Report: Mississippi’s immigrant population boosts state economy

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Rogelio V. Solis, AP

Immigrants, civil rights supporters, auto union members and immigrant rights advocates participate in a immigrant rights rally at the Capitol earlier this year.

A new report on Mississippi’s immigrant population offers updated numbers on how many documented and undocumented immigrants live and work in Mississippi, and how much they contribute to the state’s labor force.

The American Immigration Council fact sheet released Tuesday covers the makeup of immigrant households, their educational background and the industry sectors they are a part of.

According to the report, as of 2015, 72,258 immigrants made up 2.4 percent of the state’s population. The top countries of origin for Mississippi immigrants were Mexico (36  percent), India (6.7  percent), Vietnam (6 percent), China (4.9 percent) and the Philippines (4.3 percent).

In 2014, 37 percent of the state’s immigrant population — about 25,000 immigrants — were undocumented. The report says undocumented immigrants are a fraction of the total state population at 0.8 percent.

Construction, manufacturing, accommodation and food services and educational services were some of the industries with a high volume of immigrant workers in 2015. The state’s 34,901 immigrant workers made up 2.6 percent of the labor force at the time.

The report also states immigrants as consumers add a billion dollars to Mississippi’s economy each year. Mississippi residents in immigrant-led households had $983  million in spending power after-tax income in 2014.

The data comes at a time of uncertainty in immigration policy. The Trump administration in September announced it would phase out the program that protects immigrants who entered the country illegally as children unless Congress passes a permanent law to protect them.

According to the report, more than 1,000 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients live in Mississippi.

The data also contrasts an often cited 2006 report, which then-auditor Phil Bryant commissioned, that estimated some 49,000 undocumented immigrants cost state taxpayers $25 million. The 2006 report estimated that between 8,000 and 90,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Mississippi.

Mississippi lawmakers cited this study during the 2017 legislative session when it came to immigration legislation, including Senate Bill 2710 enacted in March.

Senate Bill 2710 voids policies that municipalities, counties and agencies may adopt to limit or prohibit any person from communicating or cooperating with federal agencies to verify or report the immigration status of any person.

Critics of Bryant’s study have said it ignored contributions of immigrants, including sales tax paid and local property taxes they pay when they buy homes.