President Trump's White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Columnist

In a Post profile over the weekend, White House senior policy adviser and de facto immigration czar Stephen Miller explained why he cares so much about immigration policy:

“Immigration is an issue that affects all others,” Miller said, speaking in structured paragraphs. “Immigration affects our health-care system. Immigration affects our education system. Immigration affects our public safety, it affects our national security, it affects our economy and our financial system. It touches upon everything, but the goal is to create an immigration system that enhances the vibrancy, the unity, the togetherness and the strength of our society.”

Miller is right: Immigration does touch all those realms. Though perhaps not in quite the way he suggests.

For instance, immigration affects our health-care system in many ways — including by supplying it with talent.

In fact immigrants are overrepresented in the health industry. About 16.6 percent of the health industry is foreign-born, 13.7 percent of the U.S. population overall. A whopping 29.1 percent of physicians are foreign-born, according to a recent analysis of Census Bureau data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Immigrants also are overrepresented among dentists (23.7 percent); pharmacists (20.3 percent); registered nurses (16 percent); and nursing, psychiatric and home health aides (23.1 percent).

Immigration also plays an important role in our education system. International students, who generally pay full freight, have helped keep public universities afloat even as state legislatures have slashed their budgets. Their tuition dollars help schools cross-subsidize in-state students. Immigrants also have populated the STEM study programs that Americans show little interest in, especially at the graduate level — where many of those same immigrant students help educate American undergrads.

Here’s the share of students in a selection of STEM graduate programs who are in the United States on temporary visas, according to the National Science Foundation’s Science & Engineering Indicators 2018 report. Note that this measure likely understates the fraction of students who are foreign-born, as it does not include those who are permanent residents or naturalized citizens.


Source: National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, special tabulations (2016), 2015 Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering. (Washington Post)

As for the relationship between immigration and public safety, the data suggest you might conclude that greater immigration leads to greater public safety.

At least, a study of immigration and crime trends across 200 metropolitan areas over four decades found that “immigration is consistently linked to decreases in violent (e.g., murder) and property (e.g., burglary) crime throughout the time period.” Other studies have found a similar relationship between the two trends. We don’t know that the link is actually causal, of course, but we do have evidence that undocumented immigrants commit (non-immigration-related) crimes at lower rates than do native-born Americans.

With respect to national security, Miller might do well to remember that immigrants serve in our military. As of 2018, there were 527,000 foreign-born veterans, according to a Migration Policy Institute analysis of Census Bureau data. About 1.9 million veterans are the U.S.-born children of immigrants.

Some of those noncitizen military members with in-demand skills were expecting that their service would expedite their naturalization process, under a program launched in 2008 called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest. However, changes in recent years, under first the Obama administration and then under Trump, have effectively frozen that program.

What about our economy?

There’s a lot to be said about how immigrants contribute to the economy, including through high rates of entrepreneurship. For example, immigrants have started more than half of the United States’ start-up companies valued at $1 billion or more, according to a National Foundation for American Policy study. They start lots of smaller companies, too, at much higher rates than native-born Americans, according to data from the Kauffman Foundation.

Without immigration, the U.S. working-age population would be falling, which would weigh on economic growth. (Just look at Japan’s struggles). And as I’ve written elsewhere:

There’s reason to believe that new immigrants may depress wages for earlier waves of immigrants who have similar skill sets. However, recent studies suggest that immigration (both authorized and unauthorized) actually boosts labor force participation rates, productivity and wages and reduces unemployment rates for native-born American workers, whose skills these immigrants tend to complement.

But don’t these people drain the public coffers?

Immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, pay taxes — taxes that fund government benefits that in many cases they are not legally eligible to collect.

A report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found that the net fiscal impact of first-generation immigrants, compared to otherwise similar natives, is positive at the federal level and negative at the state and local levels. That’s due mostly to the costs of educating their children. When their children grow up, though, they are “among the strongest economic and fiscal contributors in the U.S. population, contributing more in taxes than either their parents or the rest of the native-born population.” In other words, by the second generation, immigrants are net-positive for government budgets at all levels.

What about the most destitute immigrants who come here, though? Surely they’re sucking the government dry!

Nope.

An internal government report commissioned by Trump found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in tax revenue over the past decade than they cost the government. Finding those results inconvenient, the administration suppressed them, though they were ultimately leaked to the New York Times last year.

So by all means, Miller, please remind the public that immigration has consequences for the broad policy landscape. But remembering the directionality of those consequences seems pretty important, too.

Read more:

Greg Sargent: Americans are growing more accepting of immigrants. Take note, Democrats.

Max Boot: End the charade. Appoint Stephen Miller to run DHS.

Paul Waldman: The Trump administration ramps up its war on legal immigration

James Downie: Stephen Miller lets the mask slip

Ann Telnaes: Trump’s little friend, Stephen Miller