My Turn

Some truths about undocumented immigrants


I am a member of Taos United, a nonpartisan group here that now has more than 350 members. I also am a PA here in Taos and have been working in this community for over 40 years. And I have volunteered in Mexico and Central America frequently for many years, and have seen firsthand the extreme poverty, danger, and lack of opportunity there.

I have done some research on the topic of immigration, and would like to share some statistics with you all.

As we've all heard in the news lately, there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. This is close to 3.5 percent of our population. Almost two thirds of these people have been here for over 10 years.

The number of undocumented immigrants is actually decreasing, having peaked at 12 million in 2007.

Yet we spend $18 billion a year on immigration enforcement, more than the FBI, DEA, Secret Service and U.S. Marshalls combined.

About 40 percent of undocumented immigrants have overstayed their visas, the rest came across the border illegally. It has become harder to cross the border, as the number of border agents quintupled from 1992 to 2010, and 650 miles of the border is already fenced. The people that do make it over the border have had a more remote, dangerous path to cross. Many have died.

It is estimated that out of the 11 million, 8.1 million are working, and many use fake social security numbers in order to gain employment. This means that they are paying withholding taxes, social security and Medicare taxes, and in 2010, they contributed an estimated $11.6 billion in state and local taxes, and $13 billion to Social Security. They do not qualify for any government assistance, and most never see any benefits for their contributions. They do qualify for public schooling and emergency medical care under our laws. Each immigrant - regardless of status - will contribute approximately $80,000 more in taxes than government services obtained over his lifetime.

Per capita, immigrants commit half the crimes per capita that U.S. born citizens do. And sanctuary cities are safer than those that are not so designated.

It is estimated that our economy would take a $1 trillion hit if every undocumented immigrant were deported. And it would also cost $400 to $600 billion in efforts to deport them. On the other hand, if the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in 2014 had been enacted, giving people a road to citizenship, it would have helped reduce the deficit by $197 billion, and increased overall employment by 3.5 percent in the next 6 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

According to that bipartisan study by the Senate in 2014, bringing undocumented immigrants into the formal economy would create between 3.7 and 5.2 million new jobs, as the average immigrant business employs 11 people. And a report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine also found little to no effect on the wages and employment of native born workers.

And why don't these people come here legally?

Most unauthorized immigrants would prefer to come here legally, of course. But our immigration system is broken, and doesn't allow this to happen. Most of the people who get visas to legally enter the U.S. are relatives of permanent residents or citizens. And even a permanent resident usually has to wait an average of five years to bring their minor child here legally with a green card.

The United States admits just 5,000 unskilled workers per year. Not just from Mexico, but from the entire world.

DACA (The Dream Act) is for people who came to the U.S at a young age. Each applicant paid a fee of $465, so it did not cost the U.S. anything to vet these people. DACA recipients have benefited the economy, and it is estimated that ending this program would eliminate at least $433.4 billion from the GDP over 10 years.

Over 200 million people now live outside their country of origin. Most are searching for safety and economic security that they cannot find in their own countries. If they get here, afraid to leave their homes, and afraid to report abuse, exploitation, and to seek care for illnesses, afraid to go to work, we are all the poorer for it.

Balsamo is a physician assistant and a member of Taos United.