Immigration is one of the most contentious issues of our time. Debates on the matter — both generally and with respect to the specifics of various proposals surrounding it — are pervasive in homes, schools, workplaces, television and social media.
Given this backdrop, I probably should not have been surprised when I received an email recently (see below) that was purportedly from a North Carolina fifth grader. But I was. And I was sad to see unauthorized immigrants painted in such a negative light – even by such a youngster. Hopefully my response, which follows below, can help shed some light and maybe even open and change some minds. (Note: names of people and places have been changed.)
“My name is [Emery], and I am a fifth grade student at [Northern] Elementary School in [Anytown], North Carolina. My teacher has assigned us a Social Justice Project and I chose the topic of Illegal Immigration.
Illegal immigrants come into our country and work under the table so that they are not paying taxes the same way most Americans are. This is an important issue because they use our public schools, hospitals, transportation, and other public programs that do not require admitting whether they are citizens or not. The lack of taxes causes a deficit on our system.
What are some of the specific and direct ways that illegal immigration is hurting our country? What are some viable solutions to this problem?
Thank you for your time and attention to this letter. My grade depends upon the number of accurate sources and responses I receive! I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.”
Hi Emery, thanks for emailing. I want to first say that it is wonderful that you appreciate the value of revenue (taxes) in our society and the importance of investments in public infrastructure (schools, hospitals, transportation, etc.).
Unauthorized immigrants actually contribute significantly to state and local taxes, $11.64 billion a year, according to research by the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy. (http://www.itep.org/pdf/immigration2016.pdf; http://www.itep.org/immigration/)
Taxes are paid when these families and individuals buy basic necessities like groceries, clothing and school supplies. Taxes are paid when these families and individuals eat at restaurants, go to the movies and amusement parks and when they pay for gas for their vehicles (via the gas tax). These families and individuals pay taxes when they pay their rent to landlords – property taxes are typically passed on to tenants by their landlords. These are just some of many ways that taxes are paid by these families and individuals.
In fact, unauthorized immigrants pay a larger share of their income (an effective rate of 8 percent) in state and local taxes than the top one percent of taxpayers do (average nationwide effective state and local tax rate of 5.4 percent).
In North Carolina, it’s estimated that unauthorized immigrants, who comprise roughly 4 percent of the state population, contribute more than $275 million in state and local taxes. In context, this could pay for all teacher raises in this year’s proposed budget for the state, and then some.
The immigration system is indeed broken, though, and that hurts both immigrants and non-immigrants.
And it’s hurting us all because it currently denies some 11 million people a fair chance to contribute fully to our economy — more than they already do.
One solution would be to provide a roadmap to Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status for unauthorized immigrants. As LPR’s, these folks would provide an additional $2.1 billion a year in tax revenue.
President Obama has already made some headway into this solution through executive actions in the form of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) programs.
The DACA and DAPA programs grant work permits to eligible unauthorized immigrants. If fully implemented, almost half of the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the country would benefit, and they would provide more than $805 million in additional contributions to state and local taxes per year.
Also, Emery, I want to add that while it’s true that unauthorized immigrants do use our public schools and some other public programs, they are largely ineligible for most of the public benefits available to citizens and lawfully present immigrants. They cannot obtain Food Stamps, non-emergency Medicaid, Affordable Care Act benefits, welfare or disability programs or public housing. All of those programs require verification of a person’s immigration status against federal databases. You can read more on these requirements here: https://www.nilc.org/issues/health-care/.
Additionally, while the DACA and DAPA programs aim to provide some relief, many immigrants who come here now have absolutely no path to legal permanent residence or citizenship at all under the current laws. This is why immigration reform to provide a roadmap to LPR status and/or to citizenship is needed.
In short, our current law remains hopelessly inadequate and out of date. Ultimately, it is that law that harms the wellbeing of our nation and its economy – and when we are able change it to provide everyone with equal opportunity, we will all benefit.
Ricky Leung is the New Media Director at N.C. Policy Watch.