Friday, September 25, 2020
Sept. 25, 2020

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In Our View: Immigrant population valuable to Washington

The Columbian

Undocumented immigrants have been in a particularly harsh spotlight since Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign. His stance, which still resonates with a certain group of voters, is that most are “bad hombres” who don’t pay taxes and are a drain on services. The Dallas Morning News decided to examine that oft-stated charge. What it found, in a nutshell, was the exact opposite.

According to a story published in The Columbian on Jan. 2, the undocumented (or as the Dallas paper called it, “unauthorized”) immigrant population of Texas contributes a whopping $32.2 billion annually in taxes.

So what?, you might ask. This report caught our attention because like Washington, Texas does not have an income tax, and relies instead on sales and property taxes, as well as taxes on products and services. And Washington, like Texas, has a sizable immigrant population that plays a vital role in our state’s communities and economy.

According to an October 2017 fact sheet (the most recent available) from the American Immigration Council, in 2015 nearly 1 million immigrants — or nearly 14 percent of the population — called Washington home. Of those, 458,313 immigrants (46.8 percent) had naturalized as of 2015, and 184,054 immigrants were eligible to become naturalized U.S. citizens in 2015.

The fact sheet noted 621,793 immigrant workers comprised 17.2 percent of the labor force in 2015. More than 40 percent of workers in agriculture and related industries were immigrants. It added that undocumented immigrants comprised 5 percent of the state’s workforce in 2014.

Just as in Texas, immigrants make a significant contribution to Washington’s economy. The American Immigration Council’s fact sheet states the following:

• Immigrant-led households in the state paid $5.7 billion in federal taxes and $2.4 billion in state and local taxes in 2014.

• Undocumented immigrants in Washington paid an estimated $316.6 million in state and local taxes in 2014. (That would rise to $348.3 million if they could receive legal status.)

• The more than 16,000 DACA recipients in Washington paid an estimated $51.3 million in state and local taxes in 2016.

• Washington residents in immigrant-led households had $22.8 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2014.

• 65,036 immigrant business owners accounted for 17.2 percent of all self-employed Washington residents in 2015 and generated $1.6 billion in business income.

• In 2015, immigrants accounted for 27.7 percent of business owners in the Seattle/Tacoma/Bellevue metropolitan area and 23.2 percent in the Portland/Vancouver/Beaverton, Ore., metro area.

The topic of illegal immigration is a complex one, but it’s ultimately about people. A few of them are “bad hombres,” yes, but most are simply trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. The Columbian’s recent Bridging the Border series examined the toll on one family led by an illegal immigrant, and a forum featuring state Attorney General Rob Ferguson will further explore the issue. It will be held from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Feb. 13 in the Columbia Room at the Vancouver Community Library.

We think the above statistics make a compelling argument for Congress to finally get to work on common-sense immigration reform. It’s time to give those who’ve shown they are valuable members of our communities an opportunity to become legal residents and possibly U.S. citizens.