11/17/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Federal Immigration Policy is Destabilizing Main Street USA

During these extraordinary times, it's not surprising that the economy is on everyone's minds. How can it be otherwise? Retail sales are the lowest they've been in three years. Daily reports of layoffs. Home and auto loans increasingly hard to qualify for and the stock market rises and plummets faster than a thrill ride.

But even with all these things happening, they comprise only one of the issues that face our next president. Fortunately, in the three presidential debates, the candidates addressed the other major issues like education, foreign policy, energy and health care. Yet, they forgot one other major issue -- immigration.

Immigration is one of the most important issues facing 12 million people and directly impacting, to some degree, all Latinos who comprise 15 percent of the nation. Yet, it wasn't even broached by either candidate in any of the debates.

The closest we came to hearing about it was in the final debate when Sen. McCain said to Sen. Obama, "You're running ads that misportray completely my position on immigration."

For those of us who have been waiting to hear what each candidate would do about the ongoing immigration raids, profiling of Latino citizens, the construction of the U.S./Mexico border wall, the prolonged detention of undocumented immigrants in federal custody and the forced separation and deportation of children without their parents, McCain's mention of the word excited anyone who cares about the issue into thinking that finally the time had arrived.

It quickly vanished.

It's obvious that the issue of immigration is a political pariah for both candidates. As bad as the economy is, it's a much safer issue for political rhetoric. And, naturally, everyone would rather talk economy than immigration.

But a new report shows there's no way to talk about the economies of Main Street USA without talking about immigration.

Researchers at the University of Nebraska at Omaha compiled a cost analysis of the state's immigrant presence, without differentiation of legal or undocumented status.

In the report "Nebraska"s Immigrant Population: Economic and Fiscal Impacts," what researchers concluded will undoubtedly be disputed by those intent on convincing the American public that undocumented immigrants are a drain on our society which justifies their forced removal.

Yet, the math illustrates a different reality.

Nebraska's immigrant population jumped 33 percent from 2000 to 2006. In contrast, the native-born population only grew by less than 2 percent during the same time period.

Looking at 2006 data, the researchers found that immigrant spending in the state resulted in an estimated $1.6 billion output to the Nebraska economy. The spending generated between 11,000 and 12,000 jobs in the state.

Immigrants in Nebraska significantly contribute to the state's labor force with immigrants comprising 80.4 percent in meat processing -- the state's single largest industry and driving force for much of the state's economy.

These are the indisputable facts. What the researchers uncovered about how much immigrants actually take away from state coffers will be the real source of contention and dispute.

According to the report, the immigrant population contributed in 2006 about $154 million in the form of property, income, sales and gas tax revenue. Their costs to the government from food stamps, public assistance, health and educational expenses totaled $144.78 million.

In other words, the researchers found that the state's immigrants pay in about 7 percent more than what they use in government support. Also, if immigrants were removed from the state's labor force in key industries like meat processing or construction, the state's production would lose $13.5 billion.

Nebraska isn't alone. Another study set for release by New York City's Adelphi University Economics Professor Mariano Torras finds that in 2006 immigrants contributed $10.6 billion to the Long Island economy. Immigrants exercised $7.5 billion in buying power, helped create 82,000 new jobs, and even paid $2 billion more in taxes than they received in services. These are only two examples.

In these times, where every dollar counts in helping faltering state and city economies, it seems foolhardy for either candidate not to address the immigration issue and dangerous for our government to continue with an immigration policy that goes to the heart of destabilizing Main Street USA.