PRB Discuss Online: How Is Immigration Changing the United States?

(June 2010) Immigration is a volatile issue for Americans, who must grapple with the tradeoff between the strain of incorporating new populations and the desire for immigrants’ labor. The United States receives more immigrants than any other country, and while the annual volume fluctuates with economic and political circumstances, the flow is likely to continue. What are the forces bringing the current streams of foreigners to the United States, and how are these newcomers changing the economy and society? How are recent policies likely to affect the legal and illegal flows of immigrants? How has the recent recession affected U.S. immigration?

During a PRB Discuss Online, Philip Martin, professor of agricultural economics at the University of California-Davis, answered participants questions about immigration in the United States. 

See Web Forum: Immigration in America 2010 for more from PRB on recent U.S. immigration trends and issues. 

June 24, 2010 1 PM EST 

Transcript of Questions and Answers

Vijay Aryal: I believe that the United States has become a melting pot from the developmental as well as the cultural perspectives through its immigration policy. How will it be able to manage the globally increasing and challenging criminal and other forms of socio-economic disturbances?
Philip Martin: The US is a nation of immigrants that has successfully absorbed newcomers from all countries, with many languages and cultures. At the same time, there have always been fears that the US would be unable to absord some newcomers. See Ari Zolberg, A Nation by Design (Russell Sage Foundation Books at Harvard University Press, 2006).

Genie Zavaleta: What is being done to urge Congress to pass the DREAM ACT this year? It is S.729 and H.R. 1751. This would remove fear from hundeds of children and teenagers who are undocumented. It protects them from deportation from age 12 up. Fear is the most critical problem for the undocumented Latino kids.
Philip Martin: See  The Congressional Hispanic Caucus has opposed “piece meal” immigration reform. It fears that enacting more popular elements of comprehensive immigration reform, such as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, would undermine support for broader legalization. DREAM would grant probationary legal status to unauthorized children brought to the US before age 16, who live in the US at least five years, and who graduate from US high schools. If they served in the military or went to college at least two years, they could obtain regular immigrant status. About 65,000 unauthorized children a year graduate from US high schools.

Esther Martinez: I am myself an immigrant. When we came to the US we had no entitlements, no guarantees. It was shamefull to be on welfare or medicaid. We expected to work tirelessly and save every penny and we succeeded. I work with many immigrants today, who expect free health care, free lunches, free education, free day care, free translator services, even welfare and medicaid. The money they save they send back to their native countries. How does this affect the US economy? Can this cause some of the anti-immigration sentiment that we see today?
Philip Martin: The US has traditionally welcomed those seeking a hand up, not a hand out. Since the 1996 welfare reforms, only refugees get welfare assistance on arrival.  

Brooke Jennings: How does immigration affect our population? How will this affect efforts to reduce pollution and GHG production?
Philip Martin: From the update [to be posted next week at] Immigration and Population. Immigration has a major effect on the size, distribution, and composition of the U.S. population. As US fertility fell from a peak of 3.7 children per woman in the late 1950s to the replacement level of 2.1 today, the contribution of immigration to US population growth increased. Between 1990 and 2010, the number of foreign-born US residents almost doubled from 20 million to 40 million, while the US population rose from almost 250 million to 310 million. Thus, immigration directly contributed a third to US population growth and, with the US-born children and grandchildren of immigrants, immigration contributed half of US population growth. GHG—depends as much on carbon taxes, lifestyle etc as people

Bill Hanna: To this non-economist, it is the USA’s culture that has been dramatically enriched by immigration. One small example: once upon a time, the only sort-of foreign foods widely available in our were so-called Chinese-American. Now in my home town, I can eat the wonderful foods of Afghanistan,Iran, Myanmar, Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, and many more. As for the economy, I think a majority of economists think immigration – and even immigration without papers – has had a positive impact. So my question: Agree?
Philip Martin: Immigration is about trade offs—often between good things, such as more diversity in food and higher wages for workers who harvest that food. The economic impacts of immigration are small—some studies find +, and some –

Oscar Munoz: I read on a given research somehow dated to 4 or so years ago that the Rate of New Births for Every One Death within the Hispanic Ethnic Group in the US (Vital-Index) was 8:1 (or 8 new births for every 1 death within the ethnic group, as compared to 1:1 for the Non-Hispanic White American)—This number also relates direct to the topic at hand. What is the current updated Vital-Index number at this time?Tks.
Philip Martin: see  

Robert Prentiss: There is a large number of U.S. citizens coming into California from Hawaii and others from U.S. territories (American Samoa) with typically large families, likely due to poor economic conditions in those areas. When you speak of immigration, do you include these folks as well? They may present a very different cultural socio-economic set than those from other countries, i.e., Mexico and China for example.
Philip Martin: Movement of US citizens is considered internal migration, not immigration

stan becker: The U.S. population cannot continue to grow indefinitely. How can we as a nation come together to adopt a population policy (as so many other countries have done) which includes both polities on fertility and immigration so our population will stabilize in size before we reach 400, 500 or 600 million. We leave less natural beauty to future generations the more we plow up for subdivisions,malls, etc.
Philip Martin: It is very hard to get agreement on an optimal population; it may be time to repeat the process of 40 years ago In July of 1969, President Richard Nixon presented a “Special Message to the Congress on Problems of Population Growth”. In March of 1970, President Nixon signed a bill establishing the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, known as the Rockefeller Commission, for it chairman, John D. Rockefeller 3rd. In 1972, the Commission released, its recommendations.

Dr. Anima Sharma: Dear Prof. martin, This is a very important issue. The flow of immigration hass brought several socio-polotical and demographic changes in the US. The reasons are obvious but these have given rise to several social problems to which are the matter of administrative concern. This also raises a worry that if this situation is not taken into control or dealt with now then it will lead to many problems related to ethnic conflicts and law and order in future. What according to you is the solution to check any untoward happening to occur in future?
Philip Martin: It is very hard to avoid having the immigration debate driven by the extremes of no borders and no migrants. The goal of these discussions is to improve knowledge and make better decisions about the inevitable trade offs posed by immigration

ABDUL MALIK GHAURI: Are not the citizens of first world equally responsible than Americans? Are not all nations having controlled their birth rate, become first world and all those which did not control birth rate are third world? Do not 3rd world citizens always aspire and attempt to become citizens of first world countries? Is there any other solution of today’s ever increasing problems from terrorism to human trafficking and smuggling except single child policy particularly in 3rd world?
Philip Martin: Development is both a contraceptive and a cure for unwanted outmigration—think of Italy as late as the 1960s versus today

Philip Martin: English has been the common language for those with diverse backgrounds

Erica Gardner: Dr. Martin, I would like to read your discussion of the questions listed for this session: What are the forces bringing the current streams of foreigners to the United States, and how are these newcomers changing the economy and society? How are recent policies likely to affect the legal and illegal flows of immigrants? How has the recent recession affected U.S. immigration?Also do you have any thoughts about how immigration is changing in different regions in the U.S. (my interest is in the Northwest region)?
Philip Martin: These questions are tackled in and updated on the PRB web site [next week] for some of the other questions, see

Jeannine Kuropatkin: What do you see as the intended and unintended consequences of immigration legislation such as Arizona’s SB 1070?
Philip Martin: Arizona enacted a law in April 2010 making it a crime for unauthorized foreigners to be in the state, reigniting the national immigration reform debate. The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act (SB 1070) makes it a misdemeanor to be illegally in the state, and requires police officers who lawfully stop, detain or arrest a person whom they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is unauthorized, to determine that person’s immigration status “when practicable.” Unauthorized foreigners can be fined $2,500 or jailed up to six months. The law does not go into effect until July 29, 2010—unless it is blocked by courts. Its hard to say what will happen.

Issa Almasarweh: If the flow of immigrants is going to continue especially from neighboring Latin American countries, then is the Latino Threat to the U.S.A real, as Samuel P. Huntington has argued?
Philip Martin: It is very hard to predict the future. In the past, fears that Germans, Italians, and other groups would not assimilate proved false

Candice York: Considering that immigrants posses a plethora of beliefs and practives [from] … their of their country of origin, how is the US changing in relation to … these beliefs and practices … ? Are there changes in the beliefs and practices of US citizens or are those behaviours and practices which are seen as ‘alien’ rejected? I ask this question after reading a story of a Canadian girl who was killed by her family after she adopted a number of ‘western’ values. It set off the question to me of the extent to which migrant communities are changed or can change the beliefs and practices of immigrants.
Philip Martin: The US has traditionally made integration a private matter, so that some religions (Amish etc) stop schooling of esp girls at young ages. Honor killings violate laws in all industrial countries.

J Kishore: Issue of migration whether legal or illegal is main concern of all developed and emerging econmic powers in the world. Discussion would help in understanding of impact [to] overall humanity and how to deal with? My special concerns are immigration in India by neighbouring countries.
Philip Martin: There is lots of Bangladeshi-India migration—in fact, 80 percent of the world’s 214 million migrants, according to the UN, are in countries outside the US. No country has found a formula to manage migration without criticism—it’s a very tough policy issue

Aniqa Moinuddin: Hello Dr. Martin, I have a specific question related to immigrant labor and the agriculture sector. Would I be correct in assuming that small farms (as defined by the USDA) do not tend to hire illegal immigrants? If so, is there any way in which figures can be used to indicate such tendency or is it simply ‘common knowledge’.
Philip Martin: Most farm workers are hired by large fruit and vegetable farms—no one has data on legal status by size of farms, but you could try  

Leon Bouvier: How much impact does illegal immigraion have on the US economy especially with 10 percent unemployment?
Philip Martin: PRB will post a new Population Bulletin on its website next week—but here is a preview The effects of foreign-born workers on US labor markets are hotly debated. Economic theory predicts that adding foreign workers to the labor force should increase economic output and lower wages, or lower the rate of increase in wages. This theory was confirmed by a National Research Council study that estimated immigration raised US GDP, the value of all goods and services produced, one-tenth of one percent in 1996, increasing the then $8 trillion GDP by up to $8 billion (Smith and Edmonston, 1997). Average US wages were depressed three percent because of immigration.$8 billion was 2 weeks of economic growth in 1996

Karin Ringheim: Immigrants clearly contribute to the U.S. economy and enrich our culture, but what is the relative economic burden/benefit of illegal immigrataion e.g., to corporate America (through low wages) vs to taxpayers (for social services, education, health, legal, transportation, infrastructure, environmental and other costs)?
Philip Martin: This one is harder—since we do not know if the lower wages mean higher profits for corps or lower prices for consumers; S& L govts lose. PRB will post a new Population Bulletin on its website next week—but here is a preview Immigrants do more than work—they also pay taxes and consume tax-supported services. Almost half of the 12 million US workers without a high-school diploma are immigrants, and most have low earnings. The major taxes of low earners flow to the federal government as Social Security and Medicare taxes, but the major tax-supported services used by immigrants are education and other services provided by state and local governments. It is for this reason that some state and local governments call immigration an unfunded federal mandate and attempt to recover from the federal government the cost of providing services to immigrants.

Sarah Feeney: What are the implications of attempting to stem illegal immigration through border enforcement as opposed to increasing the number of work visas issued? What are the pros and cons of each approach?
Philip Martin: The usual answer is to say that the best way to reduce unauthorized migration is to close the labor market door—to keep migrants out of US jobs with an effective workplace ID system, which would deter them from coming Tougher border enforcement has deterred women and children, but not young men—once inside the US, they face little prospect of detection under current circumstances

Segun Ehindero: What is criminal in an individual trying to survive and ready to do any work most of which some indigenes would not do? Beside the economic implications of immigration, what other challenges do immigrants pose to the US?
Philip Martin: There are about 200 nation states and determining who crosses borders and what they do inside is a core attribute of national soverignty. Its an interesting exercise to go to other country’s web sites and see how you could become an immigrant there.

Segun Ehindero: Sir, With what theories could one explain the fact that what constitute irregular migration is subject to lots of political “Maneuvers” and that it is difficult to discuss the issue of legality in migration without necessary reference to politics. In essence dont you think it is not aright for the destiny of people to be subject to politics and the whims and caprices of politicians?
Philip Martin: ….See response to your previous question. Some immigration policy is symbolic—showing that govts respond to voter concerns

Michele Waslin: Several recent studies point to the economic benefits of comprehensive immigration reform (including legalization), acknowledging that unauthorized immigrants are workers, consumers, and taxpayers. Legalizing their status would raise wages and tax revenues and consumption. Legalization would also provide stability and allow them to invest in themselves, buy houses, complete education, etc. And it would help US workers because there would no longer be unfair competition. What is your opinion about CIR and the economy?
Philip Martin: Its very hard to know predict the economic effects of legalization—most studies conclude that legalizing 2.7 million foreigners in 1987-88 had little overall effect on the US economy. Today, there are about 11 million unauthorized foreigners in the US, including 8 million in the labor force—but this is less than 5 and 4% of the population and labor force. I think the most credible study is This report finds that a legalization program for unauthorized immigrants is unlikely to lead to dramatic changes in the labor market, for immigrant or native workers. It also finds little evidence to support expectations of significant effects on the broader economy, particularly in terms of tax revenues or public assistance programs. To assess labor market outcomes, the authors examined the work and migration histories of both unauthorized and continuously legal immigrants, comparing their experiences both before and after they became legal permanent residents.

Mark Mather: There has been a lot of attention given to the decline in immigration from Mexico since the onset of the recession. But what has been the impact (if any) on migration streams from Asia?
Philip Martin: PRB will post a new Population Bulletin on its website next week—but here is a preview—the number of immigrants from Asia rose from about 400,000 in 2007 and 2008 to 413,000 in 2009. See also  

Laura Beavers: I have heard various things about the flow of immigrants in the last few years (since 2005 or so). How has the flow of immgrants into and out of the US been affected by the recession (especially the decline in the construction industry) as well as by increased border enforcement? So I’m wondering about new immigrants into the US as well as immigrants leaving the US because of lack of jobs. I’m especially interested in families with children and young adults. Thanks!
Philip Martin: No, 70% of US immigrants come to join family members here—immigration was slightly higher in 2009 than 2008. PRB will post a new Population Bulletin on its website next week with the data. See also  

Ann Rasmussen: What is the most pressing issue(s) facing immigrant children in the US today?
Philip Martin: Many immigrant children live in families with low incomes, and go to schools with other low-income children, which might make it hard for them to climb the US job ladder. See  

Beedy Parker: The answer to the “overpopulation” question now is always “development” (and “education of women”). If we expect everybody to be “developed”, won’t we need several more planets, especially in the light pf how climate change threatens agriculture in some parts of the world? Could it not be possible to both lower our consumption level and in crease access to family planning, without “development”?
Philip Martin: No, children of immigrants holding low-wage jobs, as in ag or meatpacking, do not usually follow their parents into the fields or plants—they want something more. You can find birth rate data at  

Sarah Feeney: Hasn’t tighter border enforcement actually increased migration of women and children because it has made cyclical migration more difficult (thus making male migrants more inclined to bring their families and settle permanently)?
Philip Martin: Tighter border enforcement has made it harder to enter, but once here, migrants stay longer—some men form or unify families in the US

Sarah Feeney: What are the potential economic implications (for example to the agriculture and hospitality industries) of “closing the labor market door” to unauthorized immigrants? What percent of unauthorized workers is an “effective workplace ID system” likely to prevent from working?
Philip Martin: Good questions without easy answers:1. generally, the flexibility in low-wage labor markets is on the demand, not the supply side of the labor market—as wages rise, we figure out how to get work done with fewer workers—think ATMs, ag mechanization, self-serve gas etc. In ag, there would be little impact for most US consumer units—see 2. Effective would imply that most do not get hired. The US has 5% unauthorized workers—in Japan and Germany is less than ½ of 1%

Bill: I have read that the flow of Guatemalans into Mexico is increasing, many of them undocumented, and that the Mexican government has pretty tough policy and practice to control this flow. Is this correct? Also, do you know how the numbers of Guatemalans and other Central Americans migrating to Mexico compares with the number of Mexicans migrating to the U.S.?
Philip Martin: About 10% of people born in Mexico have moved to the US—there may be several hundred thousand Guatemalans in Mexico—even if their number was 400,000, it would be less than 3% of the 14 million Guatemalans. Mexico acknowledges problems in the treatment of Guatemalans and Central Americans. See : Mexican President Felipe Calderon in December 2006 said that “Just as we demand respect for the human rights of our countrymen, we have the ethical and legal responsibility to respect the human rights and the dignity of those who come from Central and South America and who cross our southern border…[they] suffer abuses, extortion and are victims of crime, many times with the complicity of authorities.” The number of migrants detained in Mexico rose from 138,061 in 2002 to 240,269 in 2005, when 42 percent were Guatemalan and 33 percent Honduran.