The latest election saw an uptick in support for Trump by labor unions and minorities who agreed with his anti-immigration stance. A growing number of both groups are adamantly opposed to immigration. Many immigrants are young people with few job skills, so they flood the bottom of the labor market for unskilled or low skill jobs that require little training. Many of these jobs are in manufacturing where unions still have some clout, and they see the threat to their members from immigrants who will work for lower wages. Nonunion workers who seek unskilled jobs also see the threat. That includes many minority workers.
Right wing political organizations, including the Republican Party have begun to make inroads into these groups of traditional Democratic voters by playing on their fear of immigrants taking their jobs. Their answer is simple: Stop immigration. But wait, it’s not so simple.
The United States has a total fertility rate of 1.7 births per woman, which is under the threshold of 2.1 births per woman that would maintain population size. (ZPG). Our population would be shrinking if it were not for immigration. Not only that, the average age of our citizens would be increasing, with a larger share of the population retired, many of them collecting from social programs like Social Security, while contributions to those programs would be declining. The retirement of Baby Boomers only worsens this situation.
Since the early 2000s, the United States has faced a shrinking number of actively employed workers and a growing number of dependents, or people unable to work, who are reliant on social services. Without immigration, it is estimated that the number of workers in the U.S. would decline by about 8 million by 2035. Because the population of immigrants and their descendants is younger than the overall U.S. population, the declining labor force is expected to stabilize instead.[i]
Stopping immigration, while it would tighten the labor market, would cause many other problems, but the effects would not be immediately apparent. They would be “baked in,” and would affect current workers when they retire. That’s a tough sell to an unemployed worker, especially if he/she has dependents.
It’s a real conundrum. What can be done to fix this?
First, we must fix things that can be fixed…like illegal immigration. Not by building walls at the border. There is a much simpler solution: Nobody gets a job in the US without proper documentation. We do not need to stop people from sneaking into the country. We can eliminate their reason for coming. Businesses who hire them should be prosecuted, fined, and their executives jailed. A national database of all legal immigrants should be maintained and easily accessed by any employer. We can still have legal immigration, but we can control the numbers.
But again, it’s not that simple. Not all immigrants, legal or not, come here for work. Some are fleeing from persecution in their home countries, from repressive regimes that threaten their lives. Sending them back to their home countries is a death sentence. What about those who are escaping from countries that have been devastated by natural disasters like earthquakes or hurricanes?
The plaque on the Statue of Liberty says:
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Do we really mean that? Obviously, there must be some limits. Here’s one opinion:
The acting head of Citizenship and Immigration Services under Trump, Ken Cuccinelli, changed the first sentence: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” adding the words, “who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
He later said the poem had referred to “people coming from Europe,” implying that others, especially nonwhites were not welcome.
Is he correct that we should have no humanitarian concern for unfortunate people trying to survive? And that the US is a racist country where nonwhites are unwelcome?
To Christians, I ask: What would Jesus say to that?
Even if we use Cucinelli’s criteria, and an immigrant is willing and able to work, it doesn’t solve the first problem of overloading the labor market.
This is not a simple problem, and there are no simple solutions, but there are measures we can take that will help to alleviate the problem. Why aren’t we doing that?