With the consensus apparently having been reached that Republicans and Democrats both want immigration reform, what should the solution look like? Over the next two weeks, Mooers Immigration will provide our thoughts on what immigration reform needs to include in order to be successful.
We start with what we believe should be overarching objective number one: create a solution that makes sense for the short, medium, and long term prospects of the US economy. In other words, Congress’ focus should be on maximizing economic benefit for our country’s prosperity. For this we see four elements.
First, the solution should assure the flow of individuals with funds to invest and skills to meet shortage areas in industry. We need entrepreneurs who are willing to invest their monetary resources and sweat equity to grab a piece of the American Dream. We need smart people in laboratories and research institutions to develop the technology that will keep American on the cutting edge of research and development, and we must finally recognize that we have a desperate shortage of Americans willing to provide low-skill services to our growing elderly population, to perform unskilled “dirty jobs” on construction sites, in agriculture, restaurants, hotels, and hundreds of thousands of establishments across America. Throughout American history, these are the jobs that have been performed by newly arrived immigrants. We must recognize their importance and celebrate the value of even the lowest skilled positions.
Next, we need to take a critical look at family categories. Uniting families has been a core American value, but exactly what constitutes that family has significant economic benefits and consequences. All sides are agreed on the need to unite nuclear families, i.e. two parents and their children, especially minor children. However, under current law, as soon as an individual becomes a US Citizen he or she can immediately turn around and sponsor parents, brothers, and sisters. Given the fact that the parents and siblings arrive in the US at or near retirement age, can America afford the burden that they present? They have not worked in the US, and most will never work in the US. They have never paid into Social Security and Medicare or paid federal or state income taxes, and yet when the day comes for the inevitable medical needs and nursing home care, it is unlikely that the US government will turn its back on these individuals. When making a decision about a skilled or unskilled worker’s Green Card, Congress should consider whether or not there should be an expectation on the part of the US government that a Green Card is likely to result in the immigration of potentially dozens of members of an individual’s extended family.
Third, we need to continue to provide hope to a limited number of people in every corner of the world that the American Dream remains a possibility. The Green Card lottery is one of the most effective diplomatic tools our country has to provide such hope. In doing so, it helps reduce the undocumented flow of individuals from many countries of the world because the individuals know that if they break the rules, they will no longer be eligible for the lottery. Together with the lottery, America needs to remain engaged with assistance programs and other forms of “soft power” to help individuals see hope in their own neighborhoods and their own countries. Effective foreign assistance is one of our most effective tools to reduce immigration pressures on our borders.
Finally, while it may not have a direct economic benefit, Congress needs to ensure that America carries its fair share of the burden of refugee resettlement and other global humanitarian programs under the auspices of the United Nations. By complying with our international responsibilities, our country strengthens its leadership role. We need to work closely with every country in the world if we ever truly wish to develop and implement an immigration regime that makes the most sense for our country.
Our next post will focus on objective two: minimizing economic harm to the US and American workers.