Immigrants and the Economy

Document Date: March 12, 2002

"Is it true that immigrants take jobs away from Americans
and are a drain on the economy?"

Blaming immigrants for the nation's woes has long been an American pastime, especially in hard economic times like today. Recently, there has been an upsurge in anti-immigrant sentiment, particularly in areas of the country that host large number of immigrants. Public opinion surveys indicate that the public does draw a distinction between legal and undocumented immigrants, and that the public regards undocumented immigrants with increasing disfavor.

One of the most well-entrenched myths about immigrants is that they steal jobs from American workers, collect an excess of government benefits and in general represent a drain on the economy. According to an August 1993 Field Poll of Californians, 39 percent of respondents agreed that illegal immigrants are "taking jobs away from Californians." But these are all myths that must be refuted to create a more hospitable environment for immigrants' rights.


Contrary to popular belief, immigrants do not take away jobs from American workers. Instead, they create new jobs by forming new businesses, spending their incomes on American goods and services, paying taxes and raising the productivity of U.S. businesses. Immigrants are good for the economy, not the other way around.

  • A U.S. Department of Labor study prepared by the Bush Administration noted that the perception that immigrants take jobs away from American workers is "the most persistent fallacy about immigration in popular thought" because it is based on the mistaken assumption that there is only a fixed number of jobs in the economy.
  • Experts note that immigrants are blamed for unemployment because Americans can see the jobs immigrants fill but not the jobs they create through productivity, capital formation and demand for goods and services.
  • Immigrants pay more than $90 billion in taxes every year and receive only $5 billion in welfare. Without their contributions to the public treasury, the economy would suffer enormous losses.

The ACLU recognizes that the U.S., like every country, has the right to control who enters the country and to enforce the integrity of its internationally recognized borders. It also has the right to deport persons in the country who are not authorized to be here. However, the ACLU also believes that the power to exclude and deport must be exercised fairly, humanely and consistent with the constitutional norms of due process and non-discrimination, and believes that the government must comply with the legal and humanitarian principles of international law that bind the United States.

In a 1990 American Immigration Institute Survey of prominent economists, four out of five said that immigrants had a favorable impact on economic growth. None said that immigrants had an adverse impact on economic growth.

A 1994 study of unemployment and immigration by Richard Vedder and Lowell Galloway of Ohio University spanning 100 years (from 1891 to 1991) found that higher rates of foreign-born population historically have corresponded to lower unemployment rates. The study found that immigrants expand total output and the demand for labor, tend to be highly productive and promote capital formation through high savings rates.

According to a L.A. Times analysis summarizing the best available research, "Immigrants contribute mightily to the economy, by paying billions in annual taxes, by filling low-wage jobs that keep domestic industry competitive, and by spurring investment and job-creation, revitalizing once-decaying communities. Many social scientists conclude that the newcomers, rather than drain government treasuries, contribute overall far more than they utilize in services." (January 6, 1992).

Studies by the Rand Corporation, the University of Maryland, the Council of Economic Advisors, the National Research Council and the Urban Institute all show that immigrants do not have a negative effect on the earnings and employment opportunities of native-born Americans. A 1989 Department of Labor study found that neither U.S. workers in complementary jobs, nor most minority workers, appear to be adversely affected by immigration.

"The truth is that the challenges we face as a nation have not been
imported by our immigrants, nor would they disappear if we could only
succeed in sealing our borders for good -- even if that were possible. In
fact, there is good reason to believe that some of the problems we should
take most seriously as a people -- from the decline in our economic
competititiveness to the decay of our community values -- are problems
that the new immigrants can help us solve."
Mario Cuomo, Governer of New York State,
"Immigration is Source of our Strength," USA Today, July 19, 1993.

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