By Antonio Villaraigosa
East Bay Times
California’s economy has withstood the first dot-com bubble burst, a direct hit in the housing crisis, a subsequent recession and the worst drought in the modern history of our state, all in the past two decades.
We also outperformed the nation and the world by almost every economic measure: growing at more than five times the rate of Japan’s economy in 2015, creating more jobs than any other state (more than Florida and Texas combined) and raking in close to $40 billion annually from agriculture, $255 billion from manufacturing and $732 billion from tech.
All the while, we’ve welcomed more immigrants than any other state.
California has long been synonymous with innovation, multiculturalism and our own palm-tree-lined version of the American Dream. The secret to our success is that we attract the brightest minds from all over the world.
Nearly 40 percent of our state’s full-time workers are immigrants – the highest rate in the nation. In California, foreign-born people account for 60 percent of construction laborers, half of all dentists and childcare workers and a quarter of all social workers.
Immigrants start small business at double the rate of native-born citizens and outperform their share in patent filings and leadership of venture-backed companies. One third of all companies that went public between 2006 and 2012 had at least one immigrant founder.
Today, immigrants are making their mark on the economy against the backdrop of a president who rose to notoriety by claiming Mexican immigrants are rapists and criminals.
Hollywood could not have scripted a better foil for California than President Trump.
With an administration following through with campaign promises of deporting as many undocumented immigrants as possible, building a border wall and ending Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), it’s wise to pause and consider the broad economic impact of such proposals.
Let’s start with the breakfast table: California grows everything from artichokes to apricots, and – blessed with an enviable climate and optimal soil conditions – we do so at outputs that no other state can come close to approximating. But California’s bounty isn’t simply the result of good luck; it’s the product of what is often extremely difficult physical labor, which for decades has been the work of predominantly migrant workers.
This labor permits us to feed our state and the nation and accounts for more than 15 percent of U.S. agricultural exports – $20 billion worth of food. With increased fears of raids and labor drying up, farm owners are faced with having either to move operations abroad or replace them with machines – both likely to cause food prices to skyrocket.
Moving on to our piggy banks: With more boomers aging into Social Security each year, the consistent influx of immigrants is what helps keep the Social Security Trust Fund afloat. Without the $300 billion immigrants have contributed over the years, it’s estimated that full benefits would not be able to be paid out beyond 2037.
Furthermore, undocumented immigrants pay an average of $11.64 billion in state and local taxes each year. And with more than 200,000 initial DACA recipients in California, ending DACA would eliminate an estimated $433.4 billion in GDP over the next decade.
We are a nation of immigrants, and treating undocumented people with dignity and respect is not just the right thing to do morally – it is the prudent thing to do financially.
President Trump launched his career in business, and any sensible businessperson should focus on the bottom line. The bottom line is clear: Without the work and contributions of immigrants, our state would be in deep economic trouble.
Antonio Villaraigosa, a former mayor of Los Angeles, is a candidate for governor of California in 2018. He wrote this for The Mercury News.