By Patricia Pop
The United States needs immigration for a variety of reasons, whether it likes it or not. Labour force participation numbers are headed for an impressive drop as baby-boomers are exiting the market and leaving many unfilled jobs in their wake. The participation level of the American labour force has reached its lowest point since 1970 and shows no signs of picking up. The U.S. fertility rates in 2016 were at their lowest in history, not to mention below the regeneration level needed to make up for the aging population.
Misconceptions about Immigration
Opposition to immigration is fuelled by misinformation due in part to negative stereotypes floating around. A common one is that immigrants just loaf-around while on welfare; this seems unlikely as U.S. unemployment, currently at about 4.4%, is at its lowest since 2001, and in the past year, nearly 6 million jobs have gone unfilled, according to the Washington Post. Businesses are struggling to fill jobs, especially the ones requiring lower-skilled workers. This points to a need for more immigrant workers to fill the void, not less.
A common Republican catchphrase is that immigrants are “stealing jobs”, yet how can that be when so many jobs are vacant and have been for quite some time? By the year 2024, upwards of one million science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) jobs will go unclaimed, a trend that will only get worse with new policies limiting immigration.
A survey of 362 American tech workers by the same website indicates that 40% of them were considering relocating due to the immigration reforms brought on by the change in governance, and of those, 32% stated their destination to be Canada. Losing skilled workers would only cause the labour shortage to widen, raising the question: who will keep the American economy competitive?
Clearly, some opposition exists, but so does much support for immigration. The future of many businesses relies on immigrants, which should not come as a surprise. In 2012, the Globe and Mail asserted that children of immigrants are often among the most educated young people in the country, not to mention extremely resilient in the face of adversity. According to Hired, immigrants and their offspring are responsible for the creation of 40% of Fortune 500 companies in the U.S. Evidently, these companies are the byproduct of hard work and dedication.
The American Way
The United States presently supplements its population growth by issuing roughly one million “green cards” per year, or as the Globe and Mail astutely observed, about “a third of the Canadian intake on a per-capita basis”. The distribution of these “permanent resident” equivalents does not seem entirely beneficial to the economic development of the nation, however. Slate Magazine suggests that more than 60% of these green cards are given to family members of American citizens, and the rest is distributed between migrants with job offers in the U.S. and economic migrants. The Globe and Mail translates this to only 140,000 economic migrant visa recipients or 14% of overall immigrants. It would make sense to increase the number of economic migrants who can contribute to the country’s development, all the while reducing the number of non-economic migrants accepted.
Yet it is important to tread lightly when limiting non-economic immigration. As in all things, moderation is the best policy. A study published by Fortune magazine in 2015 attributes higher productivity to higher happiness levels, and also claims that “family matters” have a profound effect on productivity. Thus, it would be imperative to consider the effect on economic migrants when determining the number of family members welcomed.
Donald Trump might be onto something. Despite wanting to reduce the overall number of immigrants welcomed into the country, he has taken a liking to an immigration reform bill modeled on the Canadian points system, going by the name of the RAISE Act. Unfortunately, the president and the senators behind this scheme seem to have missed the essence of this system, which was designed to attract more immigrants to Canada. Tamar Jacoby, the president of ImmigrationWorks USA, revealed that most countries going through an immigration reform first try to emulate Canada’s system, but this system has been updated consistently over the years and is no longer just a simple scorecard for selecting newcomers. Therefore, not even Canada uses the Canadian points system in the way the RAISE act intends.
“RAISE”-ing the Standards
The RAISE Act, which stands for Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment, promises to eliminate half a million green cards given to family members of American dwellers, and set a cap of 140,000 economic migrants admitted to the U.S. every year. The migrants admitted into the country are selected based on the number of predetermined criteria they meet. Said criteria include age, education level, and whether they have several million dollars (at least $1.35 million) to invest in American businesses. This act takes one step in the right economic direction by lowering non-economic migrants but then takes two steps back by limiting the number of economic immigrants.
To add insult to injury, when an economic immigrant is currently admitted, the family members they bring along count toward the 140,000 visas handed out annually, reducing the chances for another equally skilled economic migrant to enter the country. If each hand-picked migrant takes up more than one spot, this means the real number of economic migrants will be closer to, or even lower than, 70,000 people. A simple amendment to better the act would be to omit those family members from the imposed ceiling and only count the hand-picked migrants. This, however, would push the number of immigrants above 140,000, and unfortunately, is not likely to be popular with Republicans supporting Trump’s decision to dramatically decrease immigration levels.
The RAISE Act faces much opposition, as a survey by the Washington Post discovered. Of the eighteen economists interviewed, 89% of them believed that reducing immigration was “a terrible idea”, while some suggested that lowering legal immigration would only cause a rise in illegal immigration to the U.S. One of the participants went as far as to claim that tightening the belt on immigration would “condemn [the U.S.] to chronically low rates of economic growth”, as well as “increase the risk of a recession”. More than 1,400 economists are in agreement about this bleak outlook, since they have voiced their opposition to this bill through letters sent to the President, unearthing a disconnect between the experts and the government.
The RAISE Act claims that its purpose is to “protect the American workforce”. But according to Susan Cohen, an immigration lawyer, and contributor to the National Law Review, if this piece of legislation were to be passed, “it would do great injury to the United States”. However, because of the tug of war between Senate and Congress required to pass a bill, and the difference of opinion among the two political parties regarding the RAISE Act, it is unlikely that it will ever become law.
Unfortunately, the RAISE Act is not the only piece of legislation threatening immigration. Out there is the DACA Act, which, if Trump has his way, will be scrapped, taking with it thousands of educated and talented immigrants.
DACA and the Dreamers
Created under the Obama administration to protect young illegal immigrants brought into the country by their parents, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is similar to a contract, renewable every two years, between the undocumented immigrant and the State. It provides the recipient with a temporary work permit, allows them to leave and re-enter the country, and protects them from deportation. However, as of the beginning of September of this year, the 700,000 to 800,000 undocumented young immigrants previously protected won’t be able to renew their contracts, and may consequently face expulsion from the country they’ve called home for years, even decades.
Trump assures those concerned by the DACA program, the Dreamers, that they have nothing to fear, but only for the next six months: the deadline he set for Congress to figure out how to keep the act.
Given Congress’ inaction concerning the fate of these young Dreamers for nearly twenty years, the fact that DACA’s fate rests in their hands is quite worrisome. In fact, Barack Obama created the DACA Act in 2012 as a placeholder response to the stagnation of Congress in passing a law to help the children of illegal immigrants become legal permanent residents of the U.S.
These Dreamers, as recipients of DACA are often referred to, are productive contributors to the American economy. The vast majority have attended universities in the U.S. and bring their skills to the American labour market afterward. The Economist states that “[Dreamers] are American in every sense bar the bureaucratic one”, and they are in the right. The Globe and Mail cited a survey that claims 97% of Dreamers are employed or in school, they are entrepreneurs, and they have American spouses and children. If these contributors to the economy were deported, all parties involved would lose, including the biggest supporters of the DACA and DREAM Acts: the fields of business and education who profit immensely from the Dreamers.
The American DREAM is (Not Yet) Dead
Dreamers are not named after the American Dream they are chasing, although they might as well be. All they’re asking for is a chance to remain in the country they grew up in. Their appellation comes from the DREAM Act, that has been circling legislators’ agendas for decades, without much result. The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors), could potentially serve as a solution to the crisis created by the termination of DACA. It is a project that, if passed into law, would create a path to legalization for the young people brought to the U.S. as children. President Trump has stated he would support this act and sign off on it if it made it past the Senate and Congress, but that remains a big IF.
CBC notes that 70% of Republicans reason that “most employed and law-abiding DACA recipients should be given a pathway to citizenship or at least legal residency,” and as such would potentially vote in favour of the DREAM Act. However, according to Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute, they would not do so without a caveat, which Nowrasteh believes may be the adoption of the RAISE Act, or even funding for the famous border wall. But with such a caveat, most Democrats would not vote in favour, dooming both bills, and the Dreamers.
Meanwhile, many DACA recipients claim that if Trump really wanted a legislature that would benefit them, he could have asked Congress to develop a solution while maintaining the DACA privileges instead of scraping them and leaving 800,000 people in a state of panic and uncertainty in the process. Obama also voiced his opposition to Trump’s move, stating that “Kicking them out won’t lower the unemployment rate, or lighten anyone’s taxes, or raise anybody’s wages… Ultimately, this is about basic decency.” Basic decency, something the current president seems to be lacking. As painful as it may be for some, until the U.S. government can pull itself together, the fate of these young Dreamers and that of the American economy remain in the realm of uncertainty.
A New Hope
As of September 25th, a new hope has emerged: The Succeed Act (Solution for Undocumented Children through Careers, Employment, Education and Defending our Nation) which provides a hoop-filled path to citizenship for the young immigrants no longer protected by DACA. However, even if this new Act is accepted on both ends of the political spectrum, many will still be deported as of early next year.
The Succeed Act would provide a second wind to DACA recipients but would require a mandatory fifteen-year journey as a permanent resident before the Dreamer could even apply for a green card, followed by another five-year wait before being allowed to apply for citizenship. The recipients would need to renew their status every five years, undergo many rigorous background checks, pay back-taxes, and as the program’s name suggests, be either employed, enrolled in school, or serving in the military. During this time, the parents of the young immigrants would be forbidden from “petitioning to stay in the United States based on their children’s legal status,” and would, in fact, be among the first deported.
If citizenship is the light at the end of the tunnel, this act is the long, dark, and bitter tunnel that will divide families and force hundreds of thousands to continue fighting for their right to stay in their homes, and prove that they are, in fact, what makes America great, yet again.