Immigration Reform Is Not Just About the Economy — It's About Justice

ByChristine Jeffords

The November 4 issue of Parade Magazine included a brief essay by ex-Governor Jeb Bush and researcher Clint Bolick in which they enumerated the reasons to rewrite our “cumbersome and contradictory” immigration laws. Our population growth, they stated, “has stalled, and our social welfare burden is escalating as fewer workers support more retirees. The only way to save safety-net programs and escape a crushing debt burden is to have a pipeline of hardworking, talented immigrants.”

While I'm not entirely in agreement with them — I believe firmly that reform of Social Security would go a long way toward preserving the safety net — I do agree that “hardworking, talented immigrants” are now, as they have historically been, a necessity for the continued prosperity of this country. 

The website observes that there are “currently 3,000,000 unfilled jobs that require STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) skills,” owing to the fact that our schools don't graduate enough people qualified to fill them.Over the next 10 years these jobs will grow by 17%, and not all of them require a conventional college degree. The average annual salary for such jobs is $77,880, with some paying $100,000 or more. Assuming that these 3,000,000 jobs could all be filled, and that the average rate of income tax for them is 24.3% (the majority of holders falling into the 25% or 28% bracket), what would result is  $56,778,894,000 in tax revenues, and just under $233,640,000,000 available to inject into the national money stream by way of purchases, savings, and investment. And if native-born Americans are not qualified to take these jobs, clearly, if we wish to keep them in this country, we must allow — and indeed encourage — suitably trained foreign-born workers to come and take them.

Yet the issue goes beyond that of mere money to simple justice. We often hear it said that illegal immigrants steal American jobs.  The fact is, however, that of the illegals currently in this country (a conservative estimate puts their number at 11,000,000, while others suggest 20-30,000,000), the majority come from Mexico or Cuba, which suggests that they're either natives of those countries or have come up through Mexico from Central and South America. In either case they're generally poor, possess marginal skills, and speak and read only Spanish. 

How can such a person hold down any job that requires him to read or speak English, as do most decently-paying ones? He can't. Instead, he takes the mud-sill jobs — stoop labor in the fields, domestic work, stable-hand — that Americans refuse to touch. (Some, it's true, manage to get into construction or dock work, but not on any major scale, as these fields tend to be unionized, and no sensible illegal wants to call the attention of officialdom to himself.) 

True, he pays no taxes — but he buys things, like shoes and cigarettes and food, and rents (or more often co-rents) an apartment, and this enables the people with whom he deals to pay their taxes and expenses and keep their businesses going, quite apart from his major role in perpetuating his employer's. 

If the job is there and has to be done, why not encourage the presence of the person best suited and most willing to do it?

Throughout most of the history of this country, until the introduction of quotas in the 1920s (probably in an effort to prevent the nation from being overwhelmed by desperate Europeans fleeing the shattered nations that participated in “the Great War”), the U.S. offered the most liberal immigration policies ever seen on the face of the planet. Except for the “gentlemen's agreement” regarding the Chinese in the 1890s, persons of all nationalities, colors, creeds, religions were freely admitted to our immigrant-processing centers, our cities, our jobs, and eventually full citizenship; only the blind and tubercular were barred. And in the process we built up not only a reputation as the world's sanctuary for “[the] huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but a thriving and balanced economy (supported on the three equal legs of manufacturing, agriculture, and retail/service) that was the envy of the world.

Clearly, immigrants were a major engine of our prosperity, and can be so again. The only immigrant we need to keep out is the terrorist — who probably will come in as a tourist anyway with an excellent fake ID!