By Patricia Lee Sharpe
Around 800,000 undocumented young people, aka the “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. as children, are waiting for Congress to say “thank you” for a great gift to America. Having been nurtured and educated here, these young men and women are already as solidly American as their native-born friends. On purely humanitarian grounds—and as a matter of simple, long-delayed justice, since the U.S. truly is their only home, their status should be regularized as soon as possible. But there’s also another consideration: America needs these ready and willing young citizens.
What do I mean by “gift”? The Dreamers are not only thoroughly acculturated and fluent in English, they are educated and many have college degrees. Once they receive the title of citizen, these young people, unlike other immigrants, will present no transitional liabilities. From day one, they will be sharing the burdens as well as the benefits of citizenship.
So, Congress, do the right thing. Embrace the Dreamers. And even if you don’t subscribe to the humanitarian argument, do it anyway. The additional reasons for welcoming them to citizenship are even stronger.
America’s Secret Strength
The truth is that the fertility rate of native-born Americans hovers too close to replacement level and more often falls below it. This is not good. Why has Japan lost its economic oomph? Because its fertility rate is too low and its population as a whole is aging. Result: there aren’t enough workers to keep the economy perking, let along growing, and the downward trend is exacerbated by the fact that the Japanese social structure sucks women out of the job market after they marry. Another example: one reason that Russia isn’t much of a threat, aside from those pesky nukes, is that Russia’s population (and hence its economy) has been contracting for decades. Russians themselves are aware of this. They aren’t quite as happy as they were during the growth surge that followed the collapse of the ossified Soviet system, which is why Vladimir Putin has to strut around so belligerently.
By contrast, despite the protracted unfashionability of large families, the U.S. has continued to grow and prosper. And why? Because the US has been and—Donald Trump and his nativist claque notwithstanding—still is attractive to immigrants. Who, in his or her right mind, would choose to move to Russia? As for Japan, it’s notorious for giving a cold shoulder anyone who isn’t Japanese. But the U.S. labor market has been constantly refreshed and increased by a regular flow of immigrants fleeing poverty, disaster, oppression and lack of opportunity—and by their America-born offspring. You thought the Great Recession was bad? How about a permanent slowdown à la Japan? Who still remembers when the US. was borrowing manufacturing tricks from a frighteningly successful post-war Japanese economy?
Ambitious Beats Rich
The humanitarian imperative insists that refugees from oppression are sublimely deserving of U.S. entry. The U.S. should certainly do its bit to succor the victims of human-caused and natural disaster. Ruthless realpolitic suggests that we should recruit future citizens mainly from the super wealthy and the scientifically skilled. No doubt they have their uses. But there’s no need to be wholly soft-hearted or totally hard-headed. Those from the middle levels, those who aren’t destitute but have the energy, initiative and courage to better themselves, are the true building blocks of a good society and a strong economy.
In fact, most non-Native, native-born Americans descend from just such sturdy stock: the bright ones kept down by entrenched elites. And studies of those who left the Eastern states to settle the American West show the same thing: the dregs didn’t pull up stakes; the ambitious B team did.
The Cold Hard Truth
So the U.S. needs immigrants to keep our economy growing—and the truth is that the US. is already totally dependent on Mexican labor, legal and undocumented. To say nothing of the Canadians who poach some of the best jobs in America, although the racists who denigrate Mexican job-seekers aren’t complaining about them.
Do I have to enumerate all the jobs that my fellow native-born citizens, no longer able to enslave or indenture the unfortunates of this earth, have long since abandoned to the willing hands of uncomplaining (mostly because audible grumbling would bring la MIGRA down on them), hard-working immigrants? Non-exhaustively, consider these: Gardeners. Maids. Poultry processors. Ditch-diggers. Roofers. Elder care workers. Strawberry pickers. Janitors. The U.S. economy absolutely depends on Mexican workers, many of whom, over time, have built on their sweat investment and blue collar skills to become entrepreneurs, employing others, immigrant and non. For instance: Restauranteurs. Landscape and construction contractors. Owners of grocery stores and beauty salons. Etc. And oh! I almost forgot all the professionals with a Latino background. To say nothing of the politicians. Before Ted Cruz, that arch anti-immigrant Texan, was a Canadian, his family was—from South of the border.
So we need those Dreamers, all 800,000 of them, plus all those wonderful people of so many other nationalities who have actually chosen America and not just been stuck with it from birth. People who feel so grateful that they work hard, not only for themselves, but for their new country. Some of the Dreamers, for example, serve bravely in the U.S. military.
Numbers and National Security
Which brings me to the final, bed rock contribution that immigrants can make. (Some of us don’t want to think in these terms, but we need to.) If, as the old saying goes, there’s safety in numbers, the U.S. has a serious problem. As of a couple of months ago, the U.S. population was 325,365,189. Both China and India have more than a billion people, which means the U.S. is currently punching way above its weight in every way and has been for decades, thanks to a flying head start on modernization. We’ve held our lead, technologically, economically, thanks to immigrants from India and elsewhere, people who couldn’t find scope for realizing their full abilities in their home countries.
Even since Jawaharlal Nehru got them going soon after Independence, India’s IITs have been producing superb scientists and technicians, and the Indian entrepreneurial class has always been as good as it gets. Once upon a time an IIT degree (or one from an Indian Institute of Management) was a ticket to success outside of India. But the era of one way brain drain is just about over. Some smart Indians are staying at home. Others are returning. Meanwhile, China’s Xi is going through a control freak phase that is smothering creative talent in China, which allows the U.S. a little more time to reform our immigration policies so that creative, inventive, innovative sprits from around the world, as well as their hard-working cousins, continue to see the U.S. as the place to live and work—and be well rewarded for their contributions.
The Legislative Imperative
All other things being equal, big countries dominate. The U.S. can’t produce larger armies than China or India, but brains, a powerful economy and an energetic, well-educated (something else to work on) population can go a long way to keep the U.S. batting well above our weight, which, given U.S. values at their best, is a good thing for the world.
So Congress, here what you need to do: (1) Do the right thing. Get the Dreamers on a quickstep to citizenship. A few months should do it. (2) Be brave and do the intelligent thing. Pass a color blind, secular, comprehensive immigration reform bill that will strengthen the U.S. as it faces formidable new challenges. Hint: the goal isn’t to limit immigration but to ensure a steady influx of energetic new Americans, however you have to pitch it to make it palatable.
P.S. Recent stats show that incomes are up, which shows that the economy is expanding nicely and the workforce is straining to fill the new jobs., which should allay the fear of "job snatching" immigrants Hint to the President: refugees can help, too.