Immigration is likely to be one of the major issues of the 2020 presidential election. Therefore, I am offering my view of a framework for rational discussion/debate on a workable national immigration policy. This is not intended to be a final plan but only a strategic concept which needs to be more fully developed and promoted.
My Credo – National Immigration Policy
I strongly support a liberal immigration policy in the United States. Available evidence from multiple credible studies affirms that immigrants make our nation stronger and more competitive than it otherwise would be. They substantially increase our economic vitality, make us culturally richer, and help us compete effectively in an increasingly competitive global market. And regardless of fear-mongers’ claims to the contrary, immigrants, as a class, are at least as law abiding, hard working, and socially responsible as native-born Americans. They are not an economic drain on society. We need them and should be inviting them in.
Directly associated with espousing a liberal immigration policy, however, we must secure our borders with a combination of technology, physical barriers, and strong adequately funded and staffed INS, CBP, and judicial institutions using well organized and coordinated processes for dealing with those seeking to enter the United States. We must also address individuals already in this country illegally in a rational and humane way. The current situation requires substantial analysis and debate in defining the final immigration policy.
Today immigrants make up about 13% of our US population. That is a bit higher than 40 years ago but not as high as at the turn of the 20th century. Regardless, immigrants make a disproportionately higher contribution to US economic growth and health than native-born Americans. They tend to be more entrepreneurial; 40% of the Fortune 500 companies were started by immigrants or their children. More than half (forty-four of eighty-seven) of US start-up businesses currently valued at over $1 billion were started by immigrants. Even the less skilled and/or educated immigrants also contribute by providing quality but inexpensive household help, care giving, and agriculture labor. They often do jobs that native-born Americans don’t want or won’t take.
Probably the strongest argument for a liberal US immigration policy, however, is as a national economic survival strategy. The US population is aging. More and more people are reaching retirement age and need more health care and other public services. At the same time the national birth rate is around 1.8 births per woman of childbearing age, well below the 2.1 rate required to sustain our population. That means that without immigration there soon will not be enough workers in the labor force to support the needs of society in general and those specific to the older population. A liberal immigration policy is the only viable solution for that coming population demographic crisis.
While I am on the issue of birth rates: the US experience is not unique. Virtually all developed and most developing countries are experiencing birth rates below the 2.1 rate required for population stability: European Union – 1.6; Russia – 1.7; China – 1.6; Japan – 1.4; South America collectively – 2.0; Only South East Asia, India, and Africa are areas of the world where birth rates are currently sustaining global population. Even in India the birth rate is currently 2.3 but declining rapidly and will likely be below 2.1 within five years.
Reduced immigration and declining population probably sounds attractive to many Americans, particularly those who fear erosion of white purity, privilege, and supremacy. However, capitalist societies like ours are geared to supply growing markets. If the population as a whole declines and ages, market demand for typically capital intensive products and services (automobiles, airline tickets, theaters, restaurants, etc.) will decline while elderly support services will substantially increase. That reality has already hit Japan. For maybe the first time in its modern history, the Japanese government is considering welcoming immigration to offset the decline in the labor force and to support the older elements of the population.
The future is clear. North American and European nations (the “white people”) will soon have to compete with each other for more immigrants to maintain healthy economic and social demographics. It also means those nations must expect and plan for broader cultural and racial diversity as migration will be primarily from south Asia and Africa. That should be a national advantage for the US since we already have maybe the most diverse population in the world, and have significant experience with assimilation. Further, nations that block or unreasonably limit such immigration will over the long term be the economic losers in the global economy.
As the overall global population begins to decline (forecast to likely begin around 2050), associated demographic changes will fundamentally alter the economic and social fabric of society. That eventuality is inevitable for all economically advanced nations. But it will hit nations that reject immigrants earlier and harder than those that plan for and welcome them. A reasonably liberal national immigration policy is a rational defense strategy. And we ought to stake out our immigration territory ahead of the pack.
So what should our immigration policy be?
It seems to me that we should ask ourselves what it means to be American, and then design an immigration system that builds on and re-enforces that image of ourselves. With that in mind I offer the following:
Americans have little of the commonality that most other nations’ people share. We don’t have common ethnicity, race, culture, or religion. And the territorial area of the US is large. So we need to look for other measures of nationhood that bind us together. I suggest the thing that makes us Americans is our constitution, the institutions and norms of government and society that have arisen through 240 years of practice under that instrument, and until recent decades, our common English language.
With that in mind I suggest immigrants considered for permanent residence in the United States should include individuals who meet the following criteria:
1) Individuals already here who were brought here illegally as children with no independent say in the matter. There must be some PAST arrival date-certain by which those children qualify for a one time exception. Legislation should also give them an abbreviated path to citizenship;
2) Merit based – individuals with education and/or skills needed by American business and government, but must not include money or investment as a merit. Merit should also include law abiding foreign university students who would like to permanently remain in the US following graduation;
3) Family ties – individuals who have parents or children already with permanent resident status in the US; but that category should not include siblings or other more distant relatives except under special case by case circumstances;
4) Additional annual immigration quota – We should admit additional immigrants based on US national need and benefit, as well as our maximum capacity to assimilate. The then current annual quota must be prorated on the relative population of countries of origin;
5) Seasonal Workers – There must be a simple easily executable process for allowing permanent residents of other countries to temporarily enter the US for work during agricultural planting and harvesting seasons.
6) Asylum seekers – case by case consideration based on conditions and associated circumstances in their country of origin leading to the need for asylum.
In direct concert with the immigration criteria I offer the following strong though perhaps controversial recommendations in any comprehensive US immigration policy:
A) No immigrant should be granted permanent resident status in the United States without demonstrating the ability to read, write, and speak English. They need not be fluent but must be able to communicate effectively in everyday interaction with other US citizens, residents, and governmental entities. This requirement is for permanent residence and should not be confused with requirements for citizenship. Free federal programs should be implemented to facilitate immigrant language training with a reasonable period (maybe 2 – 3 years) for an immigrant to become functionally literate in English in order to be granted permanent resident status.
As referenced earlier, we are a very large nation with few other uniting elements that bind us as one people. Until recent decades common language has been one of the few outwardly distinguishing characteristics of being American. A common language is no small benefit to our society and to individual residents. If an immigrant only gets news and information from foreign language sources he/she will never be fully assimilated. Common language allows all Americans to at least understand each other and our diverse views and perspectives even if we do not agree on issues.
With better understanding comes faster assimilation of immigrants and more harmony in the society as a whole. Immigrants who fail to learn the language will always remain on the fringes of the broader society and therefore more likely to be marginalized and exploited. And learning the nation’s predominant language will demonstrate the immigrant’s intention to fully assimilate into and become a productive member of his/her new country.
B) A comprehensive liberal immigration policy should require permanent resident status applicants to endorse the American vision of human rights, religious freedom, and governance. They should be required to successfully complete federal programs that educate and test their understanding of American history as well as the key elements of our system of government and societal norms – Constitution, Bill of Rights; concept of co-equal branches of government; the clear separation of the government from religion, and the mutual respect residents and citizens are expected to show all people regardless of differences in faith, gender, culture, race, and ethnicity. Again, this should not be confused with any requirement for citizenship.
C) From a humanitarian perspective any new immigration legislation and policy must address the millions of illegal aliens already in the United States (separate from children bought here illegally which has already been addressed in item 1 above). I suggest that those illegal aliens who have lived in the US as productive and otherwise law abiding individuals, paid taxes, and have leaned english should be granted permanent residence (not necessarily citizenship). Some PAST date certain for granting such permanent status must be established by the legislation to prevent a rush to enter the US illegally.
The above represents my belief in what constitutes a rational, humane, and workable immigration policy for the 21st century. Generally, my focus here deals primarily with permanent resident status. Other appropriate policies might logically govern qualifications for citizenship. And I realize the English language, history, and government/societal training requirements are probably controversial. However, if we are going to remain a liberal democracy and endorse substantial immigration we must establish fair, balanced rules and a robust program for rapid assimilation.