In the age of hashtags and sound bites, the messages feeding the public’s understanding of U.S. immigration policy are as memorable as they are simplistic. There is no escaping the chants of “Secure the Border,” accusations that “Immigrants Are Taking American Jobs,” or the constant echoing of the sentiment that “Our Immigration System Is Broken.”
These statements resonate with the public because within each of them lies at least some truth. However, without context, they merely perpetuate misunderstandings and further broaden the gap between public perception and reality. The continued oversimplification of the complexity of U.S. immigration policy has been to the detriment of the facts, and makes even incremental progress difficult - reinforcing our decades-long response to immigration reform - gridlock.
Immigration has played an essential role in building and shaping these United States. It is as American as the declaration that “all men are created equal.” Therefore, I contend that it is un-American to let stand, without challenge, simple-minded talking points promulgated by self-interested parties. Luckily, we need not be blinded by political posturing that far too often contradicts reality. In the interest of breaking down barriers and easing the gridlock, let us examine those repetitious slogans.
“Secure The Border”
It stands to reason that the United States should maintain a secure border unless that statement really means “Keep Them Out.” Few would debate a nation’s right to defend its sovereignty and protect its citizens, however, racially profiling and ascribing untruths to a group of people does nothing to achieve either. Further lost in this demand are two fundamental facts - the U.S. has and continues to maintain a secure border (both southern and northern) and net migration to the U.S. from Mexico is below zero - put more simply, more Mexicans are exiting than are entering the U.S.
“Immigrants Are Taking American Jobs”
Globally, there is an ever-growing skills gap - an economically damaging mismatch between where talent is located and where businesses have a need. Here in the U.S., there are current and projected vacancies within some key industries that cannot be filled solely by native-born workers. According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, “there is no clear evidence that immigration has brought forth a decline in native-born employment or labor force participation.” So, it seems here that a more accurate statement would be - America Needs Immigrant Workers. But even more important is what has been omitted by this superficial connection between jobs and immigration - Immigrants Create Jobs. More than 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. In addition, small businesses owned by immigrants employed an estimated 4.7 million people in 2007 and generated more than $776 billion annual revenue.
“Our Immigration System Is Broken”
This is 100% true! However, what is broken within the system far exceeds what can be conveyed by this sound bite and therefore leaves well-meaning immigration reform allies ill-equipped to defend their stance. Here is a small sampling of what is broken within the system -
- Family Separation: Some legal immigrants are separated from their families for years even decades because of an ineffective immigration system that refuses to evolve with the times.
- H-1B Visa Caps: Outdated limits on visas for skilled immigrant workers means companies may be unable to hire the foreign talent they need because available H-1B visas cannot keep pace with demand. According to Matthew Slaughter, dean of Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business and a former member of the Council of Economic Advisers, “There is a real, tangible cost to the U.S. economy of allocating fewer skilled-immigrant visas than companies need. Most immediately, the cost is foregone jobs created in these companies and in the overall U.S. economy. More broadly, the cost is foregone ideas, investments, and connections to the world that are what ultimately drive growth in jobs, incomes, and opportunity for all.”
- Detention of Asylum Seekers and Refugees: A record number of asylum seekers are being held in immigration detention facilities and are at risk of being deported, some literally to their death. Human Rights First reports that “refugees who request protection at U.S. airports and borders are often subjected to “mandatory detention” under a flawed “expedited removal” process and sent to facilities with conditions typical of those in criminal prisons.”
- DREAMs Deferred: 2.1 million young people who came to the U.S. as children, some within months of their birth, and who have grown up in the U.S. are denied the right to be fully participating citizens. There is absolutely no benefit to our nation in having a permanent “underclass” of young people, when there is a pressing need for more talented, multilingual, multicultural individuals in our workforce - with an estimated boost to the economy of $329 billion and the creation of 1.4 million new jobs by 2030.
- The 1996 Immigration Laws Stands: Congress enacted immigration laws in 1996 which vastly changed U.S. immigration policies and had a devastating effect on immigrant communities. Amongst other things, it made it exceedingly difficult for undocumented immigrants to gain legal status, leaving millions of undocumented immigrants who desperately want to “get in line,” without a line.
Ultimately, those five words - “Our Immigration System Is Broken” - translate to a betrayal of the founding principles of this great nation - the undeniable truth that we are a stronger and a more vibrant nation when we welcome hard-working, determined, and innovative immigrants who only want to share in the American dream.
Now mere moments from the close of a political season that has been more vapid than substantive, countless lives continue to hang in the balance as we decide whether or not to heed the calls of the better angels of our nature. Whether you are on the right, left or that happy middle, it is time to address immigration reform with compassion and an unwavering pursuit of the whole truth.