What do we know about immigrants in Michigan and the U.S.?


Editor’s note: Salas prepared the position paper below as part of the Hispanic community’s immigration outreach to the Michigan legislature. The paper is based on data compiled in 2010.

Our immigrant community is an asset to our state’s diversity, economy, culture and future. Any negative message will have a significant impact on our ability to recruit talent, diversity, creativity and investment — foreign and domestic — in our state.

We agree that there is a need for significant federal immigration reform and dedicated resources necessary to support them.

However, we firmly believe that immigration is an issue that is more appropriately addressed by the federal government and its agencies — instead of the Michigan Legislature, state and local governments.

In addition, the state and local governments in Michigan are severely financially stressed and should not, and cannot, bear the additional responsibility to enact and enforce laws that exacerbate the fiscal stress and will ultimately result in waste of taxpayers’ money.

Accordingly, our purpose is to address the misconceptions about the immigrant community and to provide supporting factual and rational basis to this discussion.

Supporting facts

As stated above, our immigrant community is an asset to our state’s diversity, economy, culture and future.

The following facts support our position and clarify the many misconceptions unfairly attached to the immigrant community.

Immigrants are an active business community

Immigrant-owned businesses add billions of dollars and tens of thousands of job in Michigan.

  • According to the Small Business Administration, 15.8 percent of all Michigan businesses started from 1996 to 2007 were started by immigrants. By year 2000, these businesses produced $1.5 billion in annual business income. 
  • Between 1997 and 2002, the number of Asian-American businesses grew 24 percent, and Latino businesses grew 31 percent, compared to 10 percent growth for all U.S. firms.
  • Michigan’s 15,337 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $5.1 billion and employed 44,587 people in 2002, the last year for which data is available. The state’s 9,841 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $3.2 billion and employed 15,930 people in 2002, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners.

Immigrants’ buying power has value

Immigrants’ billion dollar buying power injects Michigan economy and promotes employment.

  • The overall Hispanic purchasing power totaled $1 trillion in 2010 (an increase of 392.9 percent since 1990), and is projected to reach $1.5 trillion by 2015, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.
  • The 2009 purchasing power of Michigan’s Latinos totaled $8.9 billion — an increase of 310.3 percent since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $8.6 billion — an increase of 361.6 percent since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.


Immigrant students are integral to Michigan’s economy and excel educationally.

  • According to NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Michigan’s 23,617 foreign students contributed $592.4 million to the state’s economy in tuition, fees and living expenses for the 2008-2009 academic year.
  • In Michigan, 38.3 percent of foreign-born persons who were naturalized U.S. citizens in 2008 had a bachelor’s or higher degree, compared to 34.4% of non-citizens. At the same time, only 19.3 percent of naturalized citizens lacked a high-school diploma, compared to 30.5 percent of non-citizens.
  • The number of immigrants in Michigan with a college degree increased by 26.9 percent between 2000 and 2008, according to data from the Migration Policy Institute.
  • 36.5 percent of Michigan’s foreign-born population age 25 and older had a bachelor’s or higher degree in 2008, compared to 23.8 percent of native-born persons age 25 and older.

Immigrants are not a burden

Immigrants do not exploit public services such as public assistance, health care, and social security.

  • Immigrants earn about $240 billion a year, pay about $90 billion a year in taxes, contribute to Medicare and provide as much as 7 billion dollars a year to the Social Security Fund. In fact, the Social Security Administration also credits these workers for paying an additional $520 billion under mismatching Social Security Numbers. Indeed, if not for the contributions by immigrants, the crisis facing the Social Security system would be worse than it is today. (1)
  • Immigrant tax payments exceed the amount of government services they use. One study shows that immigrant tax payments exceed the amount of government services they use by $20 to $30 billion (2). For example, in Los Angeles County, “total medical spending on undocumented immigrants . . .  in 2000 (was) 6 percent of total costs, although undocumented immigrants comprise 12 percent of the region's residents.” (3) 
  • Undocumented immigrants are ineligible for most state and federal public benefits; nonetheless, almost three quarter of them pays state and federal taxes.
  • In fact, even legal immigrants are ineligible for many benefits during their first five years in the United States. (4) 
  • Further still, undocumented workers pay sales taxes where applicable and property taxes — directly if they own and indirectly if they rent. (5)  

Immigration status does not determine threat

Immigration status does not determine whether a person poses a threat to the United States.

  • Both the CIA and the FBI, in addition to other elected officials and law enforcement professionals, have made clear that “there is a need to de-link immigration and counter terrorism policies, (because) immigrant focused security measures passed after 9/11 have made us less safe.” (6) This is, in part, because none of the 9/11 terrorist attackers entered the United States without proper immigration authorization. 

Michigan needs immigrant workers

Immigrants are essential to complement Michigan’s labor force, and they are not taking employment away from citizens or legal residents.

  • Immigrants comprised 6.7 percent of Michigan’s workforce in 2008 (or 338,621 workers), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
  • Top economists argue that immigrant labor is vital to our economy and boosts our labor force. (7) In fact, a 2007 report from the White House Council of Economic Advisers concluded that immigration as a whole increases the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by roughly $37 billion each year, because it complements the native-born workforce in terms of skills and education and stimulates capital investment by adding workers to the labor pool.
  • The majority of immigrants do not compete with the majority of natives for the same jobs, because of the different levels of education and occupations. Americans without a high school diploma represent only 7 percent of the population, and immigrants are filling the jobs in construction, farm work and service sectors vacated by increasingly educated Americans. (8)
  • Immigrants are not taking jobs away from natives. Despite a decade of high-immigration levels in border states, unemployment remained below the national average (1998-2008). (9)
  • Even though immigrants constituted more than 50 percent of the overall growth in the labor force in the last decade, undocumented immigrants represent only 5 percent of the U.S. labor force. (10)  And in Michigan, undocumented immigrants comprised 1.3 percent of Michigan’s workforce in 2008 (or 65,000 workers), according to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center.
  • Nearly half of all immigrant workers earn less than 200 percent of the minimum wage, compared to one-third of native workers. The average low-wage immigrant worker earned $14,400 in 2001.


Undocumented immigrants are not reluctant to learn to speak and become literate in English.

  • In Michigan, 77.2 percent of all children between the ages of 5 and 17 in families that spoke a language other than English at home also spoke English “very well” as of 2008.
  • While first generation, non-English speaking immigrants predictably have lower rates of English proficiency than native speakers, 91 percent of second-generation immigrants are fluent or near fluent English speakers. By the third generation, 97 percent speak English fluently or near fluently. (11) 

Immigration reform

A comprehensive federal immigration reform is necessary, because deportation of undocumented immigrants would devastate the economy.

  • If all undocumented immigrants were removed from the United States, the country would lose $551.6 billion in economic activity, $245 billion in gross domestic product and approximately 2.8 million jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time, according to a report by the Perryman Group.
  • If all undocumented immigrants were removed from Michigan, the state would lose $3.8 billion in economic activity, $1.7 billion in gross state product and approximately 20,339 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time, according to a report by the Perryman Group.
  • In June 2010, CEOs of several major corporations, including Marriott Hotels, Walt Disney Co., Hewlett-Packard, Boeing and News Corp., joined New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and many other leaders to form a coalition called “The Partnership for a New American Economy.” The CEOs said in their statements that their companies and the nation depend on immigrants and that immigration reform — including a path to legal status for all undocumented immigrants now in the United States — is the solution to repairing and stimulating the economy. 
  • In particular, Walt Disney Co. Chairman and CEO Robert Iger said in a statement, "(immigrants are) our great strength as a nation, and (immigration reform) is also critical for continued economic growth (and) to remain competitive in the 21st century . . . ”
  • The Great American Boycott that took place on May 1, 2006 as a continuation of the 2006 U.S. immigration reform protests, demonstrated through direct action the extent to which the labor obtained of undocumented immigrants is needed for the economy of the U.S. As result of the boycott:
    • More than 1 million immigrants and their supporters skipped work and took to the streets, succeeding in slowing or shutting many farms, factories, markets and restaurants.
    • While the full blown economic effects of the boycott are unknown, the impact of the boycott was felt from Los Angeles to Chicago, Houston to Miami. 
    • In Los Angeles, businesses were closed, traffic piled up for miles around the march route comprised of hundreds of thousands of supporters and over 90 percent of the daily traffic out of the Port Los Angeles was shut down.
    • Cargill Meat Solutions, the No. 2 U.S. beef producer and No. 3 pork producer in the nation, was forced to close seven of its U.S. plants due to the immigration rallies.     
  • A more flexible approach to the permanent residency is needed. Undocumented immigrants are not circumventing feasible avenues for citizenship or documented immigrant status. In fact, the legal paths that do exist take years to navigate due to bureaucratic backlogs and visa limitations.


(1) Testimony of Patrick P. O’Carroll, Jr., Inspector General of the Social Security Administration, before the U.S. Senate, Committee on Finance, regarding “Administrative Challenges Facing the Social Security Ad­ministration,” March 14, 2006.

(2) Source: American Immigration Lawyers Association, Urban Institute

(3)  Source: The Rand Corporation, “RAND Study Shows Relatively Little Public Money Spent Providing Healthcare to Undocumented Immigrants,” November 14, 2006, rand.org; Dana P. Goldman, James P. Smith and Neeraj Sood, “Immigrants and the Cost of Medical Care,” Health Affairs 25, no. 6 (2006): 1700-1711)

(4) Source: Immigration and the Economy,  Justice for Immigrants.org

(5) (Source: Immigration Policy Center, “Undocumented Immigrants as Taxpayers,” (November 2007), americanimmigrationcouncil.org; Eduardo Porter “ Illegal Immigrants are Bolstering Social Security with Billions,” New York Times, (April 5, 2005), nytimes.com)

(6) Appleseed. “Forcing Our Blues Into Gray Areas: Local Police and Federal Immigration Enforcement.” p. 5. January, 2006. Accessed August, 2006 from: appleseeds.net.

(7) The Independent Institute. Open Letter on Immigration. June 19, 2006. Accessed July 2006 from: http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1727 and Peri, Giovanni, Ph.D. “Immigrants, Skills, and Wages: Measuring the Economic Gains from Immigration.” Immigration Policy In Focus. Vol. 5, Issue 3. p.4. March 2003.

(8) Daniel T. Griswold, “When employment lines cross borders,” CATO Institute, Center for Trade Policy Studies, April 21, 2008, available at www.freetrade.org/node/866 (accessed 12/18/09).

(9) Daniel T. Griswold, “When employment lines cross borders,” CATO Institute, Center for Trade Policy Studies, April 21, 2008, available at www.freetrade.org/node/866 (accessed 12/18/09).

(10) Passel et al. “Undocumented Immigrants: Facts and Figures.” Urban Institute. January 12, 2004. Accessed June, 2006 at urban.org.

(11) (Source: Shirin Hakimzadeh and D’Vera Cohn, “English Usage Among Hispanics in the United States,” Pew Hispanic Forum, Dec. 6, 2007. pewhispanic.org; Janet Murguia and Cecilia Muñoz, “From Immigrant to Citizen,” The American Prospect (Oct. 23, 2005), prospect.org)

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