I want to continue living in a state that welcomes me and my family; we are consumers, taxpayers, students, and business owners. As a South Asian female and daughter of immigrant parents, it struck a very personal chord with me when the governor noted the importance of welcoming immigrants to our state during his State of the State address. I see this as the first step to rolling out the welcome mat in Michigan.
However, Michigan has been one of many states that introduced controversial anti-immigrant legislation during the last legislative session.
Based on a similar Arizona law, the bill would have required Michigan State Police to enforce federal immigration laws and request immigration documents from anyone they suspect are living in the U.S. illegally.
Heated discussions about immigration reform have often centered on the cost to the public and the services provided to unauthorized immigrants. But what is often left out of the conversation are the many ways in which immigrants contribute to the local economy and the potential cost if an Arizona-style law was adopted in the state.
Policies are already in place to ensure immigrants wanting to migrate to this country will not be increasing costs to the public. “Public charge” is a term used in immigration law to describe legal immigrants who are unable to support themselves and who rely solely on cash assistance as their primary income. Depending on his or her immigration status, a person can be denied entry into the U.S., re-entry into the U.S., or permanent residency if the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) believes an immigrant is not able to be self-supporting without these benefits in the future.
Unauthorized immigrants only account for 1.4 percent of Michigan’s population and 1.3 percent of the workforce, and do not have access to public assistance. They are only eligible for Emergency Services Only Medicaid, which is mostly funded by the federal government, and for Maternity Outpatient Medical Services (MOMS), a program providing prenatal coverage to some low-income noncitizens eligible for Emergency Services Only Medicaid. Legally residing immigrants have to be living in the states for five years and reach legal permanent resident status before they are even eligible for public assistance. Foreign students are never eligible for public assistance.
However, nationally, between one-half to three-quarters of unauthorized immigrants pay federal and state income taxes, Social Security taxes, and Medicare taxes through payroll deductions. Additionally, as consumers, renters, and homeowners, all unauthorized immigrants are subject to sales and property taxes. Nationally, undocumented immigrants contribute $8.5 billion in Social Security and Medicare funds annually and are not be able to collect the benefits. Immigrants also utilize fewer services; health care costs for the average immigrant are 55 percent less than the average native-born citizen.
Instead, they contribute to the economy by paying taxes, buying goods, going to school, and opening businesses.
• Michigan immigrants make up less than 6 percent of the population yet are responsible for more than 32 percent of all high-tech startups in the state, making Michigan 3rd in the nation for producing new high-tech business opportunities.
• Between 1996 and 2007, Michigan immigrants represented 15.8 percent of new businesses owners, making them three times more likely to start a business.
• Our state’s education system attracts many foreign students, contributing over $600 million a year to our economy.
If Michigan passed an Arizona-style law, the state could lose over $3.8 billion in economic activity, $1.7 billion in gross state product, and approximately 20,000 jobs with the removal of all unauthorized workers from the labor force.
Michigan has much to gain from welcoming immigrants. The more we understand and realize the many ways in which immigrants contribute to our state, the closer we become to being a prosperous state. If you want to learn more about the many ways immigrants benefit our state, check out our new report and executive summary.
– Anika Fassia