The debate on immigration is, in many ways, a false one. The fear and loathing created by Trump and his allies does not comport with reality. Rapists are not pouring across our borders, gangs are not taking over our cities and towns, Americans’ jobs are not being overwhelmingly supplanted by immigrants. To create such a narrative is not new to the United States – witness the anti-Irish hysteria of the mid 19th century, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and prejudice against Italians, Germans and Poles over the years.
For the so-called pro-life, pro-family party, it is hard to comprehend that Trump and his conservative Republican colleagues want to tear apart families, spend billions persecuting productive, honest immigrants, and banish dreamers, parents and their relatives. Not only is this policy inhumane but economically counterproductive when immigrants are contributing so much to America.
Let’s look first at the Dreamers, the 800,000 people brought here as children who are now between 16 and 35-years old. The vast majority, 97 percent, are employed or in school. Over 900 currently serve in our military. They are also police officers, firefighters and our teachers. According to a letter signed by 600 of our top CEOs, deportation of the Dreamers would cost our economy $460 billion.
Not only is this a serious detriment to our communities, to the talent pool that is thriving, but it is unnecessarily cruel. Most of these Dreamers have no connection to the country they came from as young children and identify totally as Americans. This should not even be an issue for debate in our Congress or used as some sort of bargaining chip by President Trump – we should not put these people in a political vice where their lives and future get squeezed, due to no fault of their own.
So it is about morality as well as about America’s economic well-being. It is about being honorable and it is about being pragmatic. It is about bringing out the best in our country and adhering to our values.
In a larger sense, the debate over immigration is about setting a course that acknowledges that prejudice against people due to their color, ethnic and religious backgrounds or country of origin simply does not make logical sense. It should be about establishing a policy that creates a system of immigration and a path to citizenship that works for our country. Certainly, it means controlling and securing our borders as well as setting reasonable quotas, but what we don’t need is a panic that divides us, results in draconian policies and has such a high economic and human cost.
We need to get back on the track of comprehensive immigration reform that solves the problem, not exacerbates it. This takes leadership from the White House and, most important, bipartisanship in Congress. It also takes grassroots support and pressure.
Once we accept the contributions of immigrants to our economy that job should be a lot easier. The success of immigrant entrepreneurs is widespread and growing. According to CBS News immigrants have started twice as many businesses as those born in the U.S., and one-third of companies that went public (2006-2012) had at least one immigrant founder. Furthermore, over half of the 87 private companies worth over $1 billion have immigrant founders. Seventy-six percent of new patents involve immigrants. Most important, according to the George W. Bush Institute, “when immigrants enter the labor force they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise the GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives. It’s a phenomenon dubbed the ‘immigration surplus’.”
This, actually, is the history of immigration, a rising tide that lifts all boats. Now that unemployment is low, illegal immigration has slowed dramatically (both Obama and Trump pointed to historically low numbers!), serious criminals are being caught and deported, it is time to face up to a path to citizenship similar to what was proposed in the McCain-Kennedy bill in 2005.
What a tribute to two great senators it would be if our country could move forward and break through with serious legislation. It is long past time.