Seamus Duferrena, PhD student and winner of the 2019 CSR student article writing competition at ESSEC Business School, highlights the topic of immigration and underlines the impact that different sources have on our assessment of their contributions.
[…] “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
- Emma Lazarus (The New Colossus)
The topic of migration steals our attention away from our daily responsibilities to occupations, families and favorite pastimes. News reports remind us of politicians’ desires to raise barriers and to make arrests to enhance national sovereignty. Refugees, be they from the Middle East and North Africa or Central and South America, infiltrate the Western world through porous borders and among them lurk dangerous elements with terror group and criminal gang affiliations. At the time of writing this article, the United Kingdom inches dangerously close to leaving the European Union without a suitable agreement to regulate commerce subsequent to a divorce – a dire situation in part the result of phobia towards migrants. Those people embody our greatest fears (and perhaps our biggest mistakes). If there were only a means to keep people where they should be, naturally we would all be better off, at least in the Western world. What are we to do with the wretched refuse of the world’s teeming shores?
What are the costs?
Immigration is a very costly affair to public coffers. Prior to March, 2019, illegal immigration alone cost the United States $18,959,495,168 (Kessler, 2019). That’s to say, in less than two months, more than 25 million undocumented aliens residing in the US gobbled up the equivalent of the 2018 operating budget of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). This is the same entity responsible for a plethora of innovations that not only took humans to the Moon and back, but whose innovations have spun off into consumer goods that we often take for granted such as HD cameras in mobile devices, rechargeable batteries, and space-foam mattresses (“NASA Spinoff – Consumer goods,” n.d.). The billions of dollars generated in revenues by private firms on the backs of such spinoffs far surpass the annual public investment in NASA; and the benefits are tangible (i.e. employment for thousands, tax revenues, great products). Undocumented immigration presents a net economic drag.
The perpetration of crime committed by immigrants is the most unsettling aspect of the migration phenomenon. Nearly a quarter (23%) of federal prison inmates in the United States are undocumented immigrants. In just the state of Texas (perhaps amongst the most exposed states in the U.S. due to its extensive southern border with Mexico) between 2011 and 2018, undocumented aliens committed 292,000 crimes of which 539 were murders, 32,000 were assaults, 3,426 were sexual assaults, in addition to 3,000 weapons charges (Qiu, 2019). Thus, the social impact of at least illegal immigration cannot be ignored and the subsequent economic costs, that is, the costs associated with housing these inmates whom, beyond contributing to the employment of prison personnel, do not generate a net societal gain. Apprehending alien criminals again redirects resources away from programs with tangible social and economic benefits to our communities.
Alternative facts and antiquated ideas
The arguments made in the previous paragraphs were constructed around statistical figures derived from the tweets of one particularly high-ranking American politician (in some judicial circles known as “Individual 1”). Their impartiality has come under challenge by so-called experts and belong to a burgeoning school of thought based on contemporary “alternative facts”. Many of my own compatriots (and probably some of yours too) have begun to subscribe to these cutting-edge notions and thus find merit in state-of-the-art solutions such as building solid, continuous structures commonly used in the edifices that we occupy on a daily basis (not ceilings and floors) to cleverly disincentivize migrant arrivals – an innovative take on what behavioral economists might call “nudging”.
What those migrants are actually doing to our countries
Systematically derived facts from credible bodies tell a different story, however (and I fault my academic training for subscribing to such antiquated notions). Such facts come from governmental bodies (prior to being processed by Individual 1) and independent research entities whose findings may be counter-intuitive (and even inconvenient for some). For instance, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is likely closer to 12 million people (DHS, 2015; Gelatt & Zong, 2018). And in terms of economic costs, in the long term, immigrants overall present a net negative. That is, they pay dividends in terms of public revenues because they pay more into the system than they receive back in public services to the tune of $259,000 over a 75-year period (Blau & Mackie, 2017). This figure, though particular to the U.S., is echoed by the work of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) – and of course it pains me to cite such a source – which references the same trend for European OECD member states as well as Canada and Australia with regards to immigrant contributions to, relative to their receiving of, public benefits (Dumont & Liebig, 2014).
The OECD 2014 Migration Policy Debate report additionally cites some other compelling figures. As regards migrants in OECD labor markets, it was found that: migrants represented a 47% increase in the overall U.S. workforce (2004-2014), compared with a 70% increase in Europe; they represented a 21% increase in the “highly educated” workforce in the U.S. (2000-2014), compared with a 14% increase in Europe; and they represented 22% of entries into health-care, STEM and other “strong-growing” occupations in the U.S., compared with 15% in Europe (presumably over the same period). Generally, regarding economic growth at the macro level, migrants have tended to be younger, working age adults whose economic participation grows GDP overall. Similarly, skilled migrants supplement host country human and intellectual capital and thus foster innovation and research within the host country.
With regards to crime, evidently, we should be more afraid of our fellow native-borns (citizens) rather than the recently-arrived. A more accurate account of the data regarding crime in the state of Texas for 2015 reveals that undocumented immigrants commit 899 crimes for every 100,000 illegal immigrants, legal immigrants committed 611 crimes for every 100,000 legal immigrants, while there were 1,797 crimes committed by natives per every 100,000 natives (Nowrasteh, 2018). In other words, at least in the state of Texas and contrary to the alternative facts previously noted, native Texans are nearly twice as likely to commit crimes as their undocumented immigrant counterparts and nearly three times as likely to commit crimes as documented immigrants. I’m reluctant to generalize these findings to the whole of the United States, or to all Western nations for that matter, but the effort to use Texas as an example of the dangers of migration speaks volumes for this new school of thought currently dictating policy.
As evidenced, immigrants overall have been demonstrated to be a net positive for host (or receiving) countries. Relative to their utilization of public resources, their contribution is higher. Again, they pay more into the system than they get out of it. With native populations aging in many developed nations such as the U.S., immigrants, in meeting labor demands, actually make financial contributions that support the native citizenry in their retirement and keep the economy humming along. They provide needed labor and supplement human and intellectual capital in the application of their skills to more knowledge-intensive industries which, arguably, are those that make the largest contributions to future economic growth. Similarly, with regards to crime, immigrants should not be the priority of law enforcement resources nor should they represent the sum of our fears. Relative to their native-born counterparts, they put less of a dent in public budgets thus enabling, and not hindering, a better allocation of resources conducive to economic expansion, be that investment in public education or missions to other planets.
The New Colossus
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. […]
I study management accounting and control and am admittedly not an expert in economic or migration policies or trends. I merely assume myself capable (foolishly perhaps) of discerning credible sources from non-credible sources of information and have yet to find merit in alternative-fact based schools of thought. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned, but I find practical value in systematically derived facts, just as I find beauty in carefully crafted poetry.
Emma Lazarus’ New Colossus is a touching and enthusiastic sonnet that greeted millions of immigrants seeking new beginnings in the United States. It embodies strength and confidence, as opposed to the anxiety reflected in modern discourse. In anthropomorphizing the Statue of Liberty, the poem expresses a wisdom that we’ve only recently been able to uncover through research: that as regards the movement of people, I stand to gain from what you’ve taken for granted. The enthusiasm expressed in accepting the weakest and most disdained among us may have been a mere reflection of high morals; but it may as well have reflected an understanding of the substantial contributions they were to make to our collective prosperity.
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