“The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. It’s true. And these aren’t the best and the finest. When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime; they’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Sound familiar? Yes, that is what real-estate titan Donald Trump said about immigration in his announcement that he is running for president. Oh, and he mentioned he would build a giant wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
An analysis of Trump’s policy ideas and political aspirations is fodder for another day. But his comments about immigration echo many of the racist, uninformed, uneducated, stereotypical comments I’ve heard over the years – too many to count. I hope I hang out in the wrong places, but I fear that’s not the case.
The reality is that immigrants, especially female immigrants, are a critical part of our state and our economy. According to the Immigration Policy Center, 51.3 percent of all immigrants are women, totaling more than 20 million women and girls nationwide. More than a quarter of immigrant women have at least a bachelor’s degree, and 56.4 percent of foreign-born women worked outside the home in 2012.
A new report by the Budget & Tax Center details the impact immigrants bear on the economy here in North Carolina. Their analysis shows that immigrants accounted for just over 7 percent of population in 2011 but generated more than 8 percent of the state’s total economic output. That means that immigrants produced about $1,500 more per person in goods and services than the average non-immigrant.
Immigrants are also some of the state’s strongest entrepreneurs, creating jobs and stimulating the economy. According to the Budget & Tax Center, immigrants make up about 7.5 percent of North Carolina’s population but own and operate more than 20 percent of our local businesses, like convenience stores, restaurants and retail stores. From 2000 to 2013, immigrants accounted for more than 80 percent of the growth in these local businesses. National data shows that roughly 40 percent of immigrant business owners were women, further demonstrating the power of female immigrants.
Dispelling a common misconception, the Budget & Tax Center also found that immigrants actually raise wages for native-born populations. By increasing consumer demand, promoting regional competitiveness and increasing the value of English proficiency, immigrants help non-immigrants earn more.
But for all that immigrants give to North Carolina, there are many policies that exclude them or shortchange them:
Reduced earnings: Immigrant entrepreneurs earn less than their native counterparts, and female immigrants earn less than all other demographic groups. In fact, Immigrant women in the labor force had an annual median income of $32,015 in 2012, compared to $38,514 for native-born women, $36,802 for foreign-born men, and $50,283 for native-born men.
Left out of banks: Many immigrant entrepreneurs have difficulty raising capital, securing loans and navigating regulations. The Budget & Tax Center noted that only 19 percent of immigrant small business owners received a bank loan, compared to 28 percent for non-immigrants.
Lack of official ID: North Carolina law prevents many immigrants from accessing driver’s licenses or any kind of official identification.
Limited access to higher education: Undocumented children, many of whom have called North Carolina home for years, cannot afford to attend community colleges or universities because they must pay out-of-state tuition rates.
Denied assistance programs: Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for welfare or food stamps, despite the fact that most are taxpayers. Even legal immigrants cannot receive these benefits until they have been in the United States for more than five years. A 2013 study by the Cato Institute found that non-citizen immigrants are about 25 percent less likely to be signed up for Medicaid than those who are native-born.
Taxation without benefits: According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), unauthorized immigrants — who are not eligible to receive Social Security benefits — have paid an eye-popping $100 billion into the fund over the past decade.
According to the SSA’s chief actuary, without undocumented immigrants paying into the system, Social Security would have entered persistent shortfall of tax revenue to cover payouts starting in 2009.
Our nation was built of immigrants, and today immigrants to North Carolina continue to build our economy and enrich our entire state. Maybe it’s time to rethink some of those stereotypes an misconceptions.
Sara Lang has worked in North Carolina politics at the state, federal, and local levels for more than 15 years. A communications consultant, she lives in Cary with her husband, two young children, and a pampered dog.