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Immigrants no burden on US: scholar

A US research scholar claims immigrants to the United States do not lower American wages or displace American workers.

india Updated: Oct 17, 2006 14:20 IST

Contrary to popular perception, immigrants to the United States do not lower American wages or displace American workers, and do not represent a burdensome economic cost, according to a US research scholar.

Paradoxically, it appears the best way to regain control of the influx of immigrants coming into the US "is not to crack down but to liberalise," writes Manhattan Institute's Tamar Jacoby.

The best way to fix the United States' broken immigration system, she writes, is to embrace the "market-based" approach championed by President George W Bush, she writes in the Nov-Dec issue of Foreign Affairs, published by Council on Foreign Relations.

But his administration needs to have the courage of its convictions and go much further, says Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the editor of Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What It Means to Be American.

This would mean creating more generous quotas for temporary workers, offering all the possibility of eventual citizenship, implementing more effective enforcement on the borders, and legalising all illegal immigrants already here, she says.

Most illegal immigrants to the US come from Mexico, but the greatest percentage increase in their ranks during 2000-2005 was from India, according to the Office of Immigration Statistics in the Department of Homeland Security.

Nationally, the Indian population in the US has soared in the last five years from more than 1.6 million to 2.3 million, second only to the Chinese among Asian ethnic groups.

Between 2002 and 2012, the US economy is expected to create some 56 million new jobs, half of which will require no more than a high school education, notes Jacoby citing the Buro of Labour Statistics.

More than 75 million baby boomers will retire in that period. And declining native-born fertility rates will be approaching replacement level. Native-born workers, meanwhile, are becoming more educated with every decade.

"Arguably the most important statistics for anyone seeking to understand the immigration issue is this: in 1960, half of all American men dropped out of high school to look for unskilled work, whereas less than 10 per cent do so now," she writes.

The resulting shortfall of unskilled labour-estimated to run to hundreds of thousands of workers a year-is showing up in sector after sector.

"Of all the naysayers' concerns, the most serious have to do with assimilation: fears that today's newcomers cannot or will not become Americans."

"Certainly, a lot more should be done to encourage and assist immigrants to assimilate. But it does not help to pretend that they are not arriving or to fantasise that tough enforcement can undo the laws of supply and demand," writes Jacoby.

"On the contrary, such denial and the vast illegal world of second-class non-citizens it creates are among the biggest barriers to assimilation today. That is all the more reason for Americans to open their eyes and face up to the facts of the immigrant influx," she argues.

The US is far less divided on immigration than the current debate would suggest, Jacoby says with an overwhelming majority of Americans wanting a combination of tougher enforcement and earned citizenship for the country's 12 million illegal immigrants.

Washington's challenge is to translate this consensus into sound legislation that will start to repair the nation's broken immigration system, the Manhattan Institute scholar concludes.

Among the 10 leading source countries for the unauthorised immigration during 2000 to 2005, Mexico topped the list with nearly six million residents in January 2005 up from 4.7 million in 2000 with the greatest annual average increase of 260,000.

El Salvador (470,000), Guatemala, (370,000), India (280,000), and China were the next leading source countries, accounting for a combined total of nearly 1.4 million unauthorised immigrants.

However, the greatest percentage increase in the unauthorised immigrant population from 2000 to 2005 occurred among immigrants from India (133 per cent) and Brazil (70 per cent).

The top 10 countries of origin, including Mexico, accounted for 79 per cent of the 10.5 million unauthorised immigrants living in the US in 2005.

An estimated 7.6 million of them were from the North America region, including Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. The next leading regions of origin were Asia (1.3 million) and South America (830,000).