NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 12, 2010

The purpose of the president's recent speech on immigration last week had everything to do with the approaching mid-term elections.   But the great irony is that If you do think about immigration, it points you right back to the dismal economy, says Shikha Dalmia, a senior analyst at the Reason Foundation. 

Regardless of whether you believe immigrants drive economic growth or not, no one can deny that they are an economic bellwether, says Dalmia: 

  • According to a January study by Department of Homeland Security, overall population of unauthorized aliens in the country dropped from 11.8 million in 2007 to 10.8 million in 2009.
  • Opponents of immigration attribute this to tougher border controls, but state-level data from the study show two things: This drop has little to do with stepped-up border enforcement and it has a lot to do with the economic health of a state.
  • Indeed, between 2006 and 2007, one year after President Bush signed into law throwing even more money at heightened border security, the top 10 states with the biggest illegal alien populations saw a 470,000 jump in this population.  

It started dropping after that along with the economy -- and more in economically distressed states, says Dalmia.  For example: 

  • California, whose economy has seen better days, saw an 8.4 percent drop in its illegal population between 2007 and 2009.
  • Florida, which is in the bottom quintile of economic performers, saw a 25 percent drop in the same time period and New Jersey, which is in the second bottom quintile, 23 percent.
  • Interestingly, Arizona, which is in the lowest quintile, has seen only a 13 percent drop, less than Florida or New Jersey.
  • By contrast, Texas, which is in the second highest quintile, has seen less than a 1.7 percent drop in its illegal population since 2007, even though it has been erecting plenty of miles of high-tech fences. 

But America's sputtering economy is not just turning off low-skilled immigrants.  High-skilled immigrants -- who face relatively less hostility -- are spurning it too.  Low-skilled immigrants will likely return when the U.S. economy picks up again.  But to bring back high-skilled immigrants, America's economy will have to do more than make a comeback.  It will have to make a strong comeback, says Dalmia.  

Source: Shikha Dalmia, "Obama's Immigration Distraction," Forbes Magazine, July 8, 2010. 

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