Immigrants Are The Hidden Lifeblood Of Indiana's Economy

The Indiana State Capitol Building in Indianapolis.
The Indiana State Capitol Building in Indianapolis.

Immigrants are in the spotlight again. After making the pledge to build a wall a centerpiece of his campaign speeches, President Donald Trump is now pushing for far more consequential anti-immigration measures. These include reducing overall immigration flows into the U.S., tightening requirements on H-1B visas (a critical pipeline of talent in technical industries), and increasing deportations of legal residents for trivial violations. These policies would affect millions of people across the country, including here in Indiana, where 1 in 20 residents is an immigrant.

National research consistently shows that immigrants (both undocumented and legal residents) contribute billions in tax revenue each year, while using government benefits at lower rates than other groups. They increasingly prop up Social Security for other Americans, with an estimated $12 billion in net contributions in 2010 alone. They commit far less crime, including violent crime, than native-born Americans. And they start businesses at prodigious rates.

The picture is much the same in Indiana. In 2014, Hoosier immigrants contributed over $2.3 billion in taxes, according to data from a bipartisan research group headlined by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch. That’s enough money to fund the entire 2016 - 2017 Indianapolis Public Schools budget for nearly ten years -- over 30,000 children per year. These tax revenues are paired with $5.8 billion in spending power, contributing to home grown businesses and economic vitality across the state. Immigrants buy homes, cars, and water park passes, just like everyone else.

National stories have recently showcased the hardship faced by farmers whose field laborers have disappeared as a result of the current immigration backlash. In Indiana, agriculture is not even in the top five industries for foreign-born workers. Instead, immigrants contribute to the health, education, service, and technology sectors. Chances are your elderly parent’s caregiver is an immigrant, or perhaps the chef that prepared your favorite restaurant dish. Maybe an immigrant teaches your children or fixed your computer.

Or maybe they started a business. There are more than 14,000 immigrant entrepreneurs in Indiana whose businesses employ more than 66,000 people. These job creators are not unique - nationwide, immigrants have founded about 40% of Fortune 500 companies and more than half of all billion-dollar start-up businesses (even though overall start-up rates have halved in the last 30 years). Immigrants helped create the steel and automotive industries (Andrew Carnegie and Louis Chevrolet, respectively), and immigrants and the children of immigrants created Google, Intel, Yahoo, Apple, and Tesla.

Add it all up and the conclusion is clear: we should be making it easier for hard-working immigrants to get here and stay here. The best way to combat jobs going overseas is to make sure talented, ambitious entrepreneurs are creating jobs right here at home. The strength of the American economy and its communities is its diversity. We should make sure our elected officials in both parties understand that anti-immigrant policies put our prosperity on the line. And as citizens, we should make sure our legendary Hoosier hospitality extends to those newcomers in our neighborhoods.

Dustin Palmer is a Lowell High School graduate and a 2016 - 2017 Henry Luce Scholar in Yangon, Myanmar.