ShareThis Page

The truth about immigration

| Saturday, April 14, 2001

Donald Collins, in his March 23 column, 'Immigration-induced political shift,' presents a very narrow view of the role and impact of new immigrants on our country and region. Choosing almost solely to focus on the nominal political affiliations of new immigrants, he overlooks the positive economic impacts that new immigrants have on the nation.

Narrowing down the debate over immigration policy solely to politics overlooks the many reasons that America needs a continuing influx of new workers and citizens from beyond our borders.

The Pittsburgh region is in even more desperate need of increased international immigration. Between 1998 and 1999, the last year the census estimated international immigration for the Pittsburgh region, only 819 new immigrants settled here. That number barely registers on the range of destinations where immigrants typical settle and places Pittsburgh near the bottom among all regions in its ability to attract immigrants.

Across the nation, the results of the 2000 census show real economic growth fueled by the influx of international immigrants. The new immigrants are not seeking welfare or other charitable benefits, but are working full time or more and filling a crucial need in our labor-force-starved economy.

Not only is the level of immigration crucial to the continued expansion of the U.S. economy, the Pittsburgh region desperately needs to find a way to attract more immigrants than it has in recent years.

Northern Virginia, outside Washington, D.C., has become the core of the high-tech Internet economy on the East Coast, and the population growth there is real and fueled by large increases in immigrants from many regions. Those two facts are highly correlated, as the high-tech work force needed to fuel that region's economy is dependent on foreign workers. The demand for H1-B visas, which is the primary means to bring skilled workers into the country, by U.S. employers far exceeds the rate at which the State Department will issue them.

In Pittsburgh, it is not only high-tech firms that are hoping immigration can meet their work-force needs, but many skilled blue-collar positions are going unfilled.

It is common headline across the country that growth has been fueled by increased immigration in recent years. The migration of population out of urban centers such as Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh is not uncommon as people move outward toward suburbs or farther. For other regions, that internal migration does not necessarily mean decline, as it does here. Unlike Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York, Boston and Columbus have all grown in the last decade. The difference in many other cities is the economic and demographic growth fueled by new arrivals, often from overseas.

Even some of the high-tech regions that many think we should emulate - Massachusetts is just one example - have a net out-migration of U.S. residents. That decline is entirely offset but the influx of international immigrants who have arrived in recent years. Pittsburgh would have a very different past and a very different future if it could emulate those regions by attracting more immigrants. A policy of limiting immigrants into the country would only force upon the nation the anemic employment growth that Pittsburgh continues to suffer.

Natural population growth has slowed to a trickle in the United States as fertility rates have declined. In Europe and elsewhere, there is forecasted to be significant decline in many countries if foreign immigration is not increased. Growth in the United States is in many ways shaped by the level of international immigration that can be attracted to the region. There is a need for workers from overseas not only in hard-to-train high-tech jobs but across a broad range of skilled occupations. Immigrants fuel a major need in the economy where labor force shortages are occurring at all skill levels and across many occupations.

Without the continuing influx of workers, the result on the economy would be added inflation, lower output and a lower quality of life for all. The concept put forward that immigrants only dilute the economic pie for the rest of us is far from the truth. That pie would shrink without immigrants, and we all would be worse off as a result. To cut back immigration to 200,000 a year, as was suggested by Mr. Collins, would be a guaranteed policy to not only end the growth that has defined the last decade but also surely throw the economy into a recession.

Pittsburgh could never have been the steel center it was without the workers who came here from across the globe to keep the factories running. The future economy is equally dependent on new arrivals. We strive to be the high-tech and biotechnology capital of the world, but that goal cannot be realized if we do not attract the talented individuals who will build that future.

Christopher Briem is a research associate at the Center for Social and Urban Research at the University of Pittsburgh.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.