The Truth about Immigration

Dear Friends 

Just a few days ago, the book – “The Truth about Immigration: Why Successful Societies Welcome Newcomers” was released. Many articles and books focus on the idea that immigration is good for the immigrant. Some focus on why immigration is bad for the U.S. This book focuses on the benefits of immigration to us personally, to our economy, our communities and to our  country. The book was  written by Zeke Hernandez, Ph.D., a Wharton business school professor who has researched immigration and economics for close to 20 years. 

Professor Hernandez provides research showing that 70% of Americans view immigration as a “good thing”. As he points out those statistics  don’t seem to jive with the strongly negative news headlines and social media posts to which we are exposed. He says that “ the problem  lies in the difference in passion between those with positive views of immigrants and those with negative opinions.” He points out that those with favorable inclinations do not have strong feelings about immigration while people with “ negative feelings about immigration have extremely strong opinions  … and tends to be one of the very top issues that they vote on. That imbalance leads to troubling consequences.” 

While pursuing his Ph. D he learned theories of the economy rooted in both economics and sociology and realized that the standard economic models of economic growth did not take sufficient account of the movement of people. He came to understand  that immigration was “central to everything that makes for successful societies : jobs, investment, innovation, cultural vitality, national security” . 

The bottom line of his research is that immigrants are net positive contributors to everything that make a society successful  despite the dominant negative narratives in our public conversation about immigration. He points out that the public usually view immigrants as either villains or victims. Those who view immigrants as villains believe that immigrants are a threat. They think that immigrants steal our jobs. They believe (erroneously) that immigrants bring increased crime. The victim viewpoint tells us that it is a “moral obligation to help the poor huddled masses.” But he points out that the victim viewpoint tells people that immigration is good for immigrants but does not take into account what immigrants do for the rest of us once they are here. Professor Hernandez’s book is all about how immigrants actually affect us and our communities. In the first part of the book, he covers the economic side of immigration. 

Chapter 2 is titled “Immigration = investment=jobs.” It tells the story of how immigrants from Guatemala brought their love of a local fast food chain restaurant , Pollo Campero to the U.S. The most successful restaurants of Pollo Campero were in the airports of Guatemala and  San Salvador due to the smuggling of their food into the U.S. for their friends and families to enjoy. Seeing this, the executives made substantial investments to open their first U.S. store in Los Angeles in 2002. They hoped that this store would sell $ 850,000 in the  first year. Their expectations were way off. The store achieved $ 1 million in sales in 47 days. Their growth strategy was to move “from Sanchez to Sanchez to Smith” They continued to expand and by 2023, there were 90 Campero restaurants in 18 states. They created thousands of direct jobs as well as indirect jobs in food warehouses, trucking, and  janitorial services. This would not have happened at all if the immigrants that enjoy their food in their home countries did not come to the U.S. 

The research of Dr. Hernandez indicates that the larger the share of immigrants from specific countries in a state, the likelier it was that people from those countries would invest in that state. He provides numerous examples showing the link between investment, job creation and the ancestral countries of origin of a place’s residents. 

Chapter 3 is titled “ Immigrants Make Us More Innovative” . In this chapter he provides an example of the chapter title. One of the children of Professor Hernandez ,at the age of 12 , had not grown or gained weight for 2 years. Numerous doctors were consulted to no avail. Eventually, it was determined that he had celiac disease, but he explains that his son might not have been accurately diagnosed without the knowledge of a professor/doctor  from Italy. In Italy, this doctor would see 20 cases a day with celiac disease. The medical wisdom at that time was that America had an exceptionally low prevalence of celiac disease. After arriving in the U.S. , the Italian doctor did a landmark study that revealed a prevalence of 1 in 133 Americans with the disease. This study revolutionized medical research and practice in the U.S. Due to the input of the doctor from Italy, the Professors’  son was diagnosed and treated successfully. 

The book continues with much research and many examples illustrating the enormous contributions of immigrants, unskilled and highly skilled, to our economy. 

Hopefully, the research and the ideas highlighted in this book will lead us away from the villain vs victim narratives to an understanding of the economic benefits of immigration to all of us in the U.S.

Linda M Kaplan
Latest posts by Linda M Kaplan (see all)