The Fabric of America's Economy Includes Undocumented Immigration

Large group of people forming the United States of America

A sign at Ellis Island challenges the idea of a single, dominant vision of American identity. It reads: “Who is an American? From the outset, the nation has struggled with a tremendous need for labor and a simultaneous reluctance to include anyone different or ‘alien’ into American society. Yet it took many hands to till the land and feed the populace. Many strong backs to build America’s cities, its infrastructure, and its industries. And many strands to weave what has become America’s culture. At every stage of American history, diverse groups have been involved in the on-going process of redefining the country and who is and who can be an American.”

Gaining U.S. citizenship has become a political flashpoint under the current administration. Illegal immigration crackdowns highlight the plight of families fleeing their war and poverty in their homelands. An estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are part of a working-class generation struggling to build a foundation. Opponents argue that they cost tens of billions dollars in local, state and federal economies. But unauthorized immigrants fuel America’s economy.

Comprising roughly 3 percent of the nation’s population, approximately 8 million undocumented immigrants made up 5.1 percent of the nation’s civilian work force in 2012. They made up 26 percent of farming, fisheries, and forest workers; 17 percent of cleaning, maintenance, and grounds-keeping workers; 14 percent of construction workers; and 11 percent of food preparation workers, according to the Pew Research Center.

No nation can allow unrestricted immigration within its borders. But there needs to be a reasonable and sound immigration policy. According to The American Conservative “Why We Want Immigrants Who Add Value” article by Peter Van Buren, immigrant-owned businesses in 2014 generated more than $775 billion in sales, paid out more than $126 billion in payroll, and created four million U.S. jobs. “For the 21st century, America must greatly expand the current merit immigrant categories into a points system directly tied to economic trends. Need more electrical engineers than taxi drivers? Prioritize and adjust the numbers as needed; a merit-based system is not an immigration cut. Plus, the immigrants who arrive will be better positioned to succeed in the job market,” Van Buren writes.