We’re still a long way from sensible immigration plan
ONE of the keys to Donald Trump’s victory a year ago was the fear he tapped regarding illegal immigrants. Yet politicians are no closer today in fashioning a sensible immigration policy than they were eight years ago. This is a massive failure.
Such policy inertia fuels fear and frustration. It inspires events such as last week’s south Oklahoma City high school walkout in support of a liberal DREAM law. And it leads others to proposed legislation such as U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton’s RAISE Act.
DREAM is an acronym for Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors. RAISE is an acronym for Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy. DREAM focuses on keeping immigrants here. RAISE focuses on inviting only those immigrants who have something to offer.
According to the American Immigration Council, a nonprofit in the open borders camp, nearly 6 percent of Oklahomans are foreign-born. Nearly one-fourth of Oklahoma residents engaged in agriculture, fisheries and foresting are immigrants. About 16 percent of the state’s construction workers weren’t born in this country.
Other data gleaned from the council’s Nov. 7 report on immigration include the fact that immigrants represent 8.3 percent of the state’s labor force. In 2014, they paid $714.7 million in federal taxes and $346.1 million in state and local taxes. They spent $3.2 billion in the state, and immigrant entrepreneurs accounted for $423.6 million in business revenues.
In 2015, the state’s population included 235,350 foreign-born residents, including 18,055 children. The rub on immigrants is that they are nearly all from Mexico and few of them speak English. The council report, though, shows that slightly less than half of foreign-born Oklahoma residents came from Mexico. Nearly 14 percent came from the hamlets and cities of three countries in Asia.
One-third of Oklahoma immigrants are naturalized citizens. Nearly seven in 10 speak English “well” or “very well.” More than a fifth of them have a college degree, but more than a third have never finished high school.
The polyglot of immigration is part of what contributes to the policymaking inertia. Obviously, many immigrants work hard and contribute to the Oklahoma economy.
On the other hand, Cotton, R-Ark., says the United States is annually absorbing an immigrant wave that’s larger than the population of Montana — a million a year. But only one in 15 comes here for reasons related to employment. The others come because they’re related to someone already here.
Cotton says 94 percent of U.S. immigrants in the past 50 years came here for reasons that had nothing to do with employment. His RAISE proposal would score potential immigrants based on education, age, English-language skills and other criteria. Highscoring applicants would have first shot at becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.
Somewhere between the DREAM approach and the RAISE approach lies a potential way forward for immigration policy. But this will take an admission by advocates of the former approach that no one should get a pass when crossing our borders and a recognition by advocates of the latter approach that immigrants are not exclusively part of the dangerous, illiterate and non-English speaking horde that they’re sometimes made out to be.