Years of neglect and political posturing have rendered our current immigration system obsolete. With tens of thousands of people crossing the border seeking asylum, our Border Patrol agents, immigration courts and detention facilities are facing logistical difficulties due to the changing demographics of the migrants arriving to our southern border.
The results have been tragic. In just the past five months, six migrant minors have died in federal custody awaiting immigration proceedings.
Americans have every right to be alarmed at what’s taking place, but what’s needed is leadership to address the drivers of what’s happening. And to do that, action is needed — on both sides of the border.
Here at home, policymakers must recognize and act on the essential truth that immigrants make our country a better place. There is an abundance of research showing that immigrants are a net positive to our society and economy. One study found that in 2014, immigrants paid an estimated $328 billion in state, local and federal taxes. And in some of our biggest states, including California and New York, immigrants paid nearly a quarter of all taxes.
Immigrants are also starting businesses at a faster pace than the non-immigrant population. Additionally, many young immigrants are graduating from some of the very best U.S. colleges and universities and then taking their unique skill set to the workforce. In fact, among Fortune 500 companies, 44 of the top 100 companies were founded by immigrants or their children.
Other immigrants are working in backbreaking industries and taking jobs most Americans won’t. And according to the Pew Research Center, if not for immigrants, the U.S. workforce would be shrinking. More and more Americans are beginning to see this. A recent Gallup poll found that a whopping 75% of Americans, including 65% of Republicans, had a favorable opinion about immigration.
Despite the support, immigrating to this country is difficult. Onerous, outdated and unfair immigration policies represent a barrier for the free movement of ideas, resources and individuals. Fortunately, lawmakers and key members of the president’s inner circle are expressing support to act decisively on immigration.
Recently, the administration announced plans to increase the number of H-2B visas issued from 30,000 to 66,000 through the end of the fiscal year. This change will provide much-needed relief to a number of important industries that desperately need to hire additional workers, particularly during the summer months.
But more of this is needed. This is true all the time, but especially now when our economy is booming and there are more jobs available than workers looking for work. Increasing the number of visas issued could reduce the strain on our immigration system. There is no doubt that many of those coming to America today are responding to the booming economy and the growing shortage of workers in key industries. If our system is more responsive to these needs, it will reduce the incentive for people to break our laws to come here.
But as important as it is for us to have a generous immigration policy, America also benefits when there are freer countries everywhere, including those to the south of us. They include countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala that fare poorly on indexes measuring economic freedom and opportunity. Among the factors contributing to their poor scores is their weak judicial system, excessive regulatory burden on job creators, and high levels of corruption.
In a prosperous economy, citizens are less likely to go elsewhere to find work and provide for their families. And it would certainly mean that folks would be less likely to risk their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, to travel under treacherous conditions to immigrate to the United States.
To be clear, expanding economic opportunity in Central America is not incompatible with having a generous U.S. immigration policy. We should welcome anyone who wants to work and contribute positively to our country. And we can also support economic policies that have been proven to work by lifting millions out of poverty, helping drive innovation and creating prosperity.
Policymakers on both sides of the border should rally around a broad vision supportive of immigration, but also of innovation and opportunity for all. And instead of managing immigration crisis to crisis, what’s needed is coming up with solutions that will discourage migrants from making the heartbreaking and life-threatening trek up north.
Israel Ortega is a spokesperson for The LIBRE Initiative.
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