Commentary: Local Impact of Immigration

Commentary: Local Impact of Immigration

White House Advisor Stephen Miller took pains last week to point out that Emma Lazarus’ sonnet, “The New Colossus,” was not affixed to the Statue of Liberty when she was unveiled in 1886. He, of course, was right in fact but wrong in spirit.

The famed “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” lines were added 20 years later, but have come to represent the American ideal that we are a nation of immigrants, enthusiastically welcoming those from any background who want to come here, work hard, and play by the rules. Here in Fairfax County, we not only embrace that ideal, we recognize it as the lifeblood of our astounding economic success story.

President Trump and the senators pushing the RAISE Act, a bill to severely restrict legal immigration into the United States, would have you believe a dramatic increase in immigrants leads to economic decline and lower wages, not to mention higher crime rates and a host of other social ills. If anyone from the White House made the 15-mile trip to Fairfax County, they would learn the opposite is true.

In 1970 less than 4 percent of Fairfax’s population was foreign born. Today that number is 30.7 percent, more than double the rate in the country at large. But that dramatic increase in immigration did not lead to the kind of dystopia the President envisions. Instead, since 1970, Fairfax County has become an economic colossus that drives our state’s economy and is envied across the globe. Household income is among the highest in the nation, crime rates remain at historic lows, and our community hums with the kind of economic dynamism that drives innovation and long-term productivity growth.

How did we get here? Undoubtedly we’ve capitalized on our proximity to, and our partnership with, the federal government. But the facts are quite clear that the dramatic increase in foreign-born immigration has accelerated our economic success. Immigrants in Fairfax are primarily working age, more likely to start a business, less likely to commit crimes, and contribute to economic growth in both high-skilled and low-skilled fields, creating technology firms worth billions and caring for the elderly as home care workers. Immigrants have revitalized many of our older neighborhoods, adding $7,383 to the value of each and every home in our county, according to the Partnership for a New American Economy. The results speak for themselves. Foreign-born immigrants have fueled our success.

But Fairfax is not alone. Small towns, rural communities, and large cities across the country have capitalized on the economic vitality and opportunities created when immigrants show up and get to work. Welcoming “the homeless, the tempest-tost” is the moral thing to do, but right here in President Trump’s own backyard we’ve proven that’s it the smart thing to do.