by Don Barnett
Tennesseans are big-hearted. In surveys, our state is routinely ranked as one of the nation’s friendliest. That helps explain the net inflow of Americans from other states to Tennessee. The state is also a popular destination for people from other countries. If the Democrats win the White House and the Senate, immigration to the United States and Tennessee will be vastly expanded.
In fact, if they succeed in taking the presidency and Senate, there will be no way to stop their expansionist immigration agenda. Whether conservative or liberal, whether you hate Trump or love him, Tennesseans who do not want practically open borders should vote for Trump and make sure that Republican Bill Hagerty fills Lamar Alexander’s Senate seat in Washington.
In 2018, Tennessee was home to 350,000 foreign-born individuals, about 5 percent of the state population. Of that total, 130,000 were here illegally.
Of course, most of these are fine, hardworking people and some amount of limited legal immigration is welcome. But in the aggregate, current immigration patterns place added strains on social services, create extra competition for jobs, and generally depress “quality of life” metrics.
Take our public school system. Tennessee spends on average $9,150 per pupil per year. We have about 1 million students enrolled in our K-12 public schools. Nationally, 20 percent of K-12 students are children of immigrants. We’re not that high yet, but our state is one of the nation’s fastest-growing immigrant destinations. If we get to 20 percent, that will be more than $1.8 billion a year in 2020 dollars.
It’s not just the financial cost. Many of our schools are overcrowded, and immigrant children contribute to that. Many of these students also lack proficiency in English and require extra resources. State and local governments in Tennessee picked up an additional 175 million in annual costs in 2019 for teaching English language learners and translation services according to a state official.
Health care is another area where high levels of immigration impose extra costs on Tennesseans. Federal law requires hospital emergency departments to treat anyone who arrives, regardless of their ability to pay. At Memphis’s Regional One Health, almost half of the 35,000-plus emergency room visitors from July 2016 to June 2018 were uninsured.
For immigrants without insurance, especially those here illegally, emergency rooms are often their source for primary care. Charity care and bad debts totaled more than $1 billion in uncompensated care for Tennessee’s 172 hospitals in 2015. Tennessee patients and taxpayers ultimately shoulder that cost.
According to the latest Census data, immigrants (both legal and illegal) account for 10.8 percent of births in Tennessee. And 65 percent of those births are to mothers who are either uninsured or on Medicaid, a cost covered by the taxpayer.
And again, it’s not just the direct costs. How long is the wait when you get to a typical emergency room? At Regional Medical Center, it’s an average 3 hours and 55 minutes. Treatment for uninsured immigrants is surely contributing to that wait time.
Too-high levels of immigration particularly harm less-fortunate Tennesseans. Here in the Volunteer State, 27 percent of immigrants arrived without a high-school education. They directly compete with native-born Tennesseans for positions at retailers, restaurants, and other employers that don’t require extensive education or advanced skills.
Tennesseans’ votes in this election could influence the future of U.S. immigration policy — and thus determine whether we can readily find decent jobs, affordable housing, good schools, and quality health care. It’s up to Volunteer State voters to choose wisely.
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Don Barnett is a retired IT professional and freelance writer living in Williamson County.