Scholars debate the economics of US immigration

Allyson Waller

Immigrants have fueled economic growth and prosperity throughout the history of the United States, clinical professor Ruth Wasem said during the debate “The Economics of Immigration: Cost or Benefit?”

The Austin Institute and UT’s Texas Economics Association, or TEA, hosted the debate Wednesday night on economics and immigration with Wasem and Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration in Washington, D.C. Wasem said immigrants serve as a benefit to the U.S. economy, while Camarota said the surplus of immigrants in the United States hinders the country’s labor market.

“It’s true that immigration benefits immigrants themselves,” Camarota said. “But if we want to put the interests of American citizens first, a more moderate pace and more selective immigration system would make sense.”

Camarota said the United States could benefit from curtailing its levels of immigration. According to the data he presented, the immigrant population in the United States has doubled since 1990. The level of immigration is so high that the amount of working-age people is growing faster than the population of actual workers, Camarota said.

Although Wasem agreed with Camarota that steps need to be taken to address the financial status of immigrants, she said more attention should be paid to policy options to address the issues of immigration, instead of halting immigration all together.

“Yes, there is an issue, but my solution isn’t to curb immigration — it’s to address labor conditions, working conditions and wages,” Wasem said. “That is the policy option we should have.”

Camarota acknowledged Wasem’s stance, but said it makes no sense to continue to flood the U.S. labor market since the country is not in short supply of available workers. Camarota acknowledged that the reason businesses push for immigration is because it allows them to keep wages down.

According to data from Camarota, immigration tends to take money away from low-income citizens who possess only a high school education.

“It just doesn’t make sense to the modern American economy,” Camarota said.

TEA Vice President Ana Cruz said that as a child of immigrants, she has seen for herself how they are a resilient group of people, and she said they deserved to be noticed for their work ethic.

“I would definitely say that immigration is a huge benefactor to our economy and the U.S,” economics junior Cruz said. “They are a huge part of our workforce.”