But what happens to a local economy when a lot of low-skilled refugees find their way to one spot in America all at once?
In 1980, with the Cuban economy suffering (even more than the Cuban economy normally suffered), Fidel Castro told Cubans if they wanted to leave, they could go--and he would even find boats for them.
Castro might have had a patchy beard and a well-developed appreciation for violence, but in this instance, he was a man of his word. In what became known as the "Mariel Boatlift," 125,000 Cuban refugees landed in Florida between April and October of 1980.
Many people, as you can guess, didn't welcome the new arrivals with open arms.
One of the primary concerns was that low-skilled refugees would depress wages and employment for Miami's working-class residents.
A decade after the refugees arrived, one economist decided to see what impact the Mariel Boatlift had on the Miami economy. In his study, "The Impact of the Mariel Boatlift on the Miami Labor Market," Berkeley economist David Card concluded that despite a 7% increase in the Miami labor market for unskilled workers, the mass migration had virtually no impact on local wages and unemployment.
In other words, the refugees who landed in Florida were absorbed by the economy.
More people means more workers, but it also means more demand for the products those workers consume.
Cuban refugees needed jobs, but they also needed to eat, buy t-shirts, wear shoes, shave, wash their hair, and do all the other daily tasks that require human beings to purchase something from the store. The demand created by these new consumers helps create additional jobs.
Of course, some Cuban immigrants became more than just low-skilled laborers. Immigrants and the children of immigrants have a disproportionately higher rate of starting businesses--so it goes without saying that a lot of businesses in south Florida got their start when a large group of people started boarding boats at the Mariel Harbor in Cuba.
When it comes to the economy, people talk a lot about pies, and how they get divided. However, the idea that the amount of pie is finite--and the arrival of new Americans means less pie for the rest of us--is just incorrect.
New entrants into the economy inevitably mean more pies.
But maybe you're not a pie person. Maybe you want something new and different--and immigrants expose us to the new and different.
I lived in the Miami area for a brief period. The lone bright spot among the humidity, toll roads, and occasionally terrifying wildlife in my yard was Cuban food, including something called a croquette.
Sometimes new Americans arrive and do the big things we often cite as one of the main benefits of immigration, like starting Fortune 500 companies. More often, refugees and immigrants are absorbed into existing communities.
They get absorbed because America's economic strength is that we are not finite.
We take talent from all over the world and create scenarios where 2+2=5, despite always talking about new Americans like 2+2=the utter destruction of everything we love.
If you don't believe me, read David Card's study.
And enjoy a croquette while you do it.