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Are Illegal Immigrants Really a Drain on the U.S. Economy?

Contrary to popular wisdom, how are immigrants a boon to the U.S. economy?

June 29, 2011

Contrary to popular wisdom, how are immigrants a boon to the U.S. economy?

Are undocumented immigrants a burden on society?

“They don’t use the social services that everyone thinks they consume. They don’t want to get involved in government, they don’t live in public housing, they don’t qualify for a lot of federal programs where documentation is necessary.”

But don’t they pack the schools?

“Undocumented immigrants do not use the schools very much. They tend to be young people, leaving their families back home. They send back their earnings, but they don’t bring their children.”

What about the healthcare system?

“They don’t use the hospitals very much, no matter what the naysayers say. Why? Because they’re young people. In the United States, two-thirds of hospital medical expenses are encountered in the latter years of our life. And these immigrants are young people. They are not staying here for that length of time.”

Don’t they increase crime?

“At least in New York City, undocumented immigrants have a very low crime rate because they’re scared to death of going near the Immigration and Naturalization Service.”

How about taxes?

“They do pay taxes. Something like 75% of all undocumented immigrants in New York City pay taxes. Why? The employer doesn’t want to go to jail, so the employer withholds and sends the money in.”

Does the government actually make money on these immigrants?

“Yes. Because of their low incomes, they are technically often owed a refund. But where does the refund go? They cannot receive a refund. So the federal government is actually making money on undocumented immigrants.”

How else does the United States benefit from illegal immigrants?

“Experts say that if we were to deport all 11 million undocumented immigrants, that Social Security would go bankrupt six years early. Why? Because they pay into Social Security, but — lacking a proper identity — they don’t get anything back.”

Given all that, how would you fix the country’s immigration problem?

“What the U.S. government should do is create a visa for people. The deal would be you go to this or that specific city where we need people. You agree you won’t take any federal, state or city help whatsoever. You agree to live there for seven years. And that’s the entire agreement.”

And what happens next?

“At the end of seven years, if you’re still living there, we will give you citizenship.”

Editor’s Note: This quotes in this feature are drawn from the talk Michael Bloomberg gave at the Council on Foreign Relations on June 15, 2011.

Each edition of “Read My Lips” presents quotes made by the featured individual at the time specified in the answers. However, it is a “virtual” interview only — insofar as we have added questions in order to provide a better context to the thoughts expressed.