Welcoming more immigrants could help boost the U.S. economy

An immigration form

Jeremy Hobson: President Obama says he is planning another push for immigration reform in the coming weeks and months. He met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about the issue earlier this week. The President wants to provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are already here illegally.

And we're going to dig into the economics of this now with our economics correspondent Chris Farrell. Good morning.

Chris Farrell: Good morning, Jeremy.

Hobson: Is immigration policy a place where we should look for economic growth?

Farrell: Look, Jeremy, I know it's controversial, but there's just a large body of economic research that says immigration, immigrants -- it's the steroids of economic growth. So if you think of companies like Intel or Google, a lot of their employees -- they're immigrants. The high-tech sector: 52 percent or about half of all companies starting up in Silicon Valley -- started up by immigrants. So one of the best things that we could do for this economy is just to tone down the rhetoric and put out the welcome mat.

Hobson: Put out the welcome mat. And I saw that Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City recently said that one day to do that is say, yeah sure, immigrants come on in, as long as you promise to move to Detroit for a while.

Farrell: Well it's brilliant. Detroit has lost 26 percent of its population over the past decade. I mean, this city is really struggling. But Jeremy, think about neighborhoods over the past 20, 30 years in New York, Minneapolis, Los Angeles. They were burned-out neighborhoods; immigrants moved in, they started small businesses, opened restaurants, markets -- and these neighborhoods were revitalized. So let's do it to a whole city.

Hobson: Well Chris, there are some people that are going to hear that and still be very skeptical and say, this is a time when we've got very high unemployment -- why would we want to bring in all of these new immigrants to crowd the labor force?

Farrell: Because over the long run -- and we'll define the long run as 10 years -- over the long run, immigrants add to productivity, they add to average incomes, and they don't take jobs away from native-born Americans. So in the short run, this is the worst downturn since the 1930s; everyone gets hurt. But in the long run, we all benefit.

Hobson: Marketplace economics correspondent Chris Farrell. Thanks Chris.

Farrell: Thanks a lot.

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