Ban or path to citizenship? How American immigration reform affects the global Islamic Economy

| 23 October, 2016 | General
 Wardah Khalid
Ban or path to citizenship? How American immigration reform affects the global Islamic Economy
Photo: Yemeni mural by Dasic Fernandez on the side of the Sheeba Restaurant in Hamtramck, Michigan. 25 percent of the population of Hamtramck is Arab, mainly Yemenis / <a href="" target="_blank">CC BY-SA 3.0</a>

A question on immigration during the third and last U.S. Presidential debate on Oct 19 revealed how fearmongering surrounding Mexicans and Syrian refugees effectively ignored the ramifications of proposed policies on immigrants from other countries. In particular, Trump’s urge to deport undocumented immigrants and conflation of Syrian refugees with ISIS could potentially halt the ability of people originating from Muslim-majority countries to come to the U.S. on work, student, and travel visas. It may also hurt the U.S. economy, which receives billions of dollars in tax revenue from unauthorized immigrants each year, and deprive their home countries of billions in remittances.

There are about 11 million unauthorized immigrants in America. Of those, roughly half are Mexican. The remaining half come from Central America, Sub Saharan Africa, and Asia. As a whole, they represent about 5 percent of the domestic labor force, according to Pew Research Center. And while they may make less than the median household income, they pay a higher rate of tax (8 percent) than the nation’s top earners (5.4 percent). This amounts to nearly $12 billion dollars per year in state and local taxes that would be lost if America was to deport these immigrants outright, as Trump has proposed.

Trump’s immigration platform has been largely to keep out two populations: 1) Mexicans, who he previously referred to as “rapists”, “criminals”, and “drug dealers”, and 2) Syrian refugees, who he says are a threat due to their Muslim faith. (Note: 10 percent of the Syrian population is Christian). He even went so far as to demand a ban on all Muslims from entering the U.S. in an alleged effort to prevent terrorism.

“She’s taking in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees … who are definitely in many cases aligned with ISIS,” Trump said about his opponent, Hillary Clinton, during the Oct 19 debate. “We are going to stop radical Islamic terrorism in this country.”

However, in the five years since the war in Syria began, the U.S. has only accepted 12,000 Syrian refugees, with 10,000 of them arriving in 2016. These refugees undergo an extensive screening process during their application to ensure they don’t pose a danger to the country. But while Trump no longer says “Muslim” outright on his proposed policies, he still intends to “temporarily suspend immigration from regions that export terrorism and where safe vetting cannot presently be ensured.”

Practically speaking, this would essentially be a ban on people arriving from Muslim-majority countries, including the aforementioned unauthorized workers and hundreds of thousands lawfully admitted workers, travelers and students. In 2015 alone, there were almost 60,000 students from Saudi Arabia studying in the U.S., around 11,000 from Iran and Turkey each, 9,000 from Kuwait, 8,000 from Indonesia, and 7,000 from Malaysia, just to name a few.

In addition to depriving the U.S. and Muslim-majority countries of an educated workforce, it could also affect entrepreneurship in America. Immigrants started 18 percent (pdf) of Fortune 500 companies, and the newest companies are more likely to have an immigrant founder. Tourism would also take a hit, as Muslim travelers contributed about $16 billion to the U.S. GDP and supported 600,000 American jobs in 2015.


Muslim countries, which rely on billions in remittances from workers in the U.S., would also be negatively impacted. Immigrants in the U.S., both authorized and not, send about $50 billion (pdf) to their home countries annually. Out of that, Egypt receives $1 billion, Indonesia $238 million, Saudi Arabia $83 million, Malaysia $60 million, and Turkey $40 million.

During the Oct 19 Presidential debate, Trump characterized Hillary Clinton’s immigration plan, which rejected his ban and mass deportations, as weak. Clinton advocated for deportation of only violent unauthorized immigrants, uniting families with immigrant members and creating a path to citizenship for the unauthorized immigrants already in the country.

“I think we are both a nation of immigrants and we are a nation of laws and that we can act accordingly,” Clinton said.

It remains to be seen which one will emerge the victor, but with so much on the line, there is no doubt that immigrants, international workers, students, and tourists from Muslim-majority countries will be among those monitoring the Election Day results to determine their fate in the years ahead.

Wardah Khalid is a writer, speaker, and analyst on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and Muslim American issues. Follow her on Twitter @wardahkhalid_.

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