Economists' message to president, Congress: Deliver smart immigration policy

Nearly 1,500 economists, Republicans and Democrats, and members of every administration since President Ronald Reagan, have signed a letter urging the White House and Congress to recognize the benefits of immigration to the economy.

The letter, organized by the New American Economy and the American Action Forum, bipartisan organizations that focus on immigration and other policies, calls for a "smart immigration policy."

"The benefits that immigration brings to society far outweigh their costs, and smart immigration policy could better maximize the benefits of immigration while reducing the costs," the letter said. 

It is also signed by six Nobel Laureates. It was addressed to President Donald Trump and congressional leaders.

One of the signatories, Professor Teshome Abebe of Eastern Illinois University, said the economists agree that a country, any country, has the right to control who comes in and out of its borders.  

"That is the mark of sovereignty," Abebe told Illinois Business Daily. "I submit to you that there is very little to no negative effects on wages and employment as a result of controlled immigration. With this letter, we are attempting to bring a focus to the powers-to-be that the positive impact that immigrants have on our economy far outweigh the negatives."

Abebe said it is possible some jobs are lost to immigrants but argued that these jobs are ones "Americans are unwilling to take in the first place."

"The most powerful argument for controlled immigration is that highly qualified immigrants spur innovation and help create new jobs," Abebe said. "As a consequence, economic growth is fueled, in part, by the contributions of immigrants."

He said it is true some immigrants are a drain on some local economies but there is evidence that these communities are already experiencing a shrinkage of the local economy.

"Finally, while it is politically appealing to the masses to bash 'immigration,' the enemies of those who have lost jobs in manufacturing and in the coal industry, for example, are automation and natural gas," Abebe said. "No matter how sexy we package the coal industry, those jobs are not going to come back as a result of the advances in the exploration, delivery and safety of the natural gas industry."

Addressing the issue of foreign students and the potential for a downturn in applications to U.S. universities, Abebe said it is expected to be significant although yet to be evaluated.

"But foreign students bring huge financial and cultural benefits to universities and the communities in which they reside," he argued. "Students pay out-of-state tuition, they spend resources on educational endeavors and enrich the cultures of the communities."

Abebe said that the benefits these students bring hasn't been well-documented.

"Perhaps these benefits have not been well-documented because they are at the micro level," he said. "Yet, every community, particularly rural communities that have universities, are better off with foreign students in their midst than without them."

The letter argued that immigration brings entrepreneurs who start new businesses that hire American workers, brings young workers who help offset the large-scale retirement of baby boomers, and diverse skill sets that keep our workforce flexible, and help companies grow.

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