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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Column: Perceptions of migrants emigrate from reality

    On Nov. 8, The Economist reported the results of a study on the economic impact of European immigrants. The results were shocking: From 1995 to 2011, immigrants added more than $6.4 billion to Britain’s economy through contributions to government revenues. In contrast, native Britons subtracted a whopping $926 billion during that same time period — a situation not so different than the one in the U.S.  

    The head researchers of the findings, Christian Dustmann and Tommaso Frattini, even suggested that migrants are likely currently operating below their full economic potential. Their economic contributions will likely increase as their skill sets do. The Economist went as far as to compare immigrant populations’ economic additions to a new form of foreign direct investment.

    Yet, despite this net gain, immigrants continue to be the automatic scapegoat for hard economic times. Most citizens do not have an accurate perception of immigration numbers or their impact.  

    According to a study done by Ipsos MORI, a market research organization, the majority of voting-aged citizens think that the immigrant population is over double its true size. Their complaints that immigration has “gone too far” have little direct correlation to actual migration numbers. 

    Immigration is debated with the same politicized fervor in the U.S. as in England. Despite many British businesses’ claims that the migrants are helpful, British Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing a more stringent immigration cap. The goal is to lower migrant numbers to 100,000 by May, which will involve a drop in tens of thousands of migrants from current levels, according to Express and Star. Similarly, immigration is a hot topic in each election cycle in the U.S. and particularly relevant with the potential upcoming immigration executive order from President Barack Obama.

    The study also revealed that the regional areas most concerned with immigration tend to be racially homogeneous, whereas multicultural areas are more welcoming to immigrants. In this case, those with less exposure to foreigners experienced more fear of them, whereas those who had meaningful interactions with them felt much more positive about their societal impact.

    The same biases that plague British citizens also infect Americans. Andy Silverman, an immigration law professor, said there is a similar list of misconceptions about immigrants common in the U.S.: They take jobs from Americans, commit more crimes than Americans, do not assimilate or learn English and are only here to reap public benefits.

    A study by Texas A & M University revealed that almost half of the workforce in many agricultural sectors is comprised of foreign-born workers. Yet, it is estimated that one of the low-wage jobs an immigrant holds supports 3.5 non-farm jobs, which usually have higher wages and are mainly occupied by American-born citizens.

    “Immigration is healthy for society and the economy,” Silverman said. “… Most studies show that migrants put more into the economy, especially through taxes, than they take from the economy, like public benefits.”

    Citizens’ unfounded fears are not unique to this era or to immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. My grandfather’s family was a migrant family from Italy, and he faced discrimination growing up in Massachusetts, similar to what migrants face today. 

    When Arizonans think about immigration, it is easy to think only about the U.S.-Mexico border, but there is a common trend that is easily visible with immigration in general: xenophobia, the fear of anything foreign. It’s what is impeding Britons’ perceptions of reality and what can drive American public opinion.

    Yet for all of this fear, most of us are all right; we are reaping the rewards of a multicultural society. My grandfather went on to run his own bookstore and create a family of doctors, teachers and musicians. Much of U.S. food production would crumble without the support from immigrants. Briton’s economy is actually improving from the efforts of its immigrant population — not to mention the impacts to cultural enrichment. In fact, despite all of the overhyped perceptions and fears, we’re really better than all right.


    Julianna Renzi is a sophomore studying economics and environmental science. Follow her on Twitter.

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