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Anti-Immigrant Bias Has Already Cost America Plenty

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Anti-Immigrant Bias Has Already Cost America Plenty

Immigrants, Donald Trump

“A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” You might remember that slogan from decades ago.

Well, the intellectual and creative gifts of many in America are being squandered, especially those of immigrants. A new report shows that, increasingly, new arrivals to our country are more and more educated — college educated — but are not employed in jobs that use their full potential.

Nearly half, 48 percent, of the adult foreigners who resettled in the U.S. between 2011 and 2015 had earned at least a bachelor’s degree, and many have advanced degrees. This steady influx of brain power is a shift that has been occurring largely unnoticed for decades. Before 1990, only 27 percent of adult immigrants came with a college education. That rose to about 33 percent before the 2008 recession hit, and it has continued to rise.

Yet a study coordinated by the Migration Policy Institute found that one in four college-educated immigrants are either performing low-skilled jobs or are unemployed. And it’s costing the nation. Every year, the government loses $10.2 billion in tax revenue because of the underutilization, according to the findings.

In addition, these immigrant families lose out on nearly $40 billion in annual earnings. When you consider how those unseen wages could have been fed back into the economy, it can’t be disregarded as chump change. And that’s considered a conservative estimate.

It does no good for anyone to have a foreign-trained engineer shoveling french fries, pushing a mop or clipping hedges.

The top reason why they aren’t fully utilizing their talents is the most obvious one: a lack of fluency in the English language. Many can function well enough at lower service economy jobs, but they often lack the verbal capacity to work in the business or professional fields they trained for.

Sometimes they’re held back because their licensing isn’t applicable in the U.S. This explains the foreign-trained medical doctor who drives a taxi.

Fixes might include creating better bridge programs between foreign and U.S.-based licensing, helping with business or medical language fluency, and reworking how we structure visas so that these workers fill gaps in the labor force without displacing the U.S.-born. And cultural differences that act as barriers could be addressed, such as by telling a foreign-trained engineer that, in America, personal bragging on a resume is expected.

But not all of the problems are this straightforward. Mindsets need to shift, too. Immigrants also face racial and ethnic bias, including notions of what kind of immigrant is “deserving.”

Researchers found that, overall, college-educated Hispanic immigrants suffered a great deal of what we might call “brain waste” — working beneath their educational attainment. South Asian and East Asian immigrants fared better. Some of that might be attributable to the widespread perception that the latter are “model” minorities.

When the researchers controlled for legal immigration status, language fluency and other factors, black immigrants still fared poorest. That says everything about the rest of us, not them.

A little perspective: The foreign-born are 7.6 million of the 45.6 million college graduates in the labor force.

You might wonder why we should concern ourselves with immigrants when there are so many college-educated U.S.-born citizens who can’t get a job in their field. The study looked at their struggles, as well. They number nearly 7 million. And the authors argued that helping both groups is called for, as about the same proportions of each (22 percent and 24 percent) are out of work and not even looking for a job.

While low-skilled, undocumented immigrants are often the targets of abuse generated in our increasingly nativist political climate, educated immigrants who are legally present catch a lot of flak, too. Many Americans can’t or won’t make the distinction.

The vast majority of college-educated immigrants, 57 percent, are U.S. citizens. Only about 11 percent (840,000) are undocumented, and the rest are either legal permanent residents or hold at least a temporary visa.

Their prosperity and our nation’s prosperity are linked. That’s why we need to reset the national mentality regarding immigration. It’s why Silicon Valley executives and employees have been so offended by the anti-immigrant emotions drawn out during the presidential election. They know the value of skilled foreign workers — their value to business enterprises and the nation’s economy.

It’s a sad indication of the wrong direction this country has taken that The New York Times has started a column called “This Week in Hate” to catalog incidents that offend the values we Americans claim to hold dear.

Hate divides us and weakens our democracy. It also costs us, and that — if nothing else — ought to bring us to our senses.

Mary Sanchez: 816-234-4752, msanchez@kcstar.com, @msanchezcolumn

IMAGE: Anuska Sampedro via Flickr

Mary Sanchez

Mary Sanchez has spent years covering immigration, schools, and other volatile beats for The Kansas City Star. She is now an editorial columnist for the Star, where she continues to offer insightful commentary on immigration, culture, and politics.

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  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth December 18, 2016

    The wasting of talents of Americans is now a firmly entrenched practice and matter of policy in much of America, especially among conservative status quo-minded individuals who are too busy focusing on short-term gain and quick solutions.
    Conservatives deemed long ago that it is wiser to eschew sound thinking, to avoid the embrace of sciences and mathematics, accepting mediocrity in literature and the arts, and anyone who espouses a reorientation towards acquiring knowledge of such are “liberals”, “libtards”, “Progressives”, and “socialists/communists”. The conservatives are content with having better educated fellow humans from other countries eat the lunch of their children who they’ve groomed to be as disinterested in learning as the adults have become. Chewing tobacco, sitting in front of a TV non-stop, and just whining about loss of jobs has become a daily routine and a source of satisfaction—enter Donald Trump to focus this despair and encourage a moping attitude.

    Such is the affliction of the hearts and minds of conservatives who lament the influx of foreigners, many of whom place far more attention on education and attentiveness to improving one’s knowledge than those who want to remain isolated from the rest of the world. This lament is portrayed by bigotry, resorting to insularity, and naked aggression against any who hail from any other country on the planet.

    Only one thing can help release bigoted anti-immigrant sentiments by people who are themselves the descendants of immigrants—and that clearly is acknowledging that all of humanity are of the same household, and that there is but one country, the earth, composed of landmasses populated by successive waves of humans from the continent of Africa.

    “The earth is but one country, and humankind its citizens”, as succinctly put by Baha’u’llah, is a reality that must be incorporated in the human heart and mind across the globe, and which politics, a sound economy, and a job will fail in motivating individuals to adopt and implement wholeheartedly.

    1. mike December 19, 2016

      Who ran the govt for the last 8 years? The Obama administration.
      The Budget for Department of Education has doubled since 2009 but it’s conservatives ideology that’s the problem.
      So it’s the republicans fault that can’t speak english! How silly and stupid.
      What a Dumb article.

      1. Dominick Vila December 19, 2016

        Who controls the purse? Congress! The President can propose anything he wants, but it is up to Congress to either reject his proposals, as has happened repeatedly throughout his tenure, or appropriate the funds needed to support his initiatives.

        1. mike December 19, 2016

          But yet when you look at the budgets Obama has submitted each year they are in the 2-5% increase range and approved.

          1. FireBaron December 19, 2016

            The problem, mike, is the Department of Education is a big picture. Local School boards insist on controlling how they do things. Many of them are controlled by individuals afraid of change and what science has discovered. This is why some communities, and even the entire State of Kansas secondary education system had their accreditation removed for failure to meet even the minimum standards required by most Colleges and Universities for admission. Even the State University system of Kansas does not recognize Kansas High School graduates without their completing a special proficiency exam (except for the Football players, of course).

          2. mike December 19, 2016

            You’re right it isn’t all DoED.
            “Individuals afraid of change”, really?
            You sure are condemning millions of people in Kansas. I think there is much more that you are not talking about.
            I think A-aron’s(LOL) earlier statement on conservative ideology being the problem is pure rubbish.

      2. Aaron_of_Portsmouth December 20, 2016

        Mike, you’re still out to lunch with that superficial assessment. Is partisanship the only active thought process in your mind, with all other trends of thoughts and neural pathways severed or deleted altogether?
        Your myopic perspective, basing every response through the filter of partisanship renders your comments officious, dull, and showing no way forward—a conservative trait.
        A little less focus on politics and more emphasis on morality, spiritual virtues, and empathy will work wonders for your inner being and will be reflected in your responses.
        For now, the desolation and bleakness of a constipated partisanship veils your higher nature, while your lower half is in ascendancy and asserting itself.

        1. mike December 20, 2016

          The only one out to lunch is you. They can’t speak fluent English have questionable certification/licensing but it is our fault. Obama ignored them for 8 years but now that he is leaving we need to make things right. Ask him about his moral responsibility.
          We have a H-1B and OPTprogram. Did you not notice they were not mentioned once. Did it cross your mind they might not meet the standards required for Post Graduate study in US.
          The writer claims 57% are Amercian Citizens then let them get loans and go back to school.
          Just more lunacy from the left. More touchy feely, mumbo jumbo hogwash.

    2. Jim Samaras December 19, 2016

      Societies in other nations pay no attention to the dumbing down philosophies of things like common core that hold back achievers so that underachievers don’t get their feelings hurt. The strong survive and thrive in many other countries and the rest are allowed to fall by the wayside

  2. Otto T. Goat December 18, 2016

    The headline says anti-immigrant bias is costing America but the article says the biggest problem is immigrants inability to speak English well.

    1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth December 18, 2016

      Your problem is a profundity of idiocy, no rational mind, and lack of linguistic skills—a symptom of impotence and lack of confidence.
      Just mainly cerebellum, and little cerebrum.

    2. charleo1 December 19, 2016

      Most immigrants speak at least one more language that you do. It’s never a good habit to assume when meeting a stranger, you’re the smarter of the two. Especially in your case, Mr. Goat.

      1. Otto T. Goat December 19, 2016

        I didn’t assume anything, I observed a contradiction between the headline and the article.

  3. Otto T. Goat December 18, 2016

    Most immigrants have lower IQ’s than natives do.


    1. Ericachancock December 19, 2016

      Google is paying 97$ per hour! Work for few hours and have longer with friends & family! !mj305d:
      On tuesday I got a great new Land Rover Range Rover from having earned $8752 this last four weeks.. Its the most-financialy rewarding I’ve had.. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it
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    2. FireBaron December 19, 2016

      Can’t possibly be lower than yours.

    3. PrecipitousDrop December 19, 2016

      So what IS your home country, Otto?

  4. Dominick Vila December 19, 2016

    As bad as our determination to oppose immigration, including the bias that is evident towards those who enter the USA legally, the worst part of this issue is the damage we are doing to our credibility as a nation of immigrants, that prides itself of being a bastion of freedom, democracy, equality, and opportunities for anyone willing to work hard and contribute to the betterment of our society.
    I take exception, however, with some of the conclusions cited by the author. Some of the difficulties encountered by foreign professionals are not caused by discrimination. One involves the need to speak English in a country where bilingual abilities are minimal. Another is the need to re-validate scholastic credentials, especially in the medical field. It takes time for foreign doctors and other medical personnel to get the licenses they need to practice in the USA.
    Since I have not analyzed any studies on this issue, I can only offer an opinion based on my personal experiences. My PCP, the previous PCPs I had, and one of the specialists I go to are all from India. Several of the nurses that attended me when I had my cancer surgeries were from the Philippines. Let’s not get carried away and suggest that foreign professionals are being marginalized and denied opportunities to get ahead. There are requirements to practice certain professions in the USA, and there is nothing wrong with that.
    Most of our problems with immigration involves those who enter the USA without the proper visas. The solution does not involve higher walls, immigration task forces, or mass deportation. While more effective border surveillance is needed, the long term solution involves a Reagan style amnesty for those who are already in the country, and who have not committed any crimes since their arrival; and a major revision of our immigration laws to facilitate the entry of semi-skilled immigrants in fields where their labor is needed.

    1. charleo1 December 19, 2016

      Way too much common sense there, Dom. And obviously far too much desire to address and solve the problem. Better to let it sit and fester, begin to stink, and become hateful. So the issue may then be used as a political football to throw around and divide voters. To demagogue, and scapegoat larger problems, and to easily explain away other deeper more complex socio-economic challenges that can’t be put on a baseball cap, or sold as a cartoonish bumper sticker.

    2. Jim Samaras December 19, 2016

      I wonder how many would stay under an amnesty program that disallowed any government funds from subsidizing their existence here?

      1. Dominick Vila December 19, 2016

        The real question is how much longer are undocumented immigrants that use fake Social Security cards going to continue to pay FICA, knowing they are not eligible to collect Social Security or qualify for MEDICARE benefits when they retire.

        1. Jim Samaras December 19, 2016

          It’s truly an ill wind that blows no one Dom…..lol

      2. PrecipitousDrop December 19, 2016

        “…how many would stay under an amnesty program that disallowed any…subsidizing?”
        All of them, Jim.
        As a general rule, only citizens of the United States are eligible for state and federal housing, food, and health care subsidies. Immigrants are required to provide proof of solvency: http://www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/us-immigration/financial-requirements-get-visa-lottery-green-card.html#
        The very small percentage of immigrants who are eligible for subsidies are clearly defined by the State Department, and their individual subsidy plans are closely monitored.

        1. Jim Samaras December 19, 2016

          Are you that out of touch with the reality of what’s going on this country? Throw “As a general rule” out the window today. Are you REALLY under the impression that the left is concerned for these people? The leaked emails should answer that question. They want votes to keep those people on the dole and be beholden to them in perpetuity. If they voted republican they would care less.

          Self deportation will be a reality. Very humane if you ask me

          1. PrecipitousDrop December 19, 2016

            Non-citizens cannot vote in the United States, Jim. No state allows it.
            So, a large non-naturalized immigrant population doesn’t change any party’s vote total.
            The United States is a nation built on immigration. If you doubt it, visit the Statue of Liberty, also known as the Mother of Exiles: https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/colossus.htm
            Your irrational fear of brown and black people reflects the profound cowardice of Trump’s GOP.

          2. charleo1 December 20, 2016

            What is going on in this Country as it applies to immigration? It certainly has nothing to do with what Trump, and the Alt-Right Nationalists are describing. And furthermore, the hypocrisy is, they know this full well. As they trot out one lie, and derision after another, mischaracterization of the immigrants themselves. The particular targets in this latest round of nativism being the Mexican, South, and Central Americans. But the same accusation have been made as a political tact against the Irish, Chinese, and others in the past.
            Always charging the offending “other,” with taking jobs, soaking up pubic resources, and too, as being the inferior person, inferior race. Always invading, and committing heinous crime. Refusing to assimilate, intent as they are, on mucking up our perfect cultural identity. That, “culture,” that somehow makes America, a virtual land of immigrants great! But not this time, and not these people.
            And they do this why? In order to anger as many people into voting for them as possible. Hoping all the while, these same voters don’t do any research on their own, or read any books on the history of our immigration. Where that would reveal the reality, that it is not “these people,”at all. But the fault lies, if there be one, in our own broken, antiquated, and in many cases, intentionally flawed immigration system that is at the root of the problem. And beside it all being just this huge gigantic lie, It’s just about the ugliest kind of politics one can imagine. Mostly due to it’s seeking to divide us, and what it says about the character, and foundational morals of those people who unquestioningly buy into it.

          3. Jim Samaras December 20, 2016

            You have a way of putting things very logically and succinctly simplifying it, slanting your argument to the left. I say, well done! But there’s bs on both sides then charleo. What I was pointing out was the hypocrisy shown by the dems who tout their agenda to be equality and tolerance (were seeing the whining after the fair election) when in reality it’s votes and not the people they care about. What you say above it true to an extent although I question the amount of public resources that were used for the Irish, Chinese and “others”. Middle eastern migrants may come from a land who has preached the hatred of the west since birth and may be all they know. It certainly isn’t inexplicable to understand why we may want to reappraise any decision to bring a mass refugee population to our shores. I disagree that the majority of Americans look at immigration as bringing “inferior” races to our land but expect them to be self sufficient and begin the process of assimilation within a short period of time. Take the monetary windfall away and perhaps the ones who come will want to “enjoy the fruits of freedom, add value and enrich the Nation as all immigrants from the beginning always have”.

            Perhaps the “intentionally flawed” immigration system is what needs reassessing and will be a priority under the new administration.

  5. Jim Samaras December 19, 2016

    Is it just me or if you were planning a major move to another country, hold a degree and are doing so legally wouldn’t learning the language be #1 on your list of things to do?

    1. PrecipitousDrop December 19, 2016

      How many languages do you speak fluently, Jim?

      1. Jim Samaras December 19, 2016

        I’m sorry to say I only speak one. But if I were to choose to immigrate to Mexico for example, it would be a prerequisite to speak Spanish


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