Immigrants are an important and integral part of the United States’ economic, social, cultural and political life. Many immigrants come to this country because of a desire to work or study, while others migrate because they feel that their lives or the lives of their families are threatened by gang violence, poverty or other circumstances in their home countries.
They also move to the United States for other reasons such as economic opportunity, to seek refugee protection or to join family members already living in the U.S. Those who meet the legal definition of a refugee may apply for a green card or other legal status that allows them to live, work and study in this country.
Immigration has long been a major part of America’s history. Its origins date back to colonial times, when European settlers brought their children and grandchildren to the New World to start new lives.
As the United States has grown, immigration has been increasingly regulated. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, restrictions on immigration largely slowed migration and pushed the foreign-born fraction of the population below levels that had been seen in the past. This was primarily due to a number of policies that targeted immigration from particular countries, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.
Despite the restrictions that have been in place over the years, there are still many immigrants in this country. The nation currently has 44.9 million immigrants, about one-sixth of the world’s total international migrant population.
Some of these immigrants have permanent resident status and others are temporary residents. The remaining 25.5 percent are unauthorized immigrants, those who are not permitted to live and work in the United States.
Unauthorized immigrants represent an important component of the American economy, paying $79.7 billion in federal taxes and $41 billion in state and local taxes annually. They are also consumers whose spending power uplifts the national and local economies.
They pay into the social safety net by contributing to their employers’ payroll taxes, and they own 1.6 million homes that pay $20.6 billion in mortgage payments and contribute $49.1 billion in rental payments every year.
Their contributions help bolster our economy by paying higher wages, increasing the productiveness of the labor force and by stimulating demand for goods and services that lead to increased sales.
These factors all increase the economic output of our country, which can be reflected in lower unemployment rates and a stronger economic growth rate over time.
In fact, it has been estimated that a 1 percentage point rise in the foreign-born share of the labor force leads to a 1.2 percentage point increase in GDP.
The United States could benefit significantly from an immigration system that is more responsive to broader economic conditions and changes in the labor market. Under current law, legal immigration flows are essentially unresponsive to these changes and do not fluctuate based on a broader range of economic factors, such as unemployment rates.