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It Pays to Invest in the Undocumented

New America Media, Commentary, Pramila Jayapal Posted: Apr 11, 2009

America is again at a turning point. In our current economic crisis, we now have a choice: to cast blame on the vulnerable, as we have done in the past, or to find the better angels of our nature and look to evidence-based ideas to provide the foundation for common-sense solutions.

Some states in the country have chosen to respond to the nations financial crisis, threats to national security and need for reductions in public expenditures by imposing harsh anti-immigrant laws and policies. Washington state offers a different possibility, where last year, Gov. Chris Gregoire established through Executive Order a New Americans Policy Council to offer recommendations to the Governor on how the state can better support immigrants as they their build lives. As one of the states with an immigrant population that is exceeding the national average, Washington is a microcosm of the demographic and workforce trends taking place in many parts of the country.

A new report titled, Building Washingtons Future: Immigrant Workers Contributions to States Economy released April 8, shows how immigrants help the state thrive -- by paying taxes, creating a healthy consumer base and filling key roles in important industries. The report, authored by Seattle-based immigrant advocacy organization OneAmerica, examines the reality of immigrant contributions versus the rhetoric. It builds on and reinforces similar results found in previous reports issued in states as diverse as Nevada, Colorado, Nebraska and New York.

Among the findings of the Washington report:

Immigrants make a powerful tax contribution to the state economy. Washingtons Office of Financial Management estimated that Washington households with at least one foreign-born member contributed $1.48 billion in tax revenue to the Washington state economy in 2007. Even low-income immigrant households contribute with foreign- born households earning less than $20,000, contributing $50 million.

Immigrants are a major economic force as consumers. Washingtons Asian buying power, seventh strongest in the nation, accounted for more than $16 billion or 16 percent of the states total consumer market ($246 billion). Washingtons Hispanic buying power, 13th strongest in the U.S., accounted for over $12 billion, about 5 percent of the states consumer market.

Immigrants make up 14.3 percent of Washingtons civilian workforce. Immigrant workers are from many regions, spread across the state, and work in a variety of industries. An aging and better educated U.S.-born workforce make immigrant workers of all types indispensable -- from agricultural workers to research scientists. Younger immigrant workers help balance the decline in young native born workers, filling crucial jobs in health care, hospitality, agriculture, research and engineering.

The foreign-born workforce not only fills gaps in jobs that no longer attract U.S. workers or retiring workers, but they provide cultural understanding and language skills that helps Washington businesses compete globally and extend into markets overseas.

Given all of the above, immigrants are worth investing in early on, providing benefits for years to come. The research and our history as a country clearly suggest that the United States must quickly invest in strategies that support integration of immigrants into our communities and economies. Now, more than ever, America needs immigrants to help industries remain at full productivity; to grow the economy through consumption and paying taxes; to re-energize business through entrepreneurship and job creation; and to contribute much needed skills and talents as businesses seek to invent new products and remain globally competitive. Immigrants across the country stand ready to build a shared and prosperous future for all of America.

To download the full report, visit www.weareoneamerica.org

Pramila Jayapal is Executive Director of OneAmerica (formerly Hate Free Zone), a Seattle-based nonprofit organization committed to advancing democracy and justice.

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