What Are Immigrants Doing For Idaho's Economy?

Feb 21, 2017

Asmaa Albukaie, Boise's first refugee from Syria.
Credit Tom Michael / Boise State Public Radio

Many agree the immigration system is broken, and there’s a national debate on how best to fix it. This debate is sometimes based on emotions, not on data. But a new study released Tuesday is taking a closer look at the numbers.

Asmaa Albukaie was Boise’s first refugee from Syria, arriving in late 2014.

"For me as a refugee, I came searching for safety and peace," Albukaie says.

She found that. She also found work.

Of course, refugees are only a small part of the immigrant story. A survey released Tuesday looks at the state-by-state impact of all immigrants on the U.S. economy.

Jeremy Robbins is the Executive Director of New American Economy, a group that studied what the Idaho community of more than 100,000 immigrants means to the state.

"The immigrants in Idaho pay $460 million in taxes every year," Robbins says. "They have more than $1.5 billion in spending power and they’ve started more than 4,000 businesses in Idaho."

And those businesses, Robbins says, employ more than 14,000 people. Since 2010, his group has advocated for comprehensive immigration reform. He’s heard concerns about border security, and agrees. In fact, that’s the first principle of the group’s platform. But moving beyond that, he says, the numbers show opportunity.

"Almost every sector of the economy is impacted by immigration," Robbins says. "So absolutely if you look at Idaho, there’s a huge amount in agriculture – things like animal production, dairy products, crop production – but it’s also in the high tech sector in Boise. Immigrants are growing this high-tech community."

Across all industries, Robbins says immigrants are playing a vital role in helping power our economy.

He dismisses concerns about immigrants diverting benefits from native-born Americans, with the example that immigrants have paid more than $2 billion more into Medicare than they’ve drawn down. That's an amount equivalent to keep it afloat for three extra years.

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