Listening to the Republican presidential debates, one would think that immigration is the single most important issue pressing on the U.S. economy today and that if it were “solved”—i.e. no immigrants of color (especially those from Mexico in particular, though those from Arab nations, China, and South Asia generally are also targeted by this discourse) were ever let across our borders again—that the economic woes would also be solved. In architecture, the presence of East Asian nationals in particular causes consternation amongst certain circles.
Is this premise credible? In a word, no. Now, everyone has heard that argument that “those people” take jobs most Euro-Americans wouldn’t deign to take, so what’s the problem? But while this is often true, it’s not persuasive for the most vociferous and vituperative anti-immigration critics. And it’s also not so applicable for professional job sectors such as architecture and medicine, say. What is required is a little bit of legal understanding combined with some statistics. That’s what we’re going to delve into here.
First let’s examine the discourse of “leaky borders” between the US and Mexico and its real effect on the economy. Why? Because, when the US economy isn’t doing well, who wants to try to get a job there? Sounds flip, but again, this is a statistic born out by the facts according to Princeton Sociology Professor Douglass Massey. Immigration from Mexico has decreased 96% from 1993 to 2010. Want specific numbers? Well, in 1993, 285,781 people were arrested. In 2010, agents “picked up only 12,251 illegal immigrants in the area—a 96% decline.” As for the number of immigration officers working at, for example, the El Paso station, 2 were manning the 20+ workstations. Not because they are undermanned, but because no more were needed.
Let’s examine the immigration issue from a legal angle. There is the Immigrant Investor Program, known as EB-5. Never heard of it? Well, it was created in 1990 to stimulate, guess what? The US economy. How? Through job creation and capital investment by foreign investors. One way to stimulate the economy was to encourage investment by foreign investors that totaled at least $500,000. Or the commercial enterprise must create 10 full-time jobs. It’s true that in recent years the rules have been loosened by the Obama administration, primarily in response to the way Bush’s administration gutted the economy through deregulation. But it’s important to note that distributing Visas through this program creates both jobs and helps the economy through selling bonds that have, amongst other things, financed a floating bridge in Seattle.
Where does this take us? To this point: immigration is actually good for the US economy. Didn’t see that coming, did you? Well, it is. Simply put, it comes down to diaspora networks. In fact, scholarly studies have repeatedly documented that diaspora networks are crucial not just to benefiting the country of origin of foreign nationals in the US, they also create economic opportunities for the US companies they work for. This is especially true of foreign nationals who pursue professions such as architecture. How does it work? Simply put, many of these people remain connected with their professional and social networks in their countries of origin. Through these connections, they bring in investments and clients from abroad to their current employers. And as many architecture firms know, East Asia is providing a lot of their business these days. Oftentimes, diasporic employees offer the best way for US companies to conduct business abroad. For example, foreign nationals not only understand the language, but more importantly, cultural and political knowledge. So rather than blindly subscribing to “anti-immigration” rhetoric and supporting conservative, often xenophobic policies, firms interested in growing their businesses should re-examine the advantages of hiring foreign nationals in all different levels.
Sherin Wing, Ph.D., is a social historian who writes on architecture, urbanism, racism, the economy, and epistemology (how we know what we know by researching and examining the agendas inherent in our sources of information) to name a few issues and topics. She is dedicated to exploring issues in ...