President Obama's decision to override years of anti-immigrant obstruction — the DREAM Act passed the U.S. House 216-198, and had a 55-41 edge in the Senate in 2010 but was killed by a filibuster — is not only good for immigrant families, it is good for America as a whole.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates this approach will reduce our deficit by $1.4 billion over the next 10 years due to increased tax revenue. A recent study by UCLA’s North American Integration and Development Center estimated that $1.4 TRILLION over 40 years in income would be generated by DREAM Act beneficiaries. And, America’s military leaders advocate for the DREAM Act because it would significantly increase the pool of recruits qualified to defend our nation.
Since I can't be sure what you may have heard from exploiters of anti-immigrant sentiment employed in politics and in the One Percent Media, let's be clear about what we are talking about. First of all, this policy shift does not grant voting rights to anyone — this is the major sticking point for Republican moderates on this issue, who want immigration reforms such as these in order to grow our economy, but are weary of expanding the immigrant (and, let's be frank, non-white) electorate. Okay, so no new voters to deal with. What this new policy does do is allow people to avoid deportation and get work permits who were brought to U.S. by their parents before the age of 16. To qualify, they must have resided in the country continuously for five years, graduated high school or have a GED, have no criminal convictions, and be younger than 30.
In a global economy, our competitiveness depends on attracting the best and the brightest to this country, and keeping the ones we have. We need, not only this measure, but Comprehensive Immigration Reform in order to meet the labor demands of a growing economy. We must have a better ratio of workers to retirees. Right now, that ratio is getting worse as the Baby Boomers retire and anti-immigrant hysteria (stoked for political gain) prevents us from taking advantage of our country's global reputation as the land of opportunity and the nation of immigrants. A growing work force, and an innovative, rapidly expanding economy are crucial if we are going to solve the fiscal crisis made worse by the Great Recession.
90% of Americans support the DREAM Act. Even in Arizona that number is 73%. If enacted, it would offer six years of residential status for young people who are in every way “American,” but were brought to the U.S. as children without proper legal status. After ten years, they could apply for a green card if they have completed two years of college or two years of honorable service in the U.S. military. And, after acquiring a green card, they could apply for citizenship.
Despite bipartisan support for the DREAM Act, the irrational ugliness we have seen in opposition is a manifestation of widening division within the Republican party between pragmatists and extremists.
In a Washington Post op-ed, former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson urged his party to support the DREAM Act, writing:
“The choice here is not between the presence of these young immigrants and their absence. No one is proposing the mass deportation of this particular group, which would be last on the target list of even the most enthusiastic immigration restrictionist. The actual choice is between allowing these young men and women to develop their talents and serve in the military, or not.”
And Illinois’ former governor, also a Republican, begins his outstanding editorial:
“A rational approach to comprehensive immigration reform should begin with the young people who were brought here as babies, toddlers and adolescents.”
We need a President and a Congress who make decisions in the nation’s best interest, even if a small fragment of the nation is vociferously against it. We need to grow up as a nation. Fear of demographic shift is NOT more important than America's economic viability and competitiveness in the world.
There is an interesting conversation about this piece on our Facebook page. Below is my response to commonly repeated anti-immigrant (and anti-historical) talking points:
Team, you need to think about things without the media-induced framework of "us vs. them." If immigration was BAD for job growth, why did America become the most powerful economy in the world??? Our competitive advantage has always been the fact that THIS has been the place to come if you have a dream and you want to work hard. Immigration CREATES jobs. Immigrants are 40% more likely to start a business than folks who were born here.
It is backward and anti-historical to assume that America's economy cannot grow, and that the jobs that are here today are the only jobs there will ever be (therefore we must preserve them for citizens only). If we take the proper steps of fixing our broken immigration system, we can meet the labor demands of a GROWING economy, which means more jobs, and also an opportunity to address the fiscal crisis created by our two unfunded wars, tax cuts for the super-wealthy, and the Great Recession.
We need to think about how to grow the economy, not how to grab at the pieces of a stalling one. Do as John McCain suggested and put your country first. Economic prosperity is more important than fear of demographic shift and racial resentment manufactured for political gain.
And, in response to the concern that immigration lowers wages:
Wages will go up when America recovers from 10 years of fear-based electioneering and fixes our broken immigration system. Here is why. There is currently a trap door beneath the minimum wage floor that allows large industries (and small ones) to hire and exploit undocumented workers rather than paying minimum wage. If the vast majority of our workers had the protection of proper enforcement with regard to labor laws, it would lift wages and lift our economy by improving upon the the deficit of consumer demand that is at the heart of our sluggish recovery from the Wall Street crash of 2008. A struggling middle class and working class means less consumer demand, and a sluggish economy. We need immigration reform to lift our middle class and working class, and rejuvenate the American economy.
I am happy that the young people in the video below have gotten the Christmas present they asked of Congress 18 months ago during the last "lame duck" session (the DREAM Act had majority support in both houses of Congress but was blocked by an anti-immigrant filibuster). And, I am happy that fewer American families are in danger of separation today than yesterday. BUT, as a person whose immigrant roots from Asian and Europe go back many generations, I need to make one thing clear: Immigration reform is for America as a whole, not just for those who are targets of hatred and victims of anti-immigrant electioneering.
Finally, while this blog is about the economic rewards of a forward-looking immigration policy, the trailer below is about the negative impacts of a back-ward looking immigration policy, namely, the law fashioned by the private prison industry in conjunction with the anti-immigrant lobby made famous by Arizona and Alabama, but implemented for the first time ever (then quickly repealed) in Prince William County, VA. Annabel Park and I made a movie about these events called 9500 Liberty, which was the inspiration for the Coffee Party.