Wednesday, September 16, 2009

From the Heartland of America: Iowa's Immigration Reality

Note: AFSC's Central Regional News and Views newsletter (Fall 2009) features an insightful look at immigration in the Hawkeye State. The writer, Sandra Sanchez is AFSC's program director in Iowa. The program provides referral support, legal assistance, human rights training and other services to immigrants and their families. We are grateful for the permission granted to share her community-grounded analysis with our readers.

Iowa - Editor's Note: One of the things we notice in our peace and justice work is that many people who generally share AFSC’s views on most issues still have concerns regarding the economic impact of immigration. As part of a broader interview available at, Sandra Sanchez speaks to concerns that immigrants are “taking away” from taxpayers and hurting the economy. (Photograph: Sandra Sanchez - [extreme right] and community members at AFSC "Know Your Rights training - credit: G. Camacho)

Immigrants are not receiving benefits from other taxpayers, even though they should because they are taxpayers too. I’ve heard allies and supporters say, “Yes, we support immigrant rights, but can we afford it when the economy is so bad?”

To answer this very simply, I would say that all people are consumers and producers. Immigrants are consumers and producers too. And since we are in a recession right now, you need people spending. Immigrants spend money, and they spend it now. Immigrants are also very hard working. In many cases, they’re in their most productive years. Therefore, they are mostly contributing to this economy.

Finally, typically immigrants have not been part of the formal financial system, meaning their savings were not lost. They were not investing in the stock market. They have savings to spend. Where do we want them to spend this money? Here, or somewhere else?

More importantly, in terms of production and consumption, immigrants are very active. Why get rid of them? Too many people believe the anti-immigrant rhetoric. But the fact remains that immigrants are paying taxes. There’s more than $560 billion in the Earnings Suspense File of the Social Security Administration, most of which is believed to be contributions of undocumented workers to this system alone.

Do we really want to stop that? People are afraid that if we give legal status to these undocumented workers who have been contributing to Social Security and who cannot claim one penny out of it, then immigrants will claim those benefits. But the truth is that they can’t. If they get a legal status, eventually they will be able to claim benefits, but only from the time of their legal status onward.

So immigrants represent a win-win to this country. We are winning in the sense that they have contributed already as taxpayers, they have contributed to the economy as workers, and they have contributed to the economy as consumers. Do we want to lose that? No.

I truly believe that if undocumented immigrants are given the opportunity to regularize their status, they will be able to buy homes and more cars. They will be able to send their children to institutions of higher learning. And that will definitely be a plus to the economy. It will help us turn around this recession faster than if we don’t.

Sandra Sanchez is a member of AFSC's Project Voice Network, a national grouping of AFSC staff who work in partnership with communities throughout the United States. Project Voice advocates for the fair inclusion and respect for the human rights of immigrant and refugee communities. You can contact Sandra Sanchez at and Jody Mashek at AFSC Iowa’s phone is 515-274- 4851.