John Jay, the first chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, suggested building a wall to keep out Catholic immigrants. Founding father Benjamin Franklin fretted about German immigrants.
“Few of their children in the country learn English … The signs in our streets have inscriptions in both languages … Unless the stream of their importation could be turned they will soon so outnumber us that all the advantages we have will not be able to preserve our language, and even our government will become precarious,” Franklin said.
And a 1954 editorial in the Philadelphia Sun proclaimed that immigrants would “prove ruinous” to America’s labor force by “reducing the wages of labor that will drive them from the farms and workshops altogether.”
The debate is nothing new — only the nationality has changed.
Donald Trump wants to build a wall along the borders of both Mexico and Canada; Ben Carson wants to patrol the border using drones; Scott Walker agrees with Trump that the children of unauthorized immigrants shouldn’t be considered American citizens, even if they are born here. Republicans have brought immigration to the forefront of national attention once again. And that might be a good thing.
But it’s the wrong conversation for the wrong reasons.
Immigrants aren’t a threat to the United States and its economic well-being, any more than they were back in the earliest days of the Republic.
Instead, they’re needed to create more economic growth in the country as the nation’s Baby Boomers retire and leave the workforce. The U.S. government should be considering ways to have more legal immigrants enter the country under visas and work permits, says UCCS professor Don Klingner.
It makes economic sense. The White House says not offering a path to citizenship for the 11 million people in the country without documentation will lower economic output by $80 billion and increase the national debt by $40 billion every year for the next 10 years, while Social Security will lose $50 billion.
“Without the flow of immigration, we won’t have the people to fill the jobs, to take care of the retirees, the elderly.”
– Don Klingner
The Center for American Progress estimates that allowing immigrants to remain in the United States as citizens would increase the gross domestic product by $832 billion during a 10-year period. Those aren’t small numbers, and that’s why groups like the National Retail Federation and the National Restaurant Association support reform measures that allow a path to citizenship. Retailers support a verification program limited to new hires that also provides employers with protection against lawsuits. Those small businesses are asking for a “workable” program for obtaining visas for guest workers, reform of the H1B visa system for workers and a mechanism to provide “earned legalization for undocumented workers already in the country.”
Klingner echoes the NRF, saying there is a need for younger workers as America’s population ages and the birth rate declines.
“Without the flow of immigration, we won’t have the people to fill the jobs, to take care of the retirees, the elderly,” he said. “Just take a look at Canada — they make it easy to bring people in for jobs. That’s the kind of reform we need. We need to consider our long-term objectives and our long-term demographics and see what makes the most sense.”
Of course, to Donald Trump, rounding up the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants and deporting them and their children at a cost of around $118 billion is what seems to make sense.
Almost everyone agrees that won’t happen (outside the Republicans vying for the presidential nomination), and Klingner has a novel suggestion.
“Think about the three nations that make up North America,” he said. “It’s a powerhouse, economically — the United States, Canada and Mexico. They already depend on each other.
“We’re Mexico’s No. 1 trade partner; they’re the second-largest source of oil for the United States. Wouldn’t it make more sense to take on China’s economy with all three countries working together?”
Instead of approaching immigration reform in a rational and reasonable matter, the debate now centers on who can make the most outrageous statement first — and then who can come up with something worse.
Trump wants to circumvent the Constitution, which says anyone born here is a citizen; Walker agrees. Carson piles on with the idea of attack drones along the border.
Still, there’s hope that there will be time to reconsider our position on Mexico, and to find solutions that benefit both nations equally. n CSBJ