Two US Congresswomen – one Republican, one Democrat – recently introduced a bill that would grant most illegal immigrants a reprieve from deportation and eventually offer them a path to citizenship, while also implementing token border security measures. They dubbed it the “Dignity Act.”
But there’s nothing dignified about offering the same old failed proposals that have broken our immigration system almost beyond repair. Americans have been waiting for “comprehensive immigration reform” since 1986, when President Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to most illegal immigrants in the country – roughly 3 million at the time – in exchange for lawmakers’ promises to secure the border and penalise employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers. Congress quickly reneged on those promises. Four decades and eight amnesties later, the border has never been less secure, with employers continuing to hire illegal workers with near impunity. In such circumstances, it’s no surprise that the illegal immigrant population has ballooned to roughly 12 million. Better immigration policy is possible and very much needed. Yet both political parties have failed to deliver reforms that promote economic fairness for American workers, especially the most vulnerable in our society, while safeguarding our natural resources for future generations. Voters across all demographic and ideological lines recognise the system is not working – satisfaction with the current levels of immigration in America has slumped to the lowest levels in a decade – and broadly support such an approach.
Legal immigration into the United States, which has its share of loopholes and issues to address, has accelerated over the last four decades. Since 1990, when Congress raised immigration levels, the United States has admitted around one million legal immigrants annually. That annual number is double any level recommended by congressionally appointed panels, and doesn’t even include millions of additional guest workers, visa overstayers, or illegal border crossers. Federal law enforcement officers have already encountered 1.6 million illegal immigrants at the southern border this fiscal year, on pace to surpass last year’s record 2.4 million. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the foreign-born population could reach 51.7 million by the end of President Biden’s first term – constituting 15.5 per cent of the total US population, making it the largest share in history. The sheer scale of this influx has harmed American workers, especially those with lower levels of education. There are now around 50 million people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 64 who are not working. Some don’t want to work. Others don’t have to work. But many find it impossible to obtain work at fair wages in reasonable conditions due to economic migrants.
It is distressing to constantly hear that tens of millions of Americans are too lazy to work or too incompetent to hire. Even more troubling is the argument that the solution to this problem is to bring in tens of millions more foreign workers. The reality is that many US employers simply refuse to recruit, train, and retain available and willing Americans. Too many businesses have become reliant on cheaper, unprotected, more compliant foreign workers. What is happening to those Americans who are brushed aside and become merely a data point in monthly reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics? The ongoing tragedies include drug addiction, suicides, and violent crime plaguing our communities. Policymakers must consider the effects of having so many Americans out of work, and how immigration, both legal and illegal, has contributed to those outcomes. America has long welcomed newcomers and most Americans support continued, legal, permanent immigration – but within sustainable parameters.
Stopping the recent surges of illegal immigration and reducing numerical levels of legal immigration held widespread support from leadership of both parties. Presidents Clinton and Obama spoke in favour of it. Senator Bernie Sanders called the idea that the United States should admit as many foreign workers as employers demanded a “Koch brothers proposal” as recently as 2015. President Trump endorsed Senator Tom Cotton’s RAISE Act, which would have roughly halved legal immigration by ending chain migration. Unfortunately, the current administration has shown no interest in limiting immigration. Politicians on both sides of the aisle running on platforms of curbing migration have made inroads with hispanic voters, and black voters share many of those same concerns. As my colleague Andre Barnes has noted, predominantly black communities on Chicago’s South Side have warned that local politicians’ plans to house migrants in their neighborhoods will negatively impact residents’ access to jobs and community resources. Democrats and Republicans must recommit themselves to stopping illegal immigration and reducing annual immigration to reasonable levels. The party that supports sensible immigration reform will win the battle for American workers.