In the wake of President Trump’s latest jeremiad against immigrants — blaming them for every foul deed short of poisoning our water — during his State of the Union address, it is useful to consider again the beneficial impacts of immigration for this oft-described “nation of immigrants,” including New Jersey.
First, contrary to the horror stories of rampant criminality repeatedly trumpeted by President Trump, immigrants are not causing “crime waves” of rape, murder, drug smuggling or human trafficking anywhere in the country. Far from it.
In a recent study sponsored by the Marshall Fund, researchers at four universities, led by sociologist Robert Adelman of SUNY, compared immigration rates with violent crime rates across 200 metropolitan areas — from giant New York City to tiny Muncie, Indiana — between the years 1980 and 2016.
What they found directly contradicts the president’s fact-free rants: In the cities with the highest rates of immigration, crime rates decreased the most. Overall, while immigration rose by 118 percent, crime fell by 36 percent between 1980 and 2016.
For example, in Orange County, Calif., once a dark red Republican county, the immigrant population has more than doubled since 1980 while the violent crime rate has tumbled by 50 percent. In other words, if there is any “cause-and-effect” correlation between immigration levels and crime rates, then the surest route to safer neighborhoods is to attract more immigrants who, it turns out, are among the most law-abiding groups in the entire population.
What about the economic effect? Are immigrants feeding at the public trough and taking good-paying jobs away from native-born Americans? In October 2018 the Brookings Institute released a comprehensive report, as part of its on-going Hamilton Project — yes, Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury was an immigrant — that documents the “positive impacts on both government finance and innovation that leads to productivity growth.”
In fact, the Brookings study strongly suggests that one of the surest ways to improve a local economy is to increase immigration. The researchers found that immigrants contributed a hefty 10 percent of the nation’s GDP or approximately $2 trillion pumped into the economy.
Thus, far from immigrants being lawless gangsters or drug traffickers and dragging the economy down while terrorizing the public, the data indicate that the more immigration the better. Just look at Newark, where the rising tide of Portuguese and Brazilian immigrants in recent decades has largely transformed the Iron Bound section into a vibrant community of restaurants, shops, offices, health clubs, and homes.
Much the same can be said of Jersey City, Paterson and other New Jersey urban areas that were once on life support.
As mentioned in my— calling for the state Supreme Court to impose a fee on the practice of law to provide lawyers for immigrants facing deportation — New Jersey in 2014 was home to approximately 500,000 undocumented (“illegal”) immigrants, comprising a quarter of the total immigrant population and 5.4 percent of the state population.
Moreover, as of 2014 “undocumenteds” paid an estimated $587.4 million in state and local taxes even though they are expressly excluded from many government aid programs, including Social Security and Obamacare subsidized health insurance.
Also, for another positive indicator: In 2015 more than a third of all adult immigrants in New Jersey held a bachelor’s degree or higher, contrary to the widespread myth that the latest wave of immigration is uneducated and low-skilled, and undeserving of government assistance.
So, based on reliable facts and not on xenophobic fictions, we should enact policies promoting even more immigration — as the demonstrated path toward enhancing public safety and increasing economic growth.
And instead of erecting multibillion-dollar border walls, or throwing hard-working, tax-paying immigrants into filthy “for-profit” detention centers, prior to deportation to countries they may hardly remember, we should roll out the welcome mat and befriend our new neighbors, in the spirit of Mr. Rogers.
Thankfully, the state is blessed with enlightened leadership in Gov. Murphy, the “unTrump.” He successfully pushed for $2.1 million in the state budget to finance lawyers to help poor “detainees” through the maze of immigration courts. The governor has also supported the “Drive New Jersey” campaign to authorize driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants
And just as important to immigrants are the numerous non-governmental organizations providing all manner of services to recent arrivals from abroad. One such organization is the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) located in Trenton; it recently moved from a crowded storefront into a renovated historic building in the storied Chambersburg section of the Capitol City where large numbers of Latinos have replaced much of departing Italian-American residents.
LALDEF offers free or low-cost courses in such practical topics as English as a second language (ESL), how to use computers, and preparation for citizenship exams. It also offers access to lawyers, free to immigrants earning up to 250 percent of the poverty level.
The recently named executive director, Adriana Abizadeh, energetically leads a full-time staff and a growing cadre of volunteers. She also organizes a network of pro bono or low-cost immigration attorneys who are needed to counter the daily threat of ICE agents handcuffing undocumenteds for the fictionalized crime of being here “without proper papers,” sadly reminiscent of storm-trooper tactics in Nazi Germany.
You can learn more about LALDEF, volunteer for any of the many service projects, or make a donation.
We may be stuck with “the Donald” and his viciously anti-immigrant policies — at least until the Mueller report is completed — but we can support LALDEF as well as the ACLU, American Friends Service, faith-based organizations such as UU Faith Action NJ that are working overtime to secure a measure of justice for our new neighbors.
So, to paraphrase Tony Soprano, we might say to President Trump: You got a problem with that?