Political proposals to stop the surge of illegal immigrants from entering the United States by building a wall on the Mexican border is pointless, according to an Ohio Wesleyan University economics professor.
Robert Gitter, who has focused his research for the past decade on Mexican immigration, shared those views at Delaware’s Great Decisions lecture series Friday.
“About half of the undocumented immigrant population in the United States came here legally through travel or work visas,” he told the audience.
Those people simply stayed after their visas expired, he explained.
“A wall is not going to work,” Gitter said.
As an economics professor, Gitter has a unique perspective on this political hot-button issue in this election season. As for the U.S. economy, immigration has minimal effect, he said.
“Immigration seems to have little net [economic] effect on the United States … and probably a positive effect overall,” he said. “If we look at the world today, money moves with the press of a key on a computer … even billions of dollars.”
The only Americans who may be affected are unskilled blue-collar workers because those are the jobs immigrants seem to fill, he said. White-collar workers may even benefit from their presence as nannies, gardeners, or in the food service industry.
Gitter also discussed the history of immigration in the U.S. and the motivating factors that make people want to immigrate – economic opportunity, safety concerns or the pursuit of freedom.
He made a point to say that he prefers using the term “undocumented” immigrants in comparison to “illegal.”
The Spanish phrase “La Travesía de Mexíco a los EEUU y el Centro de Ohio,” which means “The Journey from Mexico to the United States and Central Ohio,” was on the screen as Gitter took the podium in the basement of the William Street United Methodist Church.
Gitter also talked about how Mexican immigration specifically affects central Ohio. The Mexican-born population in Ohio has grown three times in size since the 1990s, according to a study based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Mexicans still make up a small part of the population overall, with up to 3.2 percent for Columbus and 1.9 percent for the city of Delaware.
Shelby Elzinga, an OWU student from Colorado in the audience, said she was not surprised. She added that she thinks her home state did a better job of assimilating Mexicans into the culture than Ohio.
Close to two-thirds of immigrants in the Columbus area reported either experiencing discrimination or knowing someone who had, according to a study titled “Latino Immigrants, Discrimination and Reception in Columbus, Ohio,” Gitter said.
Stephanie Smith, a Delaware resident also in the audience, said, “I think we [Ohioans] are not as prejudiced as some of the Border States are.”
Depending on the country, 50-60 percent of immigrants from Latin America don’t have the equivalent of a high school degree. The average Mexican household income is about 55 percent less than the average household income in Ohio, but nonetheless “they are relatively doing better here,” Gitter said.
The pace of migration to the U.S. will slow but he thinks Mexicans already in America will continue to move to Ohio, Gitter said.
On average, the U.S. has about one million immigrants entering the country every year.
“Maybe they can help us more than we think,” Smith said. “We all were immigrants at one time.”
Marianne Gabel will lead a discussion next week with a panel from the Citizens Climate Lobby in Delaware for the next Great Decisions event. The topic, “The Road to a Stable Climate: What’s Next after Paris?”, will be on March 11 at noon at the William Street United Methodist Church, 28 W. William St.
Olivia Lease is the online editor for The Transcript, Ohio Wesleyan University’s student newspaper.