Media outlets rightly fixated on Rep. Steve King's (R-IA) anti-immigrant comments smearing young undocumented immigrants and the resulting backlash and action those comments drew. However, the fact that Iowa, the state King represents, would benefit economically from the comprehensive immigration reform he continuously argues against is the bigger story.
In a July 18 interview with Newsmax, King attacked DREAMers -- undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country illegally and are younger than 35 -- claiming that for every one who's a valedictorian, there are another 100 who “weigh 130 pounds and they've got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”
In subsequent interviews with CNN, Radio Iowa, and Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, King stood by his remarks even as he was repeatedly rebuked by fellow Republicans and immigrants rights' activists.
On August 1, as a parting gift to hundreds of Republican lawmakers before their five-week August recess, immigrants and activists delivered cantaloupes to House offices with a placard that reportedly read:
This cantaloupe was picked by immigrant hands in California. You gave Steve King a vote. Give us a vote for citizenship.
As these media noted, the action was inspired by King's anti-immigrant comments and the amendment he sponsored to stop an Obama administration program that grants two-year deportation reprieves to DREAMers who qualify. All House members who voted for the measure received the gift of a cantaloupe.
But while King continues to be excoriated for his remarks, media shouldn't waste an opportunity to bring fuller context to his position and how it would impact the state he represents.
Indeed, though King remains staunchly opposed to immigration reform, Iowa would likely reap numerous economic benefits from reforming the nation's immigration laws.
In a July 2013 analysis of the potential economic benefits to state governments, the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy reported that Iowa could see a boost of about $18.1 million in tax revenue from newly legalized immigrants -- with most of it coming from income taxes. If undocumented immigrants in Iowa were granted legal status and legally allowed to work in the state, their income tax contributions would more than double from an estimated $12 million to $26.6 million.
Overall, the state and local tax contributions of newly legalized immigrants in Iowa would jump to an estimated $82.2 million from $64 million. Their effective tax rate would rise from 6.5 percent to 7.6 percent, aligning their tax contributions with residents of similar incomes.
The ITEP study further shows that tax revenue from newly legalized immigrants in the 12 Midwestern states would grow from $1.25 billion to about $1.6 billion.
In estimating the wage boost of newly legalized immigrants, ITEP noted that the “consistent finding” of several studies has been “that legal immigrants had higher wages than undocumented immigrants and that gaining legal status could boost wages anywhere between 6 and 15 percent after a period of a few years.” ITEP further noted that a “Congressional Budget Office report on the economic impact of immigration reform estimated the eventual wage boost to be 12 percent.”
In its analysis, ITEP assumed “a conservative estimate of a 10 percent wage hike post-legalization.”
Further analysis by Regional Economic Models, Inc. confirms these findings. In a study examining how immigration reform would affect Iowa, REMI wrote:
For every person who enrolls, REMI estimates that more than $1,199 will be added to Gross State Product in 2014 and this will increase to more than $5,722 by 2020.
REMI also estimates that by 2020 real personal income per capita in Iowa will increase by $85.
REMI further found (emphasis original):
REMI estimates that an expansion of the H-1B visa program would add more than 360 new high-skilled workers in the state of Iowa in 2014. This expansion would result in more than 1,600 total new jobs in 2014 and more than 3,200 new jobs by 2020.
In 2014, the expansion would add more than $140 million to Gross State Product and increase personal income by $78 million. By 2045, the expansion would add $1.2 billion to Gross State Product and increase personal income by more than $1 billion.
Looking at how Iowa would benefit economically from reforming immigration laws to attract and retain high-skilled immigrants, the Partnership for a New American Economy -- which includes News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch as a co-chairman -- found that more than 42 percent of the state's students earning Master's and PhD degrees in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in 2009 were foreign-born temporary residents. More than 70 percent of students earning engineering PhDs were also foreign-born.
The partnership went on to explain how important finding a way to retain these students was for the Iowa economy:
A recent study by the Partnership for a New American Economy and the American Enterprise Institute found that for every 100 foreign born graduates of a US Master's or PhD program who stay in the United States working in a STEM field, 262 jobs are created for Americans. That translates into a large employment boost for Iowa, a state where, in 2010, roughly one in 10 STEM workers with an advanced degree was foreign born, a percentage that has grown substantially in recent years.
The Immigration Policy Center has more, including numerous examples of how “immigrants are bringing new life to small towns that might otherwise have begun withering away.”
In a July 29 article about how immigration reform would benefit U.S. agriculture, the Des Moines Register reported:
The Obama administration increased pressure on House Republicans to pass immigration reform Monday, warning that agriculture producers in Iowa and other states could experience a growing shortage of farm labor if current laws are enforced.
In Iowa, such workers represented just 10 percent of the farm workforce. Still, the USDA estimated that if immigrant labor is eliminated Iowa would see a short-term loss in agriculture production of between $10.4 million and $18.8 million.
The biggest beneficiaries of the new immigration bill in agriculture would be dairy, cattle and swine farmers in states such as Iowa, as well as in California, Florida and other areas where undocumented workers are heavily used to harvest fruits and vegetables. Row crops such as corn and soybeans are harvested mechanically, reducing the need for human labor.
The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are 75,000 undocumented immigrants living in Iowa, of which nearly three-quarters are in the labor force.