The Importance of Immigration

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Since the dawn of humanity, people have been on the move. Often, they leave their homes in search of work and opportunities, to be with family or to pursue education. Others seek to escape conflict, persecution or large-scale human rights violations. And still others leave because of climate change or natural disasters. Regardless of the motivation, immigration is one of the world’s most significant events, and its consequences are felt everywhere.

The United States has the world’s largest immigrant population, with more than 13.6 million foreign born residents. This includes those who are legally authorized to live and work in the country, such as beneficiaries of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status, and those who entered without passing through immigration (unauthorized entry). This diverse group also includes those who overstayed their visas and those who have yet to become legal residents or citizens.

While the debate around immigration is intense and the issue gets highly politicized, it’s worth remembering that immigrants are a vital part of our economy and communities. For example, they bolster our national birth rate—which has dropped to historically low levels—and increase the demand for housing and other goods. They contribute billions in taxes annually and, unlike some stereotypes, they do not drain public treasuries.

Immigrants also play a role in expanding economic opportunity and building wealth in their new countries. In a 1990 American Immigration Institute survey of prominent economists, four out of five said that immigration had a positive impact on the economy. Immigrants expand total output, raise the supply of workers, and promote capital formation through high savings rates. And while some may be concentrated in occupations with lower wages, such as service sector jobs, more than a third of adult immigrants hold at least a bachelor’s degree.

Despite these clear economic benefits, the debate about immigration is too often dominated by concerns about border security and humanitarian issues—which are important and deserve attention. As a result, the issue is often skewed and mischaracterized by those who oppose it. In fact, immigrants are a source of our strength and the key to our future prosperity.

While most of the nation’s immigrants reside in the largest metropolitan areas, there are counties all over the country that disproportionately benefit from these life-changing migrants. These “immigration hotspots” are located in every region of the country, from dynamic innovation centers in Silicon Valley to legacy cities in the Northeast. The interactive below illustrates the geographic distribution of America’s foreign-born population and the local economic benefits that come with it. Click on the dots to learn more about each location.