The wall that Donald Trump wants to build along the border might leave the loud-mouthed presidential wannabe not just (as rival Gary Johnson wryly suggests) dreading the athletic acumen of Mexican pole-vaulters testing its height, but also struggling to explain the economic wreckage that he has wrought. Michigan residents in particular would probably require an explanation, as a new report points out the important role foreign-born residents play in driving economic activity in the struggling state.
The Great Lakes State was the only one of the 50 in the union to lose population in the decade leading up to the 2010 census. Since then, Michigan has rebounded a bit, growing in population from 9,883,640 in 2010 to an estimated 9,922,576 last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. But if it wasn't for new arrivals in this country, the state would still be clearing out. "Between 2010 and 2014, Michigan's foreign-born population grew by 10.2 percent—almost twice as fast as the number of immigrant residents increased in the country as a whole," according to The Contributions of New Americans in Michigan, a report issued last week by the Michigan Office for New Americans and the Partnership for a New American Economy. "Today, the Great Lakes state is home to more than 640,000 individuals who were born in another country."
In terms of moves within the United States, United Van Lines reports that last year, moves out of Michigan continued to slightly out-pace moves to the state, 52 percent to 48 percent. By contrast, from 2010 to 2014, 59,327 immigrants settled in the state. So if you take those immigrants out of the picture, Michigan looks like a slowly deflating balloon.
But it's not just bodies that new arrivals contribute to Michigan—it's prosperity, too. While 7 percent of the state's population was born abroad, new arrivals make up 8.3 percent of entrepreneurs, who have started new businesses that create jobs instead of taking them from Trump supporters. Whether they're making Michigan's economy great again is an open question, but immigrants are making it a damned sight better than it would be in their absence.
How much better? Immigrants earned 7.7 percent of all income ($19.6 billion) generated by Michiganders in 2014, says the report.
And yeah, immigrants are taking jobs that many Americans don't want, though not always in the ways that we might expect. At a time when government and industry leaders complain that not enough Americans show interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), immigrants represent 15 percent of all STEM workers in Michigan—more than double their share of the population. Their ranks actually include one in four computer system designers.
But immigrants also take the stoop labor jobs that we often think of as the hard-working low-paid entry-level work that Americans don't want. In Michigan, they comprise 27 percent of "laborers who hand pick crops in the field." In their absence, the state's agriculture sector would be in big trouble; Georgia farmers had to abandon parts of their harvest when tough rules drove immigrant workers out of the state, and parolees brought in to replace them promptly quit because the work was too physically demanding.
And if you're the sort of person who wonders just how Michigan can keep supporting its impressively opaque and rather spendthrift and intrusive government, rest assured that immigrants contributed $5.4 billion to state coffers in 2014. They have earned—in spades—the same right to grumble about the misuse of their tax dollars as native-born Americans.
Donald Trump might argue that he's only targeting illegal immigrants—not anybody who legally vaults over his wall. (Or maybe he wouldn't differentiate—he seems increasingly unsure about letting anybody other than fashion models enter the United States.) But the Michigan report points out that the estimated 126,000 undocumented immigrants in the state are well entrenched in the local economy and community, and generating around $2 billion in income. These workers "contribute to a range of industries that could not thrive without a pool of workers willing to take on highly labor-intensive roles." They also manage "to overcome licensing and financing obstacles to start small businesses."
The report states that mass deportation of such a large and entrenched community is highly unlikely, and suggests that legalization should at least be considered to minimize the legal and practical problems inherent in having so many people outside the law.
In tough times, Americans have a history of resenting new arrivals who achieve a measure of success while also standing out because of language and culture. But time and again, immigrants have more than proven their value, punching above their weight when it comes to creating businesses, new jobs, and overall wealth that improves their adopted country.
In the case of Michigan, new arrivals are not only taking jobs that the native-born don't want, but settling in a state that most Americans take a pass on, and that locals are leaving. They may well be the state's main hope of having a future as something other than a museum of its own past glory.
So not only do immigrants seeking opportunity have reason to fear Trump's nativist tantrums, so do people born in this country who recognize that we continue to need the energy and willingness to work that new arrivals bring to jobs—and locales—in which Americans have little interest. Immigrants help to make the place…well…pretty great.