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A view from an economist: Refugees, immigrants, DACA, and racism

This new column will address the economics of current policy issues. Writer Dr. Jackie Brux is an emeritus professor of economics and founder/director of the Center for International Development at UW-River Falls; and author of the college textbook, “Economic Issues and Policy.”

Let's consider the impact of immigrants and refugees. Recently, Pope Francis pleaded for greater global support for immigrants and refugees, part of a long-standing tradition in the Catholic (and many other) churches. This admonition would have us shift the discussion toward human rights, rather than just civil rights. Clearly, there is a moral issue. And, there is considerable confusion about the economics of the issue.

1. Refugees

The White House announced the lowest allowable limit on the number of refugees to the U.S. at 45,000. This is down from 86,000 last year and is far lower than the 110,000 previously pledged. It is the lowest level since the Refugee Act was created in 1980. This is despite the rapid global growth in the number of refugees worldwide resulting from growing world conflicts.

Refugees to the U.S. are far different from refugees in Europe. Many European countries permitted vast numbers of refugees to enter almost immediately as crises occurred. The U.S. carefully vets its refugees for one to three years. It's a totally different situation. It is safe.

2. Immigration

The White House also cut the number of eligible immigrants to the U.S. in half. And, he has shifted away from family-based immigration. And, as you know, Trump previously banned refugees and other immigrants from his list of mostly-Muslim countries. While the third rumination of his ban is awaiting a judicial ruling, Trump now insists on a narrow group eligible for immigration, as well as "extreme vetting" of them. (Our vetting process is already considered among the toughest in the world.)

3. The DACA Program

Trump refused to support the broadly popular DACA program ('Deferred Action for Childhood

Arrivals"), which protects the children of immigrant parents who had entered the U.S. illegally. These young people did nothing illegal, made no choice to come here, and know no other home. They have been educated and trained within the U.S. Many of them are now entering our labor force with the skills and education that are needed to fill important roles within our economy. They truly benefit the U.S. economy.

Economists will tell you that immigrants and refugees to the U.S. are not only good workers; they are also consumers. When these newly arrived consumers buy U.S. goods, they increase the demand for these. This encourages business firms to expand production to meet the new demand. Expanding production means economic growth, and along with it, growth in jobs.

Economic studies reveal a net gain in U.S. job opportunities from immigration. And, despite Trump's rhetoric, immigrants are less likely than native born citizens to commit crimes and to be incarcerated. They contribute to U.S. tax revenue; and, as many of them are young, they contribute to a Social Security program that sorely needs younger workers to support the large baby boom generation as they retire. Immigrants contribute to our churches, schools, and communities. Their hard work and entrepreneurship contribute to thriving cities and raise standards of living for all residents.

4. The Role of Racism

We know from his tweets that Trump dislikes Muslims and Mexicans. And, it was recently reported by the NY Times and other credible sources that Trump barged into a White House meeting, furious about certain (LEGAL) immigrants entering the U.S., stating that Haitians who received visas "all have AIDS" and that the Nigerian immigrants would never "go back to their huts" after seeing the U.S. He also trounced Afghan refugees. All feared violence or faced natural disaster.

How do you respond to racism? How do you respond to white supremacists chanting "Closed borders, white nation, now we start the deportation"? Let's finally get our facts straight.

How do you define your morality? From your church? From your heart and soul? There is no moral leadership from the White House; we need to undertake that leadership ourselves and advocate for human rights.

Advocates for Immigrants meet the second Monday of each month at 6 p.m. at the local Methodist Church. They educate and advocate for immigrants, and provide a hotline for immigrants' questions and concerns at 612-999- 5413 (se habla espanol). We can also contact our legislators ( and and urge their support for immigrants, refugees, and DACA. Please contact me if you wish to become involved with local immigrant support groups, c/o