But the critics are right about one thing. If anti-immigration organizations get their way and reduce immigration -- or halt it altogether, as groups that favor zero net immigration to the U.S. propose -- the costs of caring for elderly immigrants already in the U.S. will become a burden. In fact, a moratorium on immigration would jeopardize the whole safety net for the elderly, both foreign- and native-born.
Despite the widespread and fervent belief of many Social Security and Medicare recipients that they are simply drawing on money they've paid in, nothing could be further from the truth. Young working people pay for the safety net that cares for the current elderly. The retired receive far more in benefits, on average, than they paid in during their working years -- and the only reason the system doesn't collapse is that we now have more people working than drawing benefits. But without immigration, our working population will shrink. Reversing the ratios of the working and the retired populations would spell disaster for future elderly Americans.
The Senate will take up an immigration overhaul in June. Let's hope that senators who are opposed to bipartisan legislation passed by the Judiciary Committee will think twice before making arguments about the "burden" of immigration.
Today, as in the past, immigrants renew the American population by adding millions of newcomers with strong work ethics. But they are also responsible for helping America's elderly. Without immigrants' surplus contributions to Medicare and Social Security, those same senators would face the choice of raising taxes or cutting benefits, which is a lot more unpopular, not to mention worse for the country, than letting immigrants come to the United States or remain here to work.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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