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Migration Policy Institute discusses which states shoulder the burden of immigration


The Texas Senator Ted Cruz once said on this program that politics is storytelling. Today, we check the facts behind the story of immigration. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis arranged to fly asylum-seekers from Texas to Martha's Vineyard. And he justified that in a divisive way, saying that blue states should share the problem of immigration.


RON DESANTIS: Every community in America should be sharing in the burdens. It shouldn't all fall on a handful of red states.

INSKEEP: OK. So does the burden, quote, "all fall on a handful of red states?" We called Muzaffar Chishti of the Migration Policy Institute.

The underlying presumption of this gambit of sending people North is that border states face a disproportionate burden. They're getting all the migrants. And liberals in the North are making them do it and not paying any of the price. So do the border states pay a disproportionate burden when people come to the United States?

MUZAFFAR CHISHTI: Well, this is a nuanced question. I mean, obviously, by the very location of the border states, they get the initial brunt of the border flows because people come to Arizona and Texas. But they don't stay in Arizona and Texas. So the short-term impact on the border states is obviously higher than any other state. But they then disperse into the rest of the country - California, New York, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, Illinois, Virginia and New Jersey, Maryland.

INSKEEP: You just gave me a list of the top destinations for immigrants and asylum-seekers. And they were both red and blue states.

CHISHTI: Exactly. Exactly.

INSKEEP: OK. So then the next question, looking at this premise, is whether migrants and asylum-seekers are a burden when they get wherever they're going. Our first idea is that they're concentrated in places like Texas. That turns out not to be true. They're very widely distributed. But are they a burden to whatever state they go to?

CHISHTI: I think they become a burden if they don't get a job. I mean, the magic of our immigration compared to Europe is that almost everyone who tries to get a job gets a job. The problem becomes if they don't get a job. States don't provide any public benefits to the unauthorized. The only two public benefits that - under our law and the Constitution that we provide are basic public schooling and emergency medical care. And I think there's an argument to be made that federal government should reimburse states for the asylum-seekers that they settle.

INSKEEP: You're telling me that they might be considered a burden on the school system because states will allow them school, for example. But on the whole, as a group, are they a burden?

CHISHTI: Every study that has been done for the last 30 years have shown that immigrants, including the unauthorized, are a net gain for the country, mostly because a large majority of them are not eligible for any social benefits, and mostly, also, because almost all of them pay taxes. Even they may not be working in the formal sector of the economy, they pay taxes. And many of them are not entitled to those Social Security benefits, which the rest of us are. So they, in turn, actually are supporting our Social Security system, which is sort of under tension.

INSKEEP: What are some states that have particularly high costs associated with migration?

CHISHTI: Well, I think the states which have more liberal sort of social service policies - in terms of Medicare, for instance. Each state decides its own rules. Those are the high immigrant states. Those are - many of them are blue states, like California and New York.

INSKEEP: The other concern that people raise is culture, people bringing a different culture, bringing a different religion, bringing a different language. Is there a point at which that does become a problem, that society becomes less cohesive, just to use a phrase that critics of immigration will use?

CHISHTI: Exactly. So now we're talk about integration issues and the challenge. And that's not just, obviously, with respect to the recent migrants. That has to be looked over a length of time. And in integrating them, we are doing a really good job over generations. People look at indicators of integration as acquisition of English, your schooling, your advancement and income, your employment eligibility and your homeownership. In all these indicators, we are doing much better in this generation than we have done in the last generation.

INSKEEP: I feel like we've ticked through a whole list of concerns that people may instinctively have, that seem instinctively reasonable. But when we go through the facts you have at your command, things are either more complicated than that or the problem is actually positive.

CHISHTI: That's true. I think things about immigration are always complicated because for the ultimate nation of immigrants, we have always been ambivalent about immigration. I mean, historians will tell you that George Washington himself was known to have said that the country did not need any more immigrants except for a few skilled carpenters. We had the same attitude towards Germans and Irish and the Catholics in the 19th century and towards these waves of immigrants. It's sort of the fear, the impulsive fear, of the other. And today, it is sort of reflected in terms of our attitude towards people who are coming at the border. It's clearly a challenge. Our borders need to be managed better. But we are not in a state of crisis.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that word, crisis, because it's used to describe the border. And there's a number that is used to illustrate the so-called crisis that I get a little stuck on. NPR's reported we're on our way to 2 million apprehensions at the border. And that is used to illustrate the idea that the border is out of control. But the thing that I get mystified by is, if 2 million people are apprehended at the border, that means they're actually stopped at the border and the border is not open.

CHISHTI: That's exactly true. I mean, apprehensions don't mean admissions. And most importantly, apprehensions do not mean unique apprehensions. One of the odd consequences of the Title 42, which is a provision of the health law that was put in practice by the Trump administration, is that if we now apprehend someone at the border, we don't process them at all. We just expel them. That means we don't even keep a record of them. And they keep on making attempts to re-enter. But still, you can't - we can't ignore the fact that there is a historic rise of arrivals at the border, but does not need to be sort of a state or crisis. It doesn't need to be out of control. We can bring a sense of management and control to the flows that are inevitable, given the economic and the national security concerns in many of these countries.

INSKEEP: Mr. Chishti, thanks very much.

CHISHTI: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.