After a campaign full of competing rhetoric about immigration, over 1,000 economists from around the country, including local University of Wisconsin-Madison professors, say they want to set the record straight. They sent an open letter to President Donald Trump stating that immigration is an economic boon for the country.
The letter is addressed to Trump and congressional leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
1,470 economists signed the letter, including six current or emeritus professors of UW-Madison (Barbara Wolfe, Brent Hueth, David Hansen, David Weimer, Edgar Feige and Kenneth West) and 10 other professors from other Wisconsin colleges.
The economists “represent a broad swath of political and economic views,” the letter says, acknowledging that while they belong to different political parties and subscribe to different economic theories, they agree that immigrants bring a “broad economic benefit” and are “one of America’s significant competitive advantages in the global economy.”
The letter listed the benefits of immigration as follows:
- Immigration brings entrepreneurs who start new businesses that hire American workers.
- Immigration brings young workers who help offset the large-scale retirement of baby boomers.
- Immigration brings diverse skill sets that keep our workforce flexible, help companies grow, and increase the productivity of American workers.
- Immigrants are far more likely to work in innovative, job-creating fields such as science, technology, engineering, and math that create life-improving products and drive economic growth.
The letter also noted the potential drawbacks of immigration, including economic costs for Americans with lower levels of education. It also advocated for “proper and necessary safeguards.” But overall, the benefits outweigh the costs, it said.
Brent Hueth, associate professor of agriculture and applied economics at UW-Madison, acknowledges the potential negative effects of immigration on native low-income workers.
“But I just feel like (immigration's) so a part of who we are as a country, and it’s been so good for us in so many ways throughout the course of our history that the provisional benefits outweigh the costs,” he said.
David Weimer, a professor of political economy at UW-Madison, is an expert on cost-benefit analysis. He signed the letter because he wants to put an emphasis on evidence over emotion.
“(Many of) the tropes about the costs of immigrants just are not backed up by empirical evidence,” he said. “It’s a concern that we look at evidence and not make these decisions just on our gut.”
That evidence points to the negative consequences of limiting immigration, he said.
“Here in Wisconsin, I think there’s going to be some harm to our dairy industry by restricting immigration,” he said. “Much of the vitality of many cities comes from the infusion of young immigrants. I just think we’re not looking at the big picture.”
While Weimer was heartened by the wide ideological spectrum represented in the letter, he’s unsure whether it will lead to change.
“I’m a realist,” he said. “I don’t know if it will have any effect, but I think we have a responsibility to try to inform public debate.”
“I’m very pessimistic that it will have a meaningful impact. Honestly, I don’t think that what economists say has a big influence on public policy, aside from a few economists working in the White House,” Hueth said. “But for what it’s worth, it’s something I’m willing to do.”
The letter closed with a call to return to America’s roots.
“We urge Congress to modernize our immigration system in a way that maximizes the opportunity immigration can bring, and reaffirms continuing the rich history of welcoming immigrants to the United States," it said.