Time to Speak — Immigrants have positive effect

By Father Patrick D. Delahanty

Fr. Patrick Delahanty
 Indiana legislators want to defend strict immigration law. That was a recent headline in The Courier-Journal’s “A Better Life” news portal (where this column first appeared). It prompted me to revisit some data about Kentucky and the economic impact of immigration in the Commonwealth.

Kentucky lawmakers have repeatedly rejected proposed legislation similar to that passed in other states to address our broken immigration system.

Rejection rarely deters determined lawmakers, so I expect to see a bill that mandates the use of the federal “E-Verify” program introduced yet again. As introduced in past sessions, the proposal probably, but not certainly, meets federal constitutional standards. But meeting constitutional standards does not guarantee it is good policy. Think slavery. Mull over Dred Scott.

Here are some facts from the Immigration Policy Center that lawmakers should consider if tempted to put in place legislation that drives immigrant workers out of Kentucky and discourages economic activity in the state.

Unauthorized workers and their family members (who may be lawfully present or even citizens) are critical actors in Kentucky’s economy as taxpayers, consumers and entrepreneurs.

The 2010 purchasing power of Latinos in Kentucky totaled $2.6 billion — an increase of 1,037.3% since 1990. Asian buying power totaled $2 billion — an increase of 596.9% since 1990, according to the Selig Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia.

Kentucky’s 5,559 Asian-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $2.1 billion and employed 16,941 people in 2007, the last year for which data is available. The state’s 3,663 Latino-owned businesses had sales and receipts of $906.9 million and employed 6,705 people in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Survey of Business Owners.

Unauthorized immigrants in Kentucky paid $85.1 million in state and local taxes in 2010, according to data from the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy, which includes:

$29.5 million in state income taxes.

$5.7 million in property taxes.

$49.9 million in sales tax.

If all unauthorized immigrants were removed from Kentucky, the state would lose $1.7 billion in economic activity, $756.8 million in gross state product, and approximately 12,059 jobs, even accounting for adequate market adjustment time, according to a report by the Perryman Group.

Arizona provides the clearest test case for state employer sanctions proposals. The Legal Arizona Workers Act, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, has been costly for Arizona. It has not stopped unauthorized work but has simply grown the size of the cash-based, underground economy. In 2008, the first year LAWA was in effect, income tax collection dropped 13% from the year before. (See: National Immigration Law Center, “Costly and Ineffective: What Arizona’s Experience with Mandatory E-Verify Teaches Us,” May 2011 www.nilc.org/costsev.html, citing Daniel Gonzalez, “Illegal Workers Manage to Skirt Ariz. Employer-Sanctions Law,” The Arizona Republic, Nov. 30, 2008, www.azcentral.com/news/articles/2008/11/30/20081130underground1127.html).

Bad policy leads to bad results, intentionally or not.

Father Delahanty is executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.

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