay taxes, and spend a lot of cash, thus pumping much needed cash flow into the economy. By the way, in order to claim welfare, unemployment, food stamps, medic care, you need to provide proof of citizenship. Undocumented people don’t go to hospitals, don’t see a doctor because they live in the shadows and are afraid of being reported.
Given, they pay taxes and can’t vote, they should at least be treated with dignity. After all, they are human beings, just the same as a white person; all children of the same God.

Posted by Messinger | Report as abusive

Bernd,
Rephrasing Churchill words:
“If in yours 20′s you don’t feel sorry for illegals you have no heart if in yours 30′ you still fell sorry for illegals you have no brain.”

No modern western society can afford take aboard 12,000,000 uneducated poor.

Doesn’t matter how hard they work. They will never able to cover cost of social services they get including schooling for numerous kids and emergency rooms.

Now put on top:
High crime rate among Latinos and illegals. Yep. We pay for prisons, police etc.
Overall drag on economy that comes with uneducated mobs.
Denying jobs to USA’s poor. Guess where these guys end up. No they don’t cross to Mexico, they stay in US and collect benefits.

I don’t live in Ivory Tower. I helped quite a few successful/unsuccessful immigrant families.

Posted by sk_usa | Report as abusive

Wow. I can’t beilive there are so many ignorants speaking at the same time.

People like mspiggy say: she is not hispanic she is Latin..wait what?
Hispanics = Spanish speaking person
Latin: Latin America (Spanish: América Latina or Latinoamérica; Portuguese: América Latina; French: Amérique latine) is a region of the Americas where Romance languages (i.e., those derived from Latin) – particularly Spanish, Portuguese, and variably French – are primarily spoken.

People here are way too ignorant. Hispanic is not an ethnicity or a race. 62% of immigrants are Mexican, no surprise there when you consider the old Mexican – owned states. There are other RACES, ETHNICITIES, and NATIONALITIES that are illegal. I’m not from Mexico, but is rather sad to see people being very high and mighty, when we all now that there are many people that would deserve a chance on the county. For example the Dream Act.

Sure they should kick out all the crinimals, and welfare should come to an end.

But hell. you can’t genralize, might as well gather us all up and put us in a cage, in a “relocalization” camp like they did the Japs.

Wake up.No one and NO one is a pure American.

Posted by piggychu | Report as abusive

“Jobs no Americans want to do” is nothing but empty and unfounded rhetoric. There is a demand for unskilled labor, but the lie is that only Mexicans are willing to fill this demand. The politicians and voters that follow this logic are essentially in favor of creating a second-class proletariat society within America; these low skilled jobs aren’t good enough for US, but we can let that LOT do the dirty work. All of you are just supporting the next generation of dark skinned exploitation. Shame on you all.

Posted by Zacs | Report as abusive

The Arizona law is rooted in discrimination and hatred. I feel sorry for Hispanic Americans. Do we need to wear a symbol on our clothing to prove are citizenship like the Jews with the Star of David on their clothing? This is how hatred begins in a subtle manner. We need to remember how history repeats itself. This law is dangerous!!! I am sadden !!!

Posted by sad | Report as abusive

I think many are forgetting a huge fact: Arizona was part of Mexico not even yet a century ago. Most of the immigrants might be Mexicans, but this land belonged to them and their ancestors perhaps less than two generations ago!

Why now they have to deal with discrimination? I agree that those doing illegal acts be deported if they’re illegal, but why those boosting the economy of AZ? Let’s not forget that most of the ‘white people’ will not clean hotels and toilets, will not cut the lawn, will not work back in the kitchen for the money those immigrants do. And AZ depends very much of tourism, which means most of these immigrants are working for lower wages than any ‘white person’ in this country would. If AZ low wage jobs suffer due to lack of demand by citizens expecting more money for the same work then their economy will also suffer.

Yes, some of these immigrants may send money to their original country, but the majority will not stay here so most of those SS withheld wages will never be in their hands, so us legal citizens will benefit of it in the long run.

Let them be and do their lives, the majority will not harm our economy, but help it. Most of them will not be violent, we are with our hate and ignorance to see the big picture.

As I thought let’s remember the words of an incredible man: Martin Luther King, Jr., Wall Street Journal, November 13, 1962:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction….The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of
annihilation.”

Posted by LSJ77 | Report as abusive

I thought Mexico was in Central America!

As for who was here first, the human genone has been decoded. If Native Americans were serious about the enormorus amount of benefits they get going to “Native Americans” only, DNA testing would be a prerequisite to recieve benefits.
Instead, they dumped tons of earth on a prehistoric human found in the NorthWest that was possibly an early immigrant to the Americas from Europe,

Posted by 2pesos | Report as abusive

Should profficiency in the use of modern sanitation and indoor plumbing fixtures be a requirement in the path to citizenship? In Alexandria, Virginia, you have to clean up after your dogs, but apparently not after your undocumented workers.

Yes, I live just outside the nation’s capitol the suburbs where many congress critters also reside. But I guaranty that there are no rich ruling class Democrats in my “working class” neighborhood, and no funny-sounding language speakers defiling their yards– at least not after sunset.

Posted by 4mommy | Report as abusive

The southwestern quarter of the United satates of America is quickly becomming Mexico North. All of Mexico’s third-world problems are becoming ours.

America, wake up!

jack Garcia

Posted by Skysailor | Report as abusive

Yes, legal is better than illegal. But, given the birth rates necessary to avoid our extinction, we might ask ourselves: is legal better than extinction?

Oh, and, Bill Clinton certainly has a large pair, to be weighing in on unemployment, after he sent all our jobs to China and Mexico.

Keep the faith!

Posted by humanwrites | Report as abusive