We’re still a long way from sen­si­ble im­mi­gra­tion plan

The Oklahoman - - OPINION -

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.

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