The socioeconomic impact of immigration is substantial. Between 2001-2011, immigration accounted for 40% of total population growth in the OECD. According to the International Migration Outlook 2013, high-income countries continue to attract immigrants and students from around the world since the global financial crisis of 2008. India, China, Poland and Romania are top countries of origin into OECD countries. In the face of rising unemployment, migrants’ labor market situation has worsened compared to natives over the past years particularly for Latin Americans in the US and migrants from North Africa in Europe. In a country such as the US, where immigrants are often young and the social safety net is not large, the effect of immigration is often more positive—increasing the GDP by 0.03 percentage points.
Strong sentiments against immigrants particularly unauthorized immigrants in the US and a dysfunctional Congress have delayed immigration reform legislation (S.744) which calls for an eventual pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants while ramping up border security measures. Certainly there is enthusiastic support for the recruitment, hiring and retention of highly-skilled foreign workers (H-1B visas) with economic implications. (How this policy is affecting the global health care workforce crisis is the subject of discussion another time).
Research and practice have highlighted the increased risk for disease, trauma and social stressors among this population (low-wage immigrants and refugees) from discrimination, substandard living and exploitative labor conditions. There is a growing public health literature that favors access to health care for immigrants but also one that is concerned with disease transmission (TB, HIV, STI) and national security threats (Viladrich, 2012). The public discourse on immigration comprises a full spectrum of model to undeserving immigrants, welfare-dependents to drivers of economic growth.
I would argue for a more “simplistic” view of immigrants. Migration is an undeniable fact of life. Of course there are differences in how our society regards undocumented immigrants and the native poor but our policy should aligned with the concern for social inequality and how we treat and provide for those less fortunate—all racial ethnic groups and no matter how they come to live in America. In hard times (economic or political upheavals), feelings and beliefs about self-sufficiency and individual responsibility trump justice and humanitarian consideration and create ethnic tensions pitching one group against another. Even the argument to provide immigrants with health care and social benefits for the sake of self-interest and return on investment seems like a weak cover for avoiding the discussion of poverty and social justice. If we use this same lens to approach vulnerable immigrants and low-income Americans then we are all better off on the road to policy and legislative reform that will benefits all Americans.
"I wish to do something Great and Wonderful, but I must start by doing the little things like they were Great and Wonderful"