Election year rhetoric on immigration will have anyone’s head spinning.
What is the right thing to do for America? What about for Washington state?
In the midst of all the talk of border walls and deportations, it’s easy to miss valuable impacts immigrants have on our state, across all industries and throughout our economy.
The Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition of pro-immigration reform business leaders and mayors recently released a report detailing the contributions that immigrants make every state. The numbers for Washington are astounding.
One is eight people in Washington is an immigrant. I’m one of them! So from here on out, I will happily refer to immigrants as ‘we’ in this article!
We contributed $2.4 billion in state and local taxes and another $5.7 billion in federal taxes in 2014. After taxes, we had $22.8 billion in spending power to help fuel the economy.
Did you know that Washington state is the eighth largest agricultural producer in the U.S.? And we’re 10th in the dairy farming industry? Our farming industry, like other states, relies heavily on immigrants. According to the report, almost half the agriculture workers in Washington were born in other countries, and 51% of dairy workers are immigrants.
Immigrant contributions are also apparent in our health industry. In 2016, one in six of our doctors were either born or educated outside the US. Fourteen percent of nurses are immigrants. Washington state’s health industry would suffer immensely if we didn’t have their help.
The economic contributions made by immigrants as a whole will surprise you. In housing, in 2014, a whopping $71 billion in housing wealth was held by immigrant led households. And immigrants paid $192.8 million in rent that same year.
Foreign student’s come to our state each school year with a staggering amount of spending power. In 2015, foreign students contributed $615.6 million and supported over 370,000 jobs.
Every industry in our state is suffering because our immigration system needs to be modernized.
Our world-renowned technology industry is heavily reliant on immigrant workers both for skilled workers as well as entrepreneurship. Foreign-born workers currently make up 17.9% of all entrepreneurs in our state, despite accounting for only 13.2 percent of Washington’s population.
How many of you know that our favorite store Nordstrom, a Washington icon, was founded by a Swedish immigrant named Nordstrom? Six of the 10 Fortune 500 firms based in Washington had at least one founder who was an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. Their firms generated $1.2 billion in business income in 2014. And those firms generate $249.9 billion in annual revenue and employ 425,359 globally.
Immigrants are intricately intertwined with our economy.
And while these numbers seem fantastic, they could be better. Every industry in our state is suffering because our immigration system needs to be modernized. Every industry in Washington is lacking enough workers — especially the agricultural and tech industries.
While political rhetoric often conjures laborers from Mexico as the face of immigration, new national census data finds that since 2013, more immigrants are now arriving from India and from China than are coming from Mexico. Of course, the vast majority come legally through work, student or family visas.
Even so, whenever immigration reform is brought up, the conversation gets emotional because most people want to talk about the 11-million-strong undocumented population.
But the undocumented portion of the population in Washington state contributed an estimated $385.5 million in federal taxes in 2014. They also contributed more than $337.0 million directly to the Social Security and an estimated $205.1 million in state and local taxes. The state coffers would be hurting even more than they already are without this income.
Those who scream for stronger border security laws are painting a picture of illegal crossings over the Mexican border. But in reality the face of the undocumented population has shifted considerably in recent years, with the undocumented population from Mexico actually shrinking.
Now many of the undocumented are actually people from India and China who have overstayed their visas. Most probably don’t want to become undocumented, but without a viable legal path to stay close to their families or jobs, they let their status lapse. So immigration reform is equally important for those who entered the country legally or illegally.
The undocumented population is a clear source of potential increased revenue, if only we could legalize them. Deporting them will cost billions and take away resources from our schools and hospitals that need desperate funds.
It only makes sense that we have immigration reform and bring our immigration system into the modern era.
This election is a defining moment when it comes to immigration. The two presidential candidates, not to mention those in local races, have very different visions of our future when it comes to immigration.
Either we will get walls or we will get bridges. The choice is ours.