This is what an immigration policy for the 21st century should actually look like – The Washington Post

Robert Samuelson on the weaknesses of current US immigration policies and advocating for a shift towards more highly skilled workers:

….First, the existing system has increased U.S. poverty, driven by inflows of poorly skilled legal and illegal workers. It’s as if there were an agency called the Unskilled Workers Bureau dedicated to increasing U.S. poverty.

Consider. From 1980 to 2016, the number of people with incomes below the government poverty line rose by 11.3 million (from 29.3 million to 40.6 million). Fully two-thirds of those, or 7.6 million, were Hispanic. Much of this increase clearly reflected the impact of immigrants and their children.

Second, the status quo promotes lawlessness and repression that, rightly, offend — for different reasons — those on all sides of the immigration debate. One side sees undocumented immigrants as lawbreakers who should admit their crime and suffer the consequences by being deported. Given the estimated 11 million people here illegally, this seems doubtful. The other side views the unending enforcement actions — raids on homes and businesses — as the terrifying tactics of a police state that are unworthy of the United States. There is no real way of breaking this stalemate except by starting anew.

Third, skilled immigrants are good for the economy. True, they can’t single-handedly boost annual economic growth to 3 or 4 percent from the 2 percent-plus of recent years. But every little bit helps. One area where immigrants shine is entrepreneurship. In a study of new firms, the husband-wife team of economists William Kerr of Harvard University and Sari Pekkala Kerr of Wellesley College found that about one-quarter of company founders were immigrants.

All this is increasingly relevant, because after declining for a few years, immigration is again growing. Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group favoring tighter immigration policies, estimates that new immigrants in 2016 totaled nearly 1.8 million, which — if confirmed by the final count — would tie with 1999 as the highest in history.

As a group, there are now more than 43 million immigrants in the United States, legal and illegal, representing about 13 percent of the population, reports the Migration Policy Institute, which generally supports looser policies. The U.S.-born children of immigrants constitute a group almost the same size. This means that about a quarter of the total U.S. population are either immigrants or their offspring.

What matters is how easily these new Americans integrate with the old Americans. There’s some good news. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently released two studies reporting significant gains among immigrants. Compared with U.S.-born workers, they are experiencing rising wages. More are going to college. Their English proficiency is advancing at historic rates.

But there’s a paradox. To make past immigration succeed, you need to limit present immigration. Otherwise, the pressures of coping with new groups becomes more contentious. How is poverty to be reduced if the ranks of the poor are constantly replenished with new immigrant poor? Admitting more low-paid workers makes it harder for the last wave of low-paid immigrants — their main competitors — to advance.

Similarly, more poor immigrant children will strain state and local school budgets. And there’s a whole array of cultural and historic differences between natives and immigrants — and among immigrants themselves. The ability to absorb new immigrants is one of the glories of the American project, but it is not infinite. It must give way to practical realities.

The outline of a common-sense immigration policy exists. What’s unclear is whether the Trump administration and its critics have the political courage to translate the general principles — many of which seem to command support — into a workable system that balances the needs of new and old Americans.

via This is what an immigration policy for the 21st century should actually look like – The Washington Post

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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