Immigrants critical to our economic future

As the presidential campaign heats up so will the debate over the role of immigrants in our economy and our communities.

That has been an ongoing conversation in Lewiston-Auburn for the past 10 years and a hot-button topic in southwestern border states for decades.

But the controversy will likely get louder as Mitt Romney and Barack Obama debate two current subjects.

First, in 2010 the Arizona legislature passed the toughest anti-illegal immigrant law in the land.  Last week the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a controversial provision of the law allowing police officers to ask people for immigration status documentation.

But the court also struck down two other provisions allowing police to arrest and hold illegal immigrants and another section that would have prevented illegal immigrants from seeking jobs.

Second, the DREAM Act would give conditional permanent residency to people who arrived illegally in the U.S. as minors. They could eventually obtain citizenship by fulfilling certain military obligations or by obtaining a college degree.

To be clear, much of the upcoming debate will be over illegal immigration. Too often, however, many Americans seem hostile to immigrants in general.

Two recent reports, however, suggest immigrants will be critical to sustaining our economy as our native-born population ages.

The Fiscal Policy Institute, a New York State research group, reported June 14 that more than one sixth of small business owners in the U.S. were not born here.

The data is drawn from the 2010 Census and American Community Survey.

Those immigrant-owned small businesses, with fewer than 100 employees, employ 4.7 million Americans and had total receipts of $776 billion.

A host of studies have found that immigrant Americans are more likely to be entrepreneurs than native-born Americans and to seek Small Business Administration loans.  The SBA reports immigrants are twice as likely as native-born Americans to start a small business.

One study in 2008 found that half of Silicon Valley start-ups are founded by immigrants.

New arrivals from other lands are particularly over-represented in the high-growth industries requiring mastery of STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math.

What's more, 76 percent of patents from America's top universities have a foreign-born inventor.

While immigrants are over-represented in hard sciences, they are, as the study notes, "more likely to be found on Main Street than in a technology park."

Thirty-seven percent of restaurant owners are immigrants, as are 49 percent of grocery store owners and 54 percent of laundry and dry cleaning firm owners.

That finding is reinforced by a broader report released in March by the Brookings Institute showing immigrants are clustered in both high-skill and low-skill jobs in our economy.

As more Americans obtain high school degrees, technical training and higher education, immigrants are filling jobs in agriculture, in manual labor and as maids and restaurant workers.

In 1994, 72 percent of American workers without a high school diploma were U.S.-born. By 2010, they made up just 48 percent, according to the Brookings report.

Immigrants fill nearly one in four jobs in information technology and high-tech manufacturing. On the other hand, they make up about half the workers in private households and in the accommodation industry.

Immigrants are also over-represented in health care, where they fill not only the most highly skilled positions as surgeons, but as hospital orderlies and laundry workers.

In most industries like construction, native-born Americans are more likely to serve as managers, supervisors and in skilled positions such as carpenters, plumbers and electricians.

Ninety-seven percent of farmers and ranchers are native-born, while 60 percent of their workers are not.

The important message in the statistics is clear and should not be confused in the upcoming debate.

As our native-born population ages, and as the U.S. birth rate declines, our economic self-interest depends upon welcoming young, ambitious, talented students and workers from abroad.

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.

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Zack Lenhert's picture

"More than 40 percent of the

"More than 40 percent of the 2010 Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or their children. Even though immigrants have made up only 10.5 percent
of the American population on average since 1850, there are 90 immigrant-founded
Fortune 500 companies, accounting for 18 percent of the list. When you include the
additional 114 companies founded by the children of immigrants, the share of the
Fortune 500 list grows to over 40 percent."

PAUL ST JEAN's picture


Ain't that the truth. If we don't start enforcing our immigration laws pretty soon, we will have relegated ourselves into a third world banana republic.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Yet we have such a high

Yet we have such a high unemployment and underemployment rate.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

There are more people

There are more people successful at getting on the SSI disability roles ( a lifetime gift, I might add) than there are those who are successful at finding jobs.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

President Obama, enforce our

President Obama, enforce our immigration laws!

Zack Lenhert's picture

Another tea-bagger

Another tea-bagger misconception.

"Since 2009, the annual average number of deportations has approached 400,000, according to the Department of Homeland Security. That’s double the annual average during President George W. Bush’s first term and 30 percent higher than the average when he left office."

"Meanwhile, the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States has hit a decade low because of the down economy and stepped-up enforcement efforts."

MARK GRAVEL's picture

So why does the Obummer

So why does the Obummer administration stand in the way of Arizona? Just think how much more successful the Obummer administration could be leveraging Arizona’s law enforcement resources to police illegal immigrants. Why not?

RONALD RIML's picture

Because you haven't been paying attention.

It's the U.S. Constitution that stands in the way of Arizona attempting to act like the 'Federal Government' - not President Obama.

That was made clear in the 5-3 Court Decision in which Chief Justice John Roberts joined the majority in throwing out three of the four key provisions of the Arizona immigration law.

Then you also have Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arapaio trotting around on the 'Birther' investigation, ultimately sending investigators to Hawaii to 'gather information.' Little out of your jurisdiction, Joe?? Sore about getting your knuckles rapped for Federal Civil Rights Investigations into the way you run your Fiefdom and screw with the Latinos???

U.S. Finds Pervasive Bias Against Latinos by Arizona Sheriff

MARK GRAVEL's picture

Ronald, One thing to remember


One thing to remember is that disrespect and defiance is a two-way street. When the federal government disrespects the rule of law, interferes and punishes a state like Arizona for executing its constitutional right to validate immigration status, then the federal government should expect reciprocity.

This is just another example where a government is instigating anarchy against itself.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

One word for Ronald - Bullshit!

My comments are precisely in line with the 5-4 Supreme Court ruling, which states that Arizona can check immigration status . However, the Obummer administration blocked Arizona from using the federal INS status check system.

That said, the Obumma administration still stands in the way of “constitutional” immigration enforcement.

The Federal government clearly does not want Arizona to enforce immigration law within its constitution boundaries – INS status check. Ostensibly the government will cry foul, typical democrat tactic. Note that the people will eventually step up and do what the federal government is failing to do with much less restraint regardless of what the federal government says.

RONALD RIML's picture

Your comments are in line with a Fourth Grader.

While Arizona's governor acts like one.


MARK GRAVEL's picture

No citizen should be shy

No citizen should be shy about challenging our government offices. I say good for her standing up to the Federal government’s unwillingness to enforce our immigration laws. Perhaps I would have chosen a different finger to point with, so Gov. Brewer is showing some restraint.

While I understand the federal government has some discretion on enforcement, 12+Million undocumented people indicates complete failure.

Remember, respect is a two-way street. Dictator Obummer should take notice.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed your newly found freedom to ignite fireworks on July 4th.

Zack Lenhert's picture

I'm not a surrogate for the

I'm not a surrogate for the Obama administration so I can't speak for them, but I believe they attempted to block the law because they believe that the way Arizona's law was structured it would probably create a racial profiling problem and cause a distrust between local law enforcement and law abiding Hispanic American citizens. Maybe they believe that States taking over enforcement of traditional federal roles could be problematic.

MARK GRAVEL's picture

If “anyone” cannot produce a

If “anyone” cannot produce a driver’s license during a traffic stop, their name should be run through INS. That said, being a border state to Mexico, Arizona ostensibly will have a larger number of illegal immigrants from Mexico given the current migration dynamics.

The law can be applied in a systemic manner. The claim of racial profiling is just a diversion that inhibits enforcement of our immigration laws.

States cannot enforce immigration law; they can only transfer alleged illegal immigrants to INS. IMHO, it is problematic that the federal government fails to enforce its own laws, not case by case, but on a massive scale.

What the federal government fails to realize is that the general population will enforce these laws (i.e. vigilantism) if the government does not sooner or later. That will be problematic.

Mike Lachance's picture

What part of ILLEGAL means legal?

All sounds nice, but the issue here is not immigrants, but ILLEGAL ALIENS. (the ones from earth, not outer space for those of you just out of rehab)

When ILLEGAL becomes "ok" when it comes to "immigrants" then we will have lost our sovereignty and our borders will become meaningless.

Another point to ponder is the idea that ANY immigration is good immigration. This is a false positive. Controlled, careful and cautious was what made our nation great. We allowed massive immigration from around the globe for 100 years or more while carefully screening and filtering out the "immigrants" who were not coming here for the right reasons or within the established system.

Now we have a reloving door with no one on watch. Anyone can come here and legal or not, can instantly claim the $ earned by hardworking Americans and hard working immigrants who play by the rules.

Illegal is illegal. Very few Americans are "anti-immigrant", but most hard working Americans are infact VERY "anti illegal alien"

MARK GRAVEL's picture

It boils down to this for me.

It boils down to this for me. If my government can pick and chose which laws to enforce, then I can pick an chose which laws to follow.


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