Immigration in Minnesota by the numbers

  • Article by: HECTOR GARCIA
  • Updated: April 23, 2013 - 11:22 AM

There are fewer undocumented immigrants than a recent commentary suggested. And they contribute.

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This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to efforts to immigration policy.

Photo: Donna Grethen, Tribune Media Services

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Counterpoint

As we consider whether to support the Minnesota DREAM Act or “Prosperity Bill” (SF723) introduced by Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, and Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, it is important to clarify information published in the April 18 commentary “On immigration, let’s set clear rules and live by them.”

The Prosperity Bill would make undocumented students eligible for state tuition rates at public universities and colleges as well as for private and state financial aid. It would give these young people hope in pursuing a career and allow Minnesota to benefit from their contributions to the economy rather than endure the costs of their marginalization.

The Pew Research Center estimated in 2011 that there were 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country — 87 percent from Latin America, which represents about one-fifth of the registered Hispanic or Latino population.

The 2010 census recorded 250,000 Hispanics living in Minnesota — not 250,000 undocumented immigrants in Minnesota, as suggested in last week’s commentary. Using the Pew formula to calculate the undocumented in Minnesota, there might be about 50,000.

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, unless their employers choose to violate tax regulations. The Houston Chronicle and consumeraffairs.com published articles on “The Earnings Suspense File.” It was reported that the ESF — “much of which can be attributed to undocumented immigrants using fictitious or fake Social Security numbers,” since they cannot collect benefits from their payroll tax withholdings — “continues to accrue money at roughly $6 billion a year, with the total as of 2005 sitting at $519 billion … .” The ESF is a fortuitous cushion for Social Security’s vital and precarious safety net.

Contrary to the impression created that the “border with Mexico has been all but neglected,” the U.S. Border Patrol Budget in 2009 represented $2.7 billion and had increased by 714 percent since 1992. The federal immigration bill, introduced on April 19, calls for $6.5 billion in new border security spending.

Net migration from Mexico to the United States is now at close to zero, according to recent statements from Doris Meissner, U.S. Immigration Policy Program Director and former INS commissioner, and Mexican Ambassador Eduardo Medina-Mora Icaza.

In any economic market, demand generates supply. It was not “illegal immigration [that] brought illegal drugs … and prostitution rings into our communities …  .” It was the U.S. demand for those things. It is true that crime exists among immigrants; it is also true that, as in all communities, crime is a minimal part of the story.

America’s economy historically has been fueled by immigrants. Recently, various national and international studies as well as CNN Global Public Square, the Economist and Time magazine reported that innovation, productivity and business creation, essential to compete globally, are driven largely by immigrants.

A 2010 study states that “many newcomers are thwarted from becoming innovators in the economy, whether from a lack of recognition of international experience, or discrimination or under-utilization of their skills.”

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce vice president Bill Blazar, state economist Tom Stinson and former state demographer Tom Gillaspy have noted that Minnesota’s population is aging dramatically and that our labor force growth is in decline. The 65-plus population is surpassing that of school-age children, creating daunting challenges to our economy, education and health. They and others have pointed to solutions presented by new Americans.

Alfredo Quiñones-Hinojosa was an undocumented farmworker from Mexico. He worked as a welder and painter to pay for English classes and get a degree in a community college. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley and a medical degree from Harvard, where he graduated cum laude. Alfredo became a U.S. citizen and is known as Dr. Q at Johns Hopkins University.

Dr. Q is director of the Brain Tumor Surgery Program at Johns Hopkins Bayview Hospital and the Brain Tumor Stem Cell Laboratory, where more than 20 international researchers are working to find a cure for brain cancer.

Minnesota was ranked last in the nation in business creation in 2012 by the Index of Entrepreneurial Activity and last in Latino high school graduation rates in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Education. Should we ignore and alienate human untapped resources? Or should we optimize the international labor flows that globalization has unleashed?

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Hector Garcia is executive director of the Minnesota Chicano Latino Affairs Council.

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