To the editor:

As an intern at the Berkshire Immigrant Center and the chair of a student group at Williams College educating members of our community about immigrants and refugees, I would like to briefly correct several misconceptions behind the Feb. 2 Berkshire Eagle letter to the editor "Illegal immigrants strain our economy" from Bruce Lester.

Sir, you are not paying for undocumented immigrants' food, because undocumented immigrants are not eligible for food stamps or cash benefits — none of them are allowed EBT cards. Nor are they eligible for any other welfare benefits.

And though they cannot receive public benefits, undocumented immigrants do pay into the system. Each year they pay $12 billion in taxes, through sales and excise taxes and sometimes income taxes under false Social Security numbers — which means that the $12 billion includes $6-7 billion in social security taxes they will never receive back.

Here's another important statistic: were all undocumented immigrants to be deported, it has been widely estimated that the U.S. economy would lose $5 trillion over a decade. To put that number in perspective, $5 trillion is just under one-quarter of our national debt. Undocumented immigrants are not straining our economy; they are absolutely vital to our economy.

As for allowing undocumented immigrants to gain their licenses, it is as simple as this: do we want people without licenses driving on our roads? The measure our legislators are proposing is meant to make all of us safer.

Both of us, I imagine, have the same vision for our community: a vibrant county with affordable housing, well-funded schools, safe streets, and a healthy economy. With a declining and aging population, we are increasingly dependent on and incredibly fortunate to have immigrants choosing to settle here: immigrants are the only growing segment of our population and of our workforce. Immigrant entrepreneurs own and operate 40% of all store fronts on North and South Streets in Pittsfield, and own over 20 percent of the hotels and motels county-wide.

Our county has many issues, but our immigrant community is precisely not the problem; it is an integral part of the solution.

(Statistics from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, Social Security Administration, American Immigration Council, and the Berkshire Immigrant Center.)

Emma Lezberg,