Trump’s Wall, Remittances, and Immigration in Washington

Donald Trump plans to finance construction of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border by holding hostage money sent home by undocumented Mexican immigrants until their government agrees to pay for it.

The Republican presidential nominee’s written plan would require money transfer companies—such as Seattle-based remittances startup Remitly—to verify the lawful residency of anyone seeking to wire money outside the U.S. Trump says the threat of losing billions of dollars a year in remittances from “illegal aliens” would compel the Mexican government to pay for his proposed border wall.

That plan would backfire, says Remitly co-founder and CEO Matt Oppenheimer.

“Let’s look past the important legal typos in Trump’s written proposal about this issue, and focus on shortcomings in his logic,” Oppenheimer says in an e-mail to Xconomy. “It’s safer for the country if immigrants—legal and undocumented—use regulated money transfer services to send money between the U.S. and Mexico. If undocumented immigrants are barred from using these services, they will turn to the many unregulated channels available to them, which makes law enforcement around money transfers much more difficult.”

Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer, whose company earlier this year raised $38.5 million in venture capital, takes issue with the idea of tampering with remittances—which exceed $588 billion a year, and make up “a crucial part of our global economy.”

“The notion that they will be stopped or cut off is preposterous, impractical, and would have detrimental effects on the United States economies and those in the receiving countries,” he argues.

Oppenheimer is also a vocal advocate for immigration reform. He joined other Washington state business and technology leaders on Wednesday to release a new report on the economic impact of immigrants here, in support of a broader immigration reform campaign led by the Partnership for a New American Economy, an advocacy group backed by the likes of Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch.

The report, “The Contributions of New Americans in Washington” (49-page PDF), has several interesting statistics, particularly for Xconomy readers, on the impact of immigrants on the state’s technology industry and entrepreneurship.

Washington’s 930,000 immigrants make up about 13 percent of the state’s population—roughly double the percentage in 1990—and equal to the percentage of immigrants in the whole U.S. population.

Some 57,780 Washington immigrants are self-employed, the report notes. Past Kauffman Foundation research shows immigrants are nearly twice as likely to start a new business as are people born in America.

Not surprisingly, agriculture tops the list of Washington industries with the largest share of immigrant workers, at 55 percent. The next most immigrant-dependent industry in the state is computer system design at 34 percent.

Immigrants make up an outsized share—24 percent—of the state’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics workforce. “In 2014 students on temporary visas made up roughly one out of every five students earning a STEM Master’s degree at Washington’s universities, and 29.9 percent of students earning a PhD-level degree in STEM,” the report notes.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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