This is the second installment of a series on the benefits and detriments of illegal immigration. For the first part on the economic effects and moral considerations, see this post and this post. See my conclusion in this post.
Social Benefits of Illegal Immigration
A second main concern of illegal immigration surrounds its contributions or subtractions from society. This question concerns illegal immigrants’ parts in the general growth of the community, taxes, and crime.
For the first point, supporters return to their economic argument that illegal immigrants raise the supply of the least skilled workers in the American labor market, allowing businesses to produce goods that open doors to new employment opportunities and positions for Americans.
Historically, areas with higher concentrations of foreign-born workers have experienced faster growth in productivity (“The Effects”). Ergo, the places where immigrants, legal or illegal, primarily reside will enjoy the greatest societal benefits in work and development.
Concerning the matter of taxes, many opponents accuse illegal immigrants of not paying their dues in taxes while still taking advantage of the public services, such as Social Security, Medicare, and public education, which those taxes fund. This situation, called the free rider problem, supporters claim does not occur, as illegal immigrants do pay taxes for purchases, property, and payroll (Costa). Based on a 2017 report from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants pay “an average of $11.64 billion in state and local taxes a year”, or 8% of their total income (“7 Ways”).
With regards to accusations on draining Social Security and Medicare funds, the most recent immigrant arrivals have imposed few costs on those two services. In fact, in 2010, calculations by chief Social Security actuary Stephen Gross estimate that illegal aliens contributed $12 billion more than they used of Social Security.
Overall, illegal immigrants receive less public assistance through entitlement programs, especially as their illegal status renders them ineligible for many public support programs, the services distributed instead to low-income immigrants (“The Effects”).
Just as supporters believe the opposing perspective’s contention of the net drain on illegal immigration exaggerated, so they believe about the claim that illegal immigrants pose a greater threat on public safety.
In February of 2017, President Donald Trump announced the establishment of the Victims of Immigration Crime Engagement office, or VOICE for short, which determines “to work with victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants” (Kopan). In his introduction of the new office, President Trump referred to the 2008 murder of Jamiel Shaw II in the sanctuary city Los Angeles by two Hispanic men, one recently released from jail, and the 2014 deaths of two law enforcement officers by a twice-deported undocumented Mexican immigrant.
With such examples, President Trump made his case against illegal immigrants. However, studies by the American Immigration Council and the Center for American Progress have shown again and again that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans, boasting lower crime rates (“7 Ways”). Moreover, cities with established sanctuary policies have overall lower crime rates.
Based on the data from supporters, illegal immigrants pose no threat to societal development, availability of public services, or public security.
Social Detriments of Illegal Immigration
Looking now at the opposing perspective, illegal immigration does harm society. While opponents cannot deny that the cheap labor that illegal immigration provides increases the supply of goods and decreases prices – two indicators of positive economic growth and catalysts to greater societal development – they can argue that the allowance of such practice undermines what it means to exist in American society.
In allowing the continuance of illegal immigration, government officials permit the “insidious destruction of what it means to be a citizen”, which Victor Davis Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute of Stanford University, defined as being a concept built on the right to create and control borders, maintained by the sanctity of the law, and governed by the equal applicability of the law. Through illegal immigration, the American sense of citizenship erodes, ruining the pride of belonging.
Furthermore, illegal immigration imposes a burden on the environmental resources of the nation, with about half a million undocumented aliens crossing the border each year (“Illegal Immigration is a Crime”).
This mass migration of illegal immigrants also harms their homelands in an effect known as a brain drain, wherein citizens of a less developed country migrate to a more developed country for greater opportunity, freedom, and security, which stalls the development of the less developed country by the loss of its bright minds (“The Truth”).
As aforementioned, supporters assert that illegal immigrants pay taxes totaling about 8% of their income. However, relative to the average American who pays 30% of their income in taxes, one may recognize the indignation of opponents when speaking of the tax drain illegal immigrants impose. Who will pick up the other 24%, if not the average American?
According to supporters, the free rider problem does occur. The animosity of illegal immigrants makes evaluation of their impact on local, state and federal budgets difficult, but the Heritage Foundation estimates that their use of public services levies an annual fiscal burden of $55 billion (“The Unseen”).
Especially at the state and local levels, illegal immigration drains American income, with over half of the annual government expenditures for illegal aliens, totaling approximately $135,000,000,000, hitting states and localities (“The Fiscal”). Taxes by illegal aliens at the federal, state, and local levels pay for about $19,000,000,000 of that cost, leaving the national cost for keeping illegal immigrants at about $116 billion.
Supporters base the acceptance of illegal immigrant presence on their large tax payments, which offset their use of public services, but the numbers show that illegal immigrants do not pay as much as claimed. Though their illegal status bars them from participation in some federal benefits, state laws allow illegal participation in state-funded social welfare programs, one reason that illegal immigration impacts Americans at state and local levels more than at the federal level (“The Fiscal”). In California, a state with the largest population of illegal immigrants, each illegal alien costs the citizens over $6,500, amounting to over $23,000,000,000 total.
To the question of the criminality of illegal immigrants, while the majority does not commit violent crime, those that do exact considerable costs at both the state and local level. In 1999, criminal alien incarceration cost $624 million at the state level; in 2002, $891 million at the federal level (“The Truth”). Of all of the prisoners in FBI jails, over 29% are illegal aliens.
That the minority of illegal immigrants have no violent crimes against them aside, the problem lies in that violent crimes by illegal immigrants have occurred at all. As legal expert Hans von Spakovsky stated following President Trump’s support of VOICE, “The point is that every crime that is committed by someone who is here illegally is a crime that would not occur if they weren’t in the country” (qtd. in Kopan).
Even more terrifying, the anonymity of illegal immigration “furnishes an opportunity for terrorists to blend in the same shadows” (“Illegal Immigration is a Crime”).
Based on the opponents’ arguments, illegal immigration burdens taxpayers and public services and threatens public safety.