As Immigrants Move In, Americans Move Up

Congress and President Obama may tackle the controversial issue of immigration reform as soon as the fall of 2009. If past congressional debates are any guide, one point of contention will be the impact of reform on the American underclass.
In 2006, and again in 2007, the U.S. Senate debated "comprehensive immigration reform" designed to curb illegal immigration by ramping up enforcement while providing expanded opportunities for legal immigration. Both bills would have legalized several million immigrants currently in the United States illegally and created a temporary visa program to allow more low-skilled workers to enter the country legally in future years.
One argument raised against expanded legal immigration has been that allowing more low-skilled foreign-born workers to enter the United States will swell the ranks of the underclass. The critics warn that by "importing poverty," immigration reform would bring in its wake rising rates of poverty, higher government welfare expenditures, and a rise in crime. The argument resonates with many Americans concerned about the expanding size of government and a perceived breakdown in social order.
As plausible as the argument sounds, it is not supported by the social and economic trends of the past 15 years. Even though the number of legal and illegal immigrants in the United States has risen strongly since the early 1990s, the size of the economic underclass has not. In fact, by several measures the number of Americans living on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder has been in a long-term decline, even as the number of immigrants continues to climb. Other indicators associated with the underclass, such as the crime rate, have also shown improvement. The inflow of low-skilled immigrants may even be playing a positive role in pushing native born Americans up the skills and income ladder.

Read the entire research paper here.



Griswold, D., 2009. "As Immigrants Move In, Americans Move Up." Free Trade Bulletin, 38 <>


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