Much of America’s greatness is due to the contributions of immigrants. One of our founding fathers—Alexander Hamilton—was an immigrant from the Caribbean. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple, was the child of an immigrant from Syria. President Trump wants to block war-ravaged refugees from Syria from entering the United States. The computer technology firm, Oracle, was co-founded by a child of an Iranian immigrant. The founder of eBay too is of Iranian descent. Trump also wants to block Iranians fleeing an oppressive regime from entering the United States.
Not only are immigrants important to entrepreneurship in the United States, they are vital to the U.S. economy as consumers and workers. Everyday tens of millions of immigrants support American businesses with their purchases. Immigrants can be found in every industry and occupation in the American economy, but perhaps no industry relies on them more than agriculture. Many of the fruits and vegetables picked in America are picked by immigrants. Immigrant entrepreneurs, immigrant consumers, and immigrant workers are and have been key components in America’s economic engine. Donald Trump’s unthinking policies threaten to wreck that engine.
Immigrants are responsible for a disproportionate share of business growth in the United States. An analysis of the 2010 Fortune 500—America’s 500 largest corporations—found that more that 40 percent of these companies were founded by an immigrant or a child of an immigrant. When we visit a store in our neighborhood, there is a good chance that we are visiting an immigrant-owned business. The Fiscal Policy Institute of New York reports that immigrants “are a lot more likely to own Main Street businesses such as grocery stores, restaurants, and barber shops.” The researchers note that although immigrants make up 16 percent of the labor force, they make up 28 percent of the owners of Main Street businesses. Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant impulses could reduce the growth in new businesses in America.
Immigrants like all Americans are consumers. They do not work in the United States and live off of the air. They buy homes, pay rent, buy cars, bread, milk, school supplies for their children, toothpaste, etc. Their purchases and other economic activity add roughly $2 trillion to the American economy. Removing non-violent immigrants is not only expensive from a law-enforcement perspective, it is literally taking money out of the American economy. Unfortunately, Trump’s executive orders may be encouraging Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to waste resources on non-violent immigrants, harming the American economy without making the country safer.
Immigrants can be found working in all sectors of the American economy. They are in high-paying occupations and low-paying ones; white-collar, blue-collar, and pink-collar occupations. They are nurses and janitors, computer scientists and cooks, childcare workers and construction workers. Perhaps no other industry depends more on immigrant labor than agriculture. A 2006 study found that nearly 80 percent of agricultural workers were foreign-born. Today, some farmers—including some who voted for Trump—are worried about the harm that Trump’s rash immigration executive orders will do.
It is true, however, that there is much about America’s immigration system that is in need of reform. Unfortunately, Trump’s executive actions fail to address the real problems, and they are likely to do more harm than good. We need policymakers—Republicans, Democrats, and independents—to sit down, analyze the issues and negotiate a solution. Congress needs to get to work on comprehensive immigration reform. Congress should not sit by and let Trump throw a wrench in America’s economic engine.