Obama to Confront Immigration Reform Challenges During Trip to Mexico

Apr 15, 2009, 10:30 ET from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Americans Think Immigration is Bad for U.S. Economy; Report Argues Otherwise

CHICAGO, April 15 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As President Obama departs this week for Mexico to discuss drug-related violence and immigration reform, it will not be easy to convince Americans that immigration reform should be a top priority on the president's agenda with so many U.S. citizens losing their jobs and homes this year.

According to a 2008 public opinion poll released by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, most Americans believe the current level of immigration is having a negative effect on most aspects of the U.S. economy. Significant majorities see immigration as bad for the U.S. economy, the job security of American workers and the country as a whole. Only 15 percent of Americans think legal immigration should be increased.

But according to Rob Paral, author of "Mexican Immigration in the Midwest: Meanings and Implications," a new report released today by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Mexican immigrants contribute significantly to population growth in many Midwestern locations currently suffering population loss, and are an important source of workers.

"The U.S. economy is creating large numbers of low-skill jobs that far exceed the number held by Mexican immigrants, which suggests that Mexican immigrants are not taking away jobs, but are filling the large increases in demand for those jobs," argues Paral, a research fellow at the Immigration Policy Center of the American Immigration Law Foundation and the University of Notre Dame's Institute for Latino Studies. "In an economy creating large numbers of low-skill jobs, many of which are filled by Mexican immigrants, the pressure is on to maintain the flow of immigrants. The current shortcomings of immigration law -- resulting in a growing undocumented population -- will only become magnified over time in the Midwest."

Paral's report, the first of The Chicago Council's new Heartland Paper series, describes major demographic and socioeconomic features of Mexican immigration across the eight-state Midwest region. The report reveals a wide range of information on Midwestern Mexican immigrants that has never before been published.

Key report findings include:

  • Mexicans are the largest immigrant community in the Midwest.
  • While 42 percent of counties in the Midwest region experienced population decline from 2000 to 2006, Mexican immigrant populations grew rapidly. With 5 percent growth annually, the Mexican immigrant population in the region is growing ten times as fast as the average annual population growth of the Midwest.
  • Between 2000 and the end of 2010, more than 50 percent of job openings in the Midwest are projected to be for low-skilled workers. These are the jobs Mexican immigrants are filling.
  • In 1990, Mexican immigrants were 1.6 percent of Midwestern manufacturing workers, but today are 4.5 percent of the Midwestern manufacturing labor force.
  • Income declines for Mexican immigrants far outpace those of the overall population in every state. In 2005-2006, the Mexican immigrant poverty rate of 22 percent was almost twice as high as the 12 percent rate for the rest of the population. Because Mexican immigrant workers are concentrated in low-skill, low-wage sectors of the economy, Mexican immigrant households are particularly vulnerable to the current economic recession.
  • The failure to devise immigration laws that effectively balance the United States' current economic and security needs and offer legal status for recent Mexican immigrants is an impediment to Midwestern economic development.

In addition, The Chicago Council's 2008 study of public opinion provides findings about the American public's attitudes towards Mexico, immigration and NAFTA that President Obama should take into consideration during his discussions in Mexico:

  • Seventy-six percent of Americans said that Mexico is important to the United States. Compared with other countries, Mexico ranks behind countries like the United Kingdom, China and Saudi Arabia, but ahead of Israel, Japan, Germany and Pakistan.
  • An overwhelming majority of Americans say that controlling and reducing illegal immigration should be a very important foreign policy goal for the United States.
  • Eighty-eight percent think that improving border security is important for the United States to remain competitive with others globally.
  • Seventy percent of Americans believe that NAFTA is good for the Mexican economy but only 42 percent say the same about the American economy.

For more information and to download the full reports, please visit thechicagocouncil.org.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, founded in 1922, is a prominent, independent and nonpartisan organization committed to influencing the discourse on global issues through contributions to opinion and policy formation, leadership dialogue and public learning.

The Chicago Council has been conducting nationwide public opinion surveys on American views on foreign policy since 1972. These surveys provide insights into the current and long-term foreign policy attitudes of the American public on a wide range of global topics.

The Heartland Papers are a monograph series devoted to helping the Midwest succeed in an era of globalization. Published by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs as part of its Global Midwest Initiative, Heartland Papers address issues that are vital to the future of the Midwest as it transitions from its industrial past.

SOURCE The Chicago Council on Global Affairs