by Mittie Davis Jones, Economic Justice Covenant Program Task Force
When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” Leviticus 19:33-34
Many people in the U.S. are facing difficult economic times. Unemployment is at record levels, health care costs are high, education expenses are rising, and housing foreclosures continue. During times of economic stress, people often seek to identify the cause of their financial problems. Today, that list of causes may include immigrants. But the facts say otherwise. Immigrants contribute to our economy, pay taxes, and create jobs. More information is below.
As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors. The Bible is unambiguous in calling us to welcome aliens and strangers in our land, and to love them as we love ourselves. Let us listen to the voice of the still-speaking God. Let us read, reflect and understand the issues related to immigration. We will learn how to respond to these sisters and brothers residing among us as we encounter them in our daily living. And we will be guided in our decisions about social policy and legislation.
In a world becoming increasingly globalized, more people are leaving their homelands to seek better lives and opportunities in new countries. The U.S. has long been a nation of immigrants and we have consistently been conflicted about this. We gratefully welcome immigrants and their contributions, but at the same time we also exclude them, discriminate against them and, at times, inflict grave harm upon them.
Up until the late 2000s, some two million of our neighbors tried to enter the U.S. each year. They left their homelands for numerous reasons including the lack of employment or business opportunities, shortage of farmlands, lack of political or religious rights, oppressive political and legal systems, famine, drought, or civil war. They also come hoping to find a better life in the United States with more job opportunities, higher wages, more cultural opportunities, a reunion with relatives and friends, quality schools, and political freedom.
Of the two million immigrants seeking to enter the United States each year, about half accomplish their goal. The other half (about one million people) are apprehended. In addition, some 500 people die each year as they try to cross the border, double the number of 10 years ago. Of the one million people who do successfully enter the U.S. each year, about half have “papers” and the other half (about half a million people) are unauthorized.
In 2009, there were some 37 million immigrants in the U.S. Of these, 11 million were undocumented, down from 12 million in 2007. Somewhat more than half (54%) of the 37 million were from Latin America. Slightly more than one-quarter (27%) were from Asia. Europe was the birthplace of 12% and the remaining 6% were from other continents. (See Figure)
Immigrants are much more likely than the native born to live in metropolitan areas. See charts below.
Location of Residence, 2009
This fact sheet explains the U.S. legal immigration system. The Immigration and Naturalization Act provides for an annual worldwide limit of 675,000 permanent immigrants with certain exceptions for close family members. Congress and the President determine an additional number of refugee admissions. Historically, immigration to the United States has been based upon three principles: the reunification of families, admitting immigrants with skills that are valuable to the U.S. economy, and protecting refugees.
This interactive map from the Immigration Policy Center http://Immigrationpolicy.org shows the political and economic power of all immigrants, Latinos, and Asians. (IPC also produces an excellent electronic newsletter, Immigration Impact.)
There shall be one law for the native and for the alien who resides among you. Exodus 12:49
It is a myth that nation’s health care system is collapsing from the burden of caring for documented and undocumented immigrants. In truth, the large number of native-born Americans who lack health insurance and skyrocketing health care costs are the major causes of problems in our health care system.
Restricting undocumented and documented immigrants’ access to the U.S. health care system threatens our nation’s public health. Public health policymakers note that when immigrants arrive in the U. S. they are more likely to be healthier than native-born individuals, yet as time goes on, their health deteriorates.
Undocumented immigrants pay more in taxes for social programs than they receive in benefits. Immigrants who work pay taxes to support Social Security and Medicare but many of them will never benefit from these programs.
Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for Medicaid, Medicare, or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Even legal permanent residents are barred from participation in Medicaid or SCHIP during their first five years in the U.S.
This resource from the National Immigration Law Center describes the documented immigrants who are eligible for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program.
This fact sheet from the National Immigration Law Center summarizes the treatment of immigrants in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the health reform legislation of March 2010.
An Immigration Policy Center analysis shows that immigrants are a critical component of the health care workforce at both the high-skilled and less-skilled ends of the occupational spectrum. Most notably, immigrants comprise more than one-quarter of all physicians in the United States, and roughly one-fifth of all nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides.
The Immigration Policy Center reports that past attempts to implement verification measures to preclude undocumented immigrants from obtaining government-subsidized health care have had the contrary effect of preventing U.S. citizens and legal immigrants from receiving health care, while uncovering very few instances of unauthorized immigrants trying to abuse the system.
This report shows the importance of Mexican immigrant workers in certain segments of the U.S. economy. A high percentage of Mexican immigrants work in low-wage industries where health insurance is rarely offered and they face increased risk of work-related injury.
Researchers find that immigrants are largely not responsible for the increase in the number of people without health insurance in this country.
This study finds that health care expenditures are substantially lower for immigrants than for US-born persons; immigrants do not represent a disproportionate financial burden on the U.S. health care system.
You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice. Deuteronomy 24:17a
Educating immigrant children is a smart investment. It is also an expression of God’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves, a moral imperative for Christians. The issues of immigration and immigration enforcement affect the children in immigrant families and the public schools that serve those children.
This excellent resource from the National School Boards Association and the National Education Association helps school districts understand their obligations to educate undocumented children. The publication is designed to help school districts protect the right to a public education for all immigrant children, a right that was guaranteed in a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court Decision. Your congregation may want to bring this resource to the attention of your school district.
Education is the largest public cost associated with illegal immigration. But society benefits from educating these children since they will probably remain in the U.S. as working adults.
The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) addresses the tragedy of young people who were brought to the U.S. before age 16, grew up here without documents, and graduate from our high schools, but whose future is circumscribed by our immigration laws. Currently, these young people generally derive their immigration status solely from their parents, and if their parents are undocumented, most have no mechanism to obtain legal residency, even if they have lived most of their lives here in the U.S. The DREAM Act would provide these undocumented students with conditional permanent residency for six years. During that time they would be able to work, attend college, or join the military. Upon completion of two years of college or military service, they would receive permanent legal status.
An overview of this important legislation.
The DREAM Act – A Fact Check provides answers to basic questions about the DREAM Act.
The DREAM Act would provide an estimated 2.1 million undocumented children and young adults an opportunity to live up to their full potential and make greater contributions to the U.S. economy and society.
provides numerous resources on the DREAM Act including facts sheets, studies and reports, and polling results.
is the story of several high-achieving students at UCLA, all undocumented, all facing an uncertain future despite their academic accomplishments and the gifts they could share if they could exits from the shadows into careers or graduate school.
tells the story of a 21-year-old student at Kennesaw State University in Georgia who was arrested for a traffic violation and charged with a felony for providing a false address to the police. The student, who had been brought to the U.S. at age eleven, was saved from deportation when the president of the university petitioned for a year's reprieve to enable her to finish college.
describes the burden carried by families in Arizona, where (as in many other states) undocumented students are denied in-state rates for college tuition. Because nonresidents are charged more than the actual cost of their education, Arizona's colleges and universities profit from enrolling undocumented students."
There shall be for both you and the resident alien a single statute, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; you and the alien shall be alike before the Lord. You and the alien who resides with you shall have the same law and the same ordinance. Numbers 15:15-16
It is well with those who deal generously and lend; who conduct this affairs with justice. Psalm 112:5
Many U.S. citizens are concerned that immigrants take their jobs. This creates divisions between native-born and immigrant workers who become more easily victimized by an unjust economic system. The real problem is too few jobs and the failure to enforce workplace laws that should protect all workers. A good society can only be built on justice for all – for immigrant workers and for workers born in the U.S.
Some American workers are worried about competition for jobs by immigrants. Many are worried that job quality is deteriorating because employers can hire, and abuse, unauthorized immigrants with near impunity. These are real fears. But the true problem is not immigrants but weak and poorly enforced labor laws and workplace protections. Most firms do not exploit workers, immigrant or native-born. But some do and this is more common in industries that hire low-wage, unauthorized immigrant workers.
Comprehensive immigration reform that legalizes currently unauthorized immigrants and creates flexible legal limits on future immigration in the context of full labor rights would help American workers and the U.S. economy.
Most economists and other experts say there’s little to support the claim that immigrants take jobs away from native-born workers. Study after study has shown that immigrants grow the economy, expanding demand for goods and services that the foreign-born workers and their families consume, and thereby create jobs. There is even broad agreement among economists that while immigrants may push down wages for some, the overall effect is to increase average wages for American-born workers.
Immigration Reform and Job Growth --Legalizing Unauthorized Immigrants Would Boost the U.S. Economy
The best available evidence suggests that neither legal nor unauthorized immigration is the cause of high unemployment and that the higher wages and purchasing power which formerly unauthorized immigrants would enjoy were they to receive legal status would sustain new job growth.