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Undocumented Immigrants, the real story

There’s much hyperbole and disturbing ignorance when it comes to undocumented workers, or as unfortunately many people call them, illegal immigrants. The common themes of this ignorance run along the lines of:

  • They don’t pay taxes
  • They take jobs away from Americans
  • They don’t contribute anything to the economy of New Jersey
  • Basically, they are takers, not givers

Before I begin addressing these misconceptions (I’ll avoid the more pejorative labels bigoted, xenophobic and outright racist) one by one let me paint a picture of what the immigration population looks like in New Jersey.

The facts I will refer to are based on the 2016 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) study, assembled by the United Way, a study based on exhaustive research conducted by Professors from Rutgers, Farleigh Dickinson, Drew and Stockton University, as well as heads of various health care providers and social service groups within New Jersey.

22% of the population in New Jersey is foreign born, up from 13% in 2000. This is 2 million people. Many people recognize that there are many foreign born people in the state; however, while they may begrudgingly acknowledge the contributions some of these people make by creating businesses, filling high tech jobs that we cannot produce enough talent to keep up with demand, etc. undocumented workers are by and large viewed as a drain on the state.

Additionally, undocumented people are often viewed as the majority of foreign born people. In fact, they are by far in the minority. 54% of foreign born people in New Jersey have become citizens, 40% have legal permanent status. This leaves only 6% that are undocumented.

Let’s address the notion that undocumented workers don’t pay taxes. In fact, they pay $613 million dollars in local, income and property tax each year. Clearly, it’s a fallacy to believe that undocumented workers don’t contribute to the economy by not paying taxes. Let’s move on to another misguided belief, namely that undocumented workers take away jobs from Americans.

Quite the opposite is true. Undocumented workers that perform childcare (at much lower rates than those with the status of citizen or legal permanent status) allow mothers to enter or return to the workforce. They work as dishwashers, cooks, landscapers, laborers of all sorts. Many businesses readily admit that they would not be able to operate without them.

Hopefully by now you see a pattern here that commonly held beliefs concerning undocumented workers are incorrect. Now let’s look at the idea that they don’t contribute to the economy. Of course this is nonsense. If “45” had his way and all the undocumented workers in New Jersey were removed, we would lose $4.2 billion dollars in economic activity, yes billion, and $10.7 billion dollars in gross state product. And this from a segment of society that are the most vulnerable and underpaid. Imagine if they were paid according to what they were worth what these figures would be.

While it’s true that undocumented workers use the healthcare system and other social services this is because the current system forces them to do this as any other option doesn’t exist. It’s worth noting that the on average 11% of households in New Jersey who are below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) use these same services.

Undocumented workers should not be viewed and treated as a scourge on our state, rather an indispensable segment of our population that should be valued much more than they are. They should be admired, not ridiculed for having the courage to leave their homes to come here to try and improve their status in life.