By Ali Harb | Arab American News
LANSING — At a time when nativism is on the rise and politicians are calling for building walls and shutting our doors to newcomers, a report by the state of Michigan reiterated that immigrants help move the economy in the right direction.
The Michigan Office for New Americans and the Partnership for a New American Economy compiled the report, which was released on Wednesday.
In a statement released with the report, Gov. Snyder stressed the need for immigration reform.
“Immigration has proven to be a driver of job creation and economic growth in Michigan,” Snyder said. “As a welcoming state, we know and value the cultural diversity, professional contributions and entrepreneurial skills offered by foreign-born residents. We look forward to working with our federal partners toward making immigration reform a reality to create more jobs for families and enhance the quality of life across Michigan.”
Michigan is home to more than 640,000 foreign-born residents, about 6.5 percent of the state’s population.
“Over the years, new Americans arriving in Michigan have helped mitigate some of the negative effects of the state’s economic downturn and loss of population during the Great Recession,” a press release by the state reads.
According to the document, Michigan’s immigrant population grew twice as fast as the national average between 2010 and 2014.
“New Americans in Michigan contribute significantly to the state as both taxpayers and consumers, earning 19.6 billion in income in 2014 (or 7.7 percent of all income earned by Michiganders) and paying out $5.4 billion in overall taxes, including $1.5 billion in state and local taxes that support Michigan’s public schools and police,” the study says.
Immigrants also have strong buying power, spending $14.2 billion on consumer goods and services offered by Michigan businesses.
“By spending the money they earn at businesses such as hair salons, grocery stores and coffee shops, immigrants also support small business owners and job creation in the communities where they live,” the report says.
As property owners, immigrants also strengthen Michigan’s housing market, according to the study. They held $35 billion in housing wealth in 2014 and generated 9.7 percent of the state’s rental income.
The report highlights the entrepreneurial inclinations of immigrants.
“The 30,686 self-employed immigrants in Michigan represent 8.3 percent of the state’s entrepreneurs. These immigrant-owned businesses generated more than $608 million in business income in 2014.”
Arab Michiganders generated $2.8 billion in income in 2014 and paid $753.5 million in taxes. The report singles out immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa for their “particular power as consumers.”
In 2010, roughly 1 in 10 American workers with jobs at private firms were employed at immigrant-founded companies.
“When it comes to educational attainment, immigrants in the state are almost twice as likely to hold a graduate degree than natives,” the report reads.
New Michiganders account for 25.3 percent of the state’s tech talent in computer systems design, contributing to the state’s technology industry that brings economic opportunity and jobs.
They are also helping meet Michigan’s ever-increasing demand for workers in STEM jobs, requiring a science, technology, engineering or math-related degree, according to the study.
“Immigrants are already playing a valuable role in helping ease Michigan’s shortage of healthcare workers that are needed to serve Michigan’s aging population,” the report reads.
MONA Director Bing Goei said the state is an attractive destination for immigrants, who have proven to make a positive impact on the state.
“This report validates their contributions toward strengthening our economy, building our workforce, creating jobs, increasing our competitiveness globally and revitalizing our communities,” he said.
“More than our share”
Mariam Bazzi, a member of the Commission on Middle Eastern American Affairs and the daughter of immigrants, said the numbers provided by the study are impressive.
Bazzi said it is important to have facts and information to counter ignorance about immigrants.
“This will certainly help us in our conversation,” she said of the report. “When reports show that immigrants make up 6.5 percent of the state’s population and pay 8 percent of the total share of taxes, that shows that we’re paying more than our share. It’s not going to happen overnight. As long as we have studies like this, these are tools we can use to reshape some of the negative stereotypes that unjustly exist.”
Snyder was subjected to criticism from immigration and Arab American advocacy groups after he called for a pause in efforts to resettle Syrian refugees in Michigan, following terrorist attacks in Paris last November.
Bazzi lauded Snyder’s call for immigration reform, saying his statement proves that he has been a welcoming governor all along.
The study estimates that Michigan is home to 126,000 undocumented immigrants, who play a small but critical role in the state’s economy.
“They contribute to a range of industries that could not thrive without a pool of workers willing to take on highly labor-intensive roles,” the report says. “In 2014, for instance, undocumented immigrants made up 5.8 percent of all employees in Michigan’s accommodation and food services industry, a sector that includes dishwashers, food preparation workers and short order cooks.”
They have also managed to start up their own businesses. In 2014, an estimated 5.2 percent of the state’s working-age undocumented immigrants were self-employed, according to the study.
The study says the undocumented population has largely integrated into the state’s economy, making mass deportation an unlikely possibility. It said giving legal status to unauthorized immigrants would raise their earning power and give them access to more educational and job opportunities.
In an EPIC-MRA survey, released by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative, 73 percent of respondents in Southeast Michigan said they favor a measure that would give undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.
The same survey said 59 percent of people in the region agree that immigrants strengthen the country.