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  • Brent Hennrich

Immigration is Good for the U.S.

Immigration, like the Constitution, is foundational to the creation and prosperity of our country.

Our nation would not exist if hundreds, then thousands and finally millions, had not made the decision to leave behind all they knew of home and make what, for some, was a harrowing journey to our shores. Many were fleeing; disadvantage, persecution or famine. Many were seeking; opportunity, freedom and control of their own fates.

Knowing that we came from a history of migration, how is it that we have arrived at a place where immigrants are seen as a national security or economic threat? It's a very complicated issue where hyperbole and partisanship often conflate and vilify standard and undocumented entrance into the country. Seldom would you expect people to be so ill-informed or outright willfully dishonest about a subject and yet our last two years have also clearly demonstrated that possibility has become a reality. Any concept of leadership must include facts forward and honest presentation of the the discussion or argument, regardless of whether it's for or against a particular issue.

In the intervening 400 years since the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, immigration has carried on without end, in waves and trickles. Initially, with no official country in North America, it was sort of seen as all were welcome to try their hand at freedom and at industry. Yes, there was industry in the earliest days of this land. Business opportunity is what funded the first attempts to establish colonies. Furs, timber and precious minerals were the aims of the investors/sponsors of these colonies.

As expansion inland continued, these industries would grow and fund others. Many products lauded in homes in England, Spain, France and Holland would be sourced from the colonies. The trade in the reverse direction would be just as beneficial to those trying to build communities resembling what had been left behind.

With this origin story in mind, let's look at what immigration gives to us all. A perfect example is your dinner table. Food availability and abundance in our country has been delivered by millions of migrant workers. From the migrant farm workers to the meat processing plants of today. Food production is a huge industry and demands huge numbers of workers to keep the trucks moving to your local grocery store.

Between 2014-18, immigrants accounted for

  • 17 percent of all civilian workers in the United States

  • 22 percent of workers in the U.S. food supply chain. (source)

These numbers are spread over all aspects of our food supply chain; farming, harvesting, processing and production, transportation, wholesale and retail. They are everywhere and very much needed where they are. To suggest eliminating all immigration is to imply undersupplied and overpriced food resources. Claims of "immigrants taking our jobs" are and always have been absurd. Any American willing to work what are commonly long and backbreaking hours, are already doing so. Immigrants have always filled the remaining need that others haven't. Unfortunately, this also led to abuses of workers to achieve goals and profits. A sterling example of this are the U.S. railways built in the 19th century. Chinese and other immigrants seeking a new life were enticed here; some by prospects and many by dishonest brokers.

In the end, they were worked in ways that modern eyes might view as near to slavery and it wasn't too far from that descriptor. Those who remained and worked to make a new American life for themselves would still be isolated and denigrated. They and there descendants would face discrimination, red-lining and even forced deportations with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It would blockade all Chinese immigration; the first law of its kind specifically prohibiting an entire national origin or ethnicity from coming to our country. It had built upon the previous Page Act of 1875, which prohibited the immigration of Chinese women. The aim of that earlier act was to make life here for Chinese male workers focused on the jobs they performed and not on establishing a new home. These acts were two of the most racist based pieces of legislation since the Confederacy and antebellum laws that became known as "Jim Crow".

While we're not new to having voices opposing immigration, the insidious and dishonest nature in which they do so today is isolationist at best and blatant hatred at worst. Discriminating against those who have and currently contribute so much that is necessary to the function of our society is disgusting and should be the subject of contempt.

For those entering through established and legal paths, why would anyone demonize them for making a choice to both seek a better life and "playing by the rules". For me, it smacks of bigotry and little else. Some attack temporary worker visas with claims that they are interrupting access to jobs for Americans. This is nonsense. If American workers were available and interested in such jobs, employers would not go through the myriad of steps, paperwork and lawyers necessary to employing those they do. Have companies attempted to use such options to pay a pittance so it would be worth it? Possibly but overwhelmingly it is a lack of worker interest, skillset or availability.

Finally, three points addressing immigration issues. First is DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), often called the "Dreamers" bill, must be dealt with. These children, now adults, have known little else but the United States as home. They live, work and pay taxes in our communities all while fearing they will be taken from the only home they know, They are still seen as "other" and susceptible to deportation to a land they do not remember. We must uphold the promises of the past to finally end them living in limbo.

Next, we must address immigration reform. From understaffed and overworked courts with too few judges to lottery visas and resident application backlogs, the laws must be written not to discourage but enable immigration, which has proven to grow our country societally and economically. With declining birth rates and restricted immigration rates, our population growth is basically stagnant. Why is this bad? The simple answer is age demographic imbalance. An aging population without a growing population makes us less viable for future economic growth.

My last point is the idea that walls keep people out. This is not and has never been true. People who are desperate will always find a way. People who are greedy will always try to provide that way. Good policy on our part that helps make their own countries able to prosper and remain safe gives more reason to stay than leave. This world is both large and small currently. The ability to reach the United States is easier and faster than ever. What happens around the world will always affect our nation and our needs in some way. Addressing everything in a positive manner, such as promoting democracy, encouraging adherence to the rule of law and highlighting investment into other countries can pay dividends to us all in the end.

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