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by  of Immigration Impact

When it comes to the topic of immigration, Tax Day is a reminder of two important and often-overlooked points. First, immigrants pay billions in taxes every year. This is true even of unauthorized immigrants. Second, the federal government spends billions of taxpayer dollars each year on immigration-enforcement measures that wouldn’t be necessary if not for the chronic inability of Congress to reform our badly outdated immigration system. In other words, there is a strong fiscal case to be made for immigration reform. Were the U.S. immigration system to be given a 21st century overhaul, we would likely increase the tax dollars flowing from the immigrant community, and we would spend far less taxpayer money on immigration enforcement.

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By Natasha Iskander and Nichola Lowe

The political discourse surrounding the incorporation of immigrants into the U.S. labor market tends to sort immigrant workers into two broad and mutually exclusive categories: high-skilled workers who are valued by many for their contribution to economic growth, and low-skilled workers who are viewed by some as causing a glut in the U.S. labor market and thereby displacing low and middle-income native-born workers. For the most part, these categories are structured around formal education. Workers possessing a level of formal education equal or superior to the median in the United States are on one side of this divide, while workers with less formal education than that threshold are on the other. Most current proposals favor expanding immigration opportunities for those immigrants with high levels of formal education.

This Perspectives challenges the assumption that skill is primarily derived from formal schooling and classroom education. Instead, authors Natasha Iskander and Nichola Lowe focus on the tacit skills of newly-arrived Latino immigrant workers in the construction industry, many of whom continue to innovate new construction techniques and carve new pathways for training immigrant co-workers and new labor market entrants. By acknowledging and highlighting the expertise of these immigrants, the authors hope future immigration policy will reflect the real value of these immigrants—as skilled workers who revitalize laggard industries in this country, saving vital U.S. jobs and businesses along the way.

Published On: Thu, Mar 15, 2012 Download File

Immigrants integrate into U.S. society over time and they contribute to the U.S. economy. These crucial yet often-overlooked facts are illustrated well by the Pew Hispanic Center’s latest statistical profile of the foreign-born population. According to Pew’s analysis of Census data, most immigrants have been here for more than a decade, and the longer they have been here, the more likely they are to have become homeowners and learned English. Moreover, growing numbers of immigrants are becoming U.S. citizens, which translates into growing political clout. The Pew data also show the degree to which immigrants fuel labor-force growth and fill valuable roles in the economy as workers in both high-skilled and less-skilled occupations. In short, immigrants are integral to the nation’s social and economic fabric.

  • The majority of immigrants are not newcomers to this country. As of 2010, just under two-fifths (38.2 percent) of the nation’s 39.9 million immigrants had come to the United States before 1990, while more than a one-quarter (27.1 percent) had arrived during the 1990s. Just over one-third (34.7 percent) had come in 2000 or later {Figure 1}.


  • The longer immigrants are here, the more likely they are to own a home. As of 2010, only one-quarter (24.9 percent) of foreign-born heads of households who arrived in the country in 2000 or later owned their own home. But this rose to nearly half (49.1 percent) of those who arrived during the 1990s and more than two-thirds (67.4 percent) of those who arrived before 1990 {Figure 2}.

  • The longer immigrants are here, the more likely they are to speak English well. As of 2010, a little over one-third (36.3 percent) of immigrants who had arrived in the country in 2000 or later spoke English “very well” or spoke only English at home. That share rose to more than two-fifths (44.9 percent) among those you arrived during the 1990s, and nearly three-fifths (56.3 percent) among those who arrived before 1990 {Figure 3}.

  • Immigrants are becoming naturalized U.S. citizens in large numbers. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of immigrants who were naturalized citizens increased by 5 million, from 12.5 million to 17.5 million. Those 5 million newly minted citizens are also potential new voters {Figure 4}.

  • Immigrants have become a driving force in the growth of the U.S. population, which is a key component of growth in the labor force. Between 2000 and 2010, the size of the foreign-born population increased by 28.2 percent, while the native-born population grew by only 7.6 percent {Figure 5}.

  • Immigrants fill vital roles in both highly skilled and less-skilled occupations. As of 2010, the foreign-born accounted for more than two-fifths (42.6 percent) of workers in farming, fishing, and forestry; nearly one-third (31.1 percent) in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance; and more than one-fifth in construction (22.9 percent), production occupations (22.4 percent); computer and mathematical occupations (22.2 percent), life, physical, and social sciences (21.2 percent), and food preparation and serving (20.5 percent) {Figure 6}. Immigrants accounted for more than one-seventh (15.6 percent) of the U.S. labor force overall.


February 12, 2012 

Washington D.C. - This session, state legislatures around the country, including those in Mississippi and Kansas, are again considering harsh immigration-control laws. These laws are intended to make everyday life so difficult for unauthorized immigrants that they will choose to “self-deport” to their home countries. However, experience from states that have previously passed restrictive immigration laws, like Arizona and Alabama, shows that these laws can hinder prospects for economic growth and cost taxpayers millions to implement, defend and enforce.

The Immigration Policy Center is releasing two publications that explain the wide range of issues associated with these restrictive state immigration laws: 

This updated guide provides key answers to basic questions about state immigration-related laws—from the substance of the legislation and myths surrounding the debate to the legal and fiscal implications. As other states contemplate legislation, knowing the answers to these basic questions is critically important in furthering a rational discussion. 

This paper outlines some of the economic and fiscal lessons from states that have passed harsh immigration-control legislation. 


For more information contact Wendy Sefsaf at wsefsaf@immcouncil.org or 202-507-7524

The Political and Economic Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians in the Hawkeye State.

An Immigration Policy Center infographic on the #immigrant population in #Iowa.

The Political and Economic Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians in the Hawkeye State (Updated January 2012)

Download the Infographic

Download the Fact Sheet (2010 Census Data)

Download the Previous Fact Sheet (2008 Census Data)

Immigrants and their children are growing shares of Iowa’s population and electorate. 

  • The foreign-born share of Iowa’s population rose from 1.6% in 1990, to 3.1% in 2000, to 4.6% in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Iowa was home to 139,477 immigrants in 2010, which is more than the total population of Springfield, Illinois.
  • 37.1% of immigrants (or 51,709 people) in Iowa were naturalized U.S. citizens in 2010—meaning that they are eligible to vote.
  • 2.6% (or 42,389) of registered voters in Iowa were “New Americans”—naturalized citizens or the U.S.-born children of immigrants who were raised during the current era of immigration from Latin America and Asia which began in 1965—according to an analysis of 2008 Census Bureau data by Rob Paral & Associates.

1 in 15 Iowans are Latino or Asian.

  • The Latino share of Iowa’s population grew from 1.2% in 1990, to 2.8% in 2000, to 5% (or 152,494 people) in 2010.  The Asian share of the population grew from 0.9% in 1990, to 1.3% in 2000, to 1.7% (or 51,848 people) in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Latinos accounted for 1.3% (or 20,000) of Iowa voters in the 2008 elections, and Asians 0.7% (11,000), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • In Iowa, 85.2% of children with immigrant parents were U.S. citizens in 2009, according to data from the Urban Institute.
  • In 200988.1% of children in Asian families in Iowa were U.S. citizens, as were 91.4% of children in Latino families.

Latino and Asian entrepreneurs and consumers add billions of dollars and thousands of jobs to Iowa’s economy.

  • The 2010 purchasing power of Latinos in Iowa totaled $2.9 billion—an increase of 827.2% since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $2 billion—an increase of 637.1% since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.
  • Iowa’s 2,834 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $782.6 million and employed 10,130 people in 2007, the last year for which data is available. The state’s 2,455 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $455.7 million and employed 3,289 people in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners. 

Unauthorized immigrant families are integral to Iowa’s economy as taxpayers.

  • Unauthorized immigrants in Iowa paid $73.6 million in state and local taxes in 2010, according to data from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, which includes:
  • $16.4 million in state income taxes.
  • $3.6 million in property taxes.
  • $53.6 million in sales taxes
  • Iowa employers and unauthorized workers paid between $50.3 million and $77.8 million in Social Security and Medicare taxes to the federal government in 2007— benefits these workers will never collect.

Immigrants are integral to Iowa’s economy as workers.

  • Immigrants comprised 5.6% of the state’s workforce in 2010 (or 92,066 workers), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Unauthorized immigrants comprised 3.2% of the state’s workforce (or 55,000 workers) in 2010, according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center.
  • If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Iowa, the state would lose $1.4 billion in economic activity, $613.4 million in gross state product, and approximately 8,819 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time, according to a report by the Perryman Group.

Immigrants are integral to Iowa’s economy as students.

Immigrants excel educationally. 

  • The number of immigrants in Iowa with a college degree increased by 43.2% between 2000 and 2009, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute.
  • In Iowa, 30.7% of foreign-born persons who were naturalized U.S. citizens in 2009 had a bachelor’s or higher degree, compared to 24.7% of noncitizens. At the same time, only 25.1% of naturalized citizens lacked a high-school diploma, compared to 42.3% of noncitizens.
  • In Iowa, 87% of children with immigrant parents were considered “English proficient” as of 2009, according to data from the Urban Institute.
  • The English proficiency rate among Asian children in Iowa was 91.5%, while for Latino children it was 87%, as of 2009.