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Immigrants contribute millions to WV economy

July 29, 2018

HUNTINGTON — Huntington businessman Julian Saad is the son of a butcher and was born in a little village in the southern mountains of Lebanon.

“One could say where he was raised in Lebanon was the equivalent of being in the Appalachian Mountains. It was not surprising that when he ventured across the Atlantic and immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 25, he found himself in a place that was like his home,” said Abraham Saad, Julian’s son.

In Ja nua r y, surrounded by family and friends, Julian Saad accepted the Huntington Regional Chamber of Commerce’s top volunteer award during the organization’s 13th annual Awards Luncheon at the Guyan Golf & Country Club.

“It means so much to me,” Saad said after receiving the honor. “This great organization has always been in my heart since I joined it in 1988. I know how much this chamber means to the city, the county, local businesses and the communities it serves. It is such an honor to be recognized this way.”

Julian Saad is just one example of contributions West Virginia’s immigrant population is making in the state.

Near the end of 2017, the American Immigration Council released data on West Virginia’s immigrant population and their contributions to the state. The American Immigration Council is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization.

The West Virginia state fact sheet includes data on population size, educational and citizenship attainment, English

proficiency levels, and data on undocumented immigrants and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients in the state.

The fact sheet shows that while immigrants account for less than 2 percent of the state’s total population, they help support West Virginia’s economy. As consumers, immigrants spent $478.2 million in West Virginia’s economy. Immigrant entrepreneurs in West Virginia, like Julian Saad, generated $47.6 million in business revenue.

Here are some of the other findings:

EDUCATION: Nearly 48 percent of immigrants in West Virginia possess a college degree or higher. West Virginia’s estimated 29,500-plus immigrants are mostly here legally and are more likely to have a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree than the state’s native-born population, according to the American Immigration Council data.

OCCUPATIONS: Immigrants are an integral part of the West Virginia workforce in a range of occupations, according to the fact sheet. It shows that in 2015 there were 3,985 immigrant workers in the education, training and library services occupations; 2,426 immigrant workers as healthcare practitioners, technologists and technicians; 2,136 in sales and sales related jobs; 1,427 working in office and administrative support occupations; and 1,354 in management positions.

The fact sheet also reveals that immigrants in West Virginia represent 2.2 percent of the state’s labor force and paid $125 million in federal taxes and $51.9 million in state and local taxes in 2014.

UNDOCUMENTED IMMIGRANTS: About 5,000 undocumented immigrants comprised 15 percent of the total immigrant population in West Virginia. Undocumented immigrants comprised 0.2 percent of the state’s workforce in 2014, according to the fact sheet.

There were 4,941 people in West Virginia, including 1,682 born in the United States, who lived with at least one undocumented family member between 2010 and 2014. During the same period, less than 1 percent of children in the state were U.S. citizens living with at least one undocumented family member (1,296 children in total).

DACA RECIPIENTS: Approximately 100 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients live in West Virginia.

As of 2017, 152 people in West Virginia had applied for DACA, according to the fact sheet. DACA recipients in West Virginia paid an estimated $283,000 in state and local taxes in 2016, the report showed.

Immigration remains a hot-button topic, and how it’s tied to U.S. jobs and the economy creates much of the debate.

Critics of immigrants, especially undocumented immigrants, say they’ve taken jobs away from American workers. President Donald Trump emphasized that contention during his campaign with a controversial speech that some saw as anti-immigrant.

Among those disagreeing with Trump was immigration attorney Jacob Monty, a Republican who served on the National Hispanic Advisory Committee for Trump along the campaign trail.

“The notion that immigrants are taking jobs from U.S. workers is just plain wrong,” said Monty, founder of the law firm Monty & Ramirez LLP in Houston, Texas and the author of “The Sons of Wetbacks.” “Studies show they’re vital to keeping the economy running.”

A report two years ago by the National Academy of Sciences, titled “The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Immigration,” concluded that immigrants are essential to America’s economic growth. And the U.S. Department of Labor’s 2017 breakdown of employment showed about 25 million people in the American workforce (16.7 percent) were immigrants.

With unemployment in the U.S. recently listed at a 17-year low (3.9 percent), Monty says immigrant workers are needed more than ever.

“We’re facing a labor crisis,” Monty said. “There aren’t enough U.S. workers to do a whole host of jobs. It affects every industry from construction to agriculture to the service industry and manufacturing.”

Monty says historically immigration has been a way to augment the country’s domestic labor supply.

“But our immigration system is completely broken, so it’s not a viable solution for employers that are in desperate need of workers,” he said. “Over half of agriculture workers are undocumented. We need a temporary guest worker program; that’s what businesses have been wanting for over 20 years, but Congress has not acted on that. If you have a willing worker and a willing employer, our immigration system should be able to unite those two.”

Also, an analysis from the Small Business Administration found that 10.5 percent of U.S. immigrants own a business, compared with 9.3 percent of native-born Americans.

“That statistic debunks the other fallacy out there that all these immigrants are nothing but left-wing, would-be Democrats, and that’s why we’ve got to keep them out — because they’ll be voting Democrat if we give them a path to citizenship,” Monty says. “They share many of the same values we have as Americans.”

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/Fred-PaceHD and via Twitter at @FredPaceHD.

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