Why Immigrants are Good For America

I receive scores of xenophobic jokes and diatribes on email about undocumented Latinos coming to the United States and working illegally. I have been responding selectively to them.

The best response I’ve received lately  came to me from Vicki Siefers of Coralville, who is working to promote Johnson County as a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants. Siefers presented her views on a recent Sunday in the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Iowa City in a talk about the sanctuary movement.

In her introduction, she quoted Thomas Friedman from his book, The World Is Flat: “The more you let market forces rule and the more you open your economy to free trade and competition, the more efficient and flourishing your economy will be.”

Siefers then went into causes of poverty in Mexico, including the decline of maquiladoras, factories along the U.S.-Mexico border that produced goods at low prices until many of them shut down during the recession of 2008-09.

“Poverty drives people into becoming migrants, and migrant labor is very important in the U.S.,” she said. “The workforce in the U.S. southwest was filled by waves of Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Mexicans, and most recently Central Americans.

“Employers gain great advantages from this system, including low labor costs and workforce flexibility. Meatpacking plants in the Midwest are increasingly operated by immigrants.”

Siefers cited the Agriprocessors plant in Postville that was raided May 12, 2008, by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service as an example of child laborers being exploited, operating dangerous machinery, and being abused as workers.

She pointed out undocumented immigrants do not complain about conditions and low pay because they are afraid of being deported. Siefers went on to overturn the following three myths about immigration.

1. Immigrants take American jobs. It makes sense to keep labor costs low. Siefers said businesses do it by moving jobs around the globe to where workers are paid less: “The loss of high-paying factory jobs in the U.S. is because of globalization and not immigration.”

2. Immigrants are on welfare. Studies in California, Florida, Georgia, and Colorado show that documented and undocumented workers pay taxes covering 85 percent of the public services they use.

“Each successive generation of immigrants pays more taxes due to increased wages and education,” Siefers said. “And the fact is that immigrants come to this country seeking work and a better life for their families, not a free handout.”

3. Immigrants are criminals. “Criminals can come from any background,” Siefers pointed out. “The majority of immigrants are trying to make a better life for themselves.”

She noted that a Pew study done in Arizona, which has just passed an infamous immigration law, has experienced less crime even though immigration has increased.

“It seems like immigrants serve as scapegoats for society’s problems,” she said, “just as they have for 100 years.”

If I have ever seen ample evidence that Latinos pay taxes, it is with Tax-Mex, a tax service operated by Richard and Ericka Arthur on the south side of Iowa City that primarily serves area Latinos.

I had asked Richard for a favor in January, and he said he could not possibly accommodate me until tax season was over in April. Business for Tax-Mex turned out to be so intense that Richard needed until late May to recover his equilibrium.

Latinos also appear to be quick to learn American capitalism. When the tornado struck Iowa City in April 2006, it damaged the roof of the Unitarian-Universalist Society of Iowa City so badly that it had to be replaced.

Who should win the job with the low bid but a company owned and operated by Latinos who had once been employed in West Branch at the old Louis Rich turkey processing plant? Isn’t America wonderful?

Joe Brisben is a financial advisor at BDF Investments, a division of Broker Dealer Financial Services, member of FINRA and SIPC. Hear his commentaries at 11:50 a.m. weekdays on KCCK, 88.3 FM.

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