Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion ap­proach in­hu­mane and makes no eco­nomic sense

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND - Dan Ro­dricks

As is now clear, in a way that only the most ob­tuse Amer­i­can might have hith­erto missed, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion is dra­co­nian and prej­u­diced against the poor, driven by red-meat pol­i­tics rather than ra­tio­nal pol­icy, and makes no sense with re­gard to the na­tion’s econ­omy.

Fol­low­ing last week’s big ICE roundup of un­doc­u­mented work­ers in poul­try-pro­cess­ing plants in Mis­sis­sippi, a po­lice ac­tion car­ried out in our name, the ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced new rules to make it even tougher for im­mi­grants with le­gal sta­tus to get a green card, a visa or ci­ti­zen­ship.

Ev­ery Amer­i­can should ask why. Why such an ag­gres­sive ap­proach to peo­ple who, in the main, live qui­etly and pro­duc­tively in our coun­try? Why all the shock and awe? Why do we make small chil­dren cry from fear, even for a few trau­matic hours, that they might never see their par­ents again?

I re­al­ize that peo­ple who crossed the bor­der with­out per­mis­sion are scofflaws. Please don’t worry about my un­der­stand­ing of that. I have had many dis­cus­sions about this with my fel­low Amer­i­cans, and more than one hard-liner has an­swered my ques­tions with a ques­tion: “What part of il­le­gal don’t you un­der­stand?” That’s a real con­ver­sa­tion killer, that one.

Amer­i­cans who fa­vor mass de­por­ta­tion hold that any­one who crossed the bor­der with­out per­mis­sion is a crim­i­nal who should never be granted amnesty; their pres­ence in the United State is il­le­git­i­mate, and can only be cor­rected if they go back where they came from and get in line. A lot of peo­ple are camped on that hill — some on principle, some be­cause they see a “His­panic in­va­sion” chang­ing the char­ac­ter of the coun­try. Ei­ther way, they have a pres­i­dent who has made fight­ing the “in­va­sion” his top pri­or­ity.

De­spite rev­e­la­tions that make Don­ald Trump a five-star hyp­ocrite when it comes to the em­ploy­ment of un­doc­u­mented work­ers, he has con­tin­ued to vil­ify them and pledged to de­port them. “Our coun­try is full,” he said in one of his me­an­der­ing ora­tions, sug­gest­ing that there’s no room here for more work­ers from Cen­tral Amer­ica.

Of course, that’s not true, and Trump’s ef­forts to limit im­mi­gra­tion make lit­tle sense.

The ad­min­is­tra­tions of three pre­vi­ous pres­i­dents — Bill Clinton, Ge­orge W. Bush and Barack Obama — de­ported mil­lions, and, given de­mo­graphic trends, that did not make much sense to me ei­ther. (Bal­ti­more is 300,000 res­i­dents short of its his­toric peak. Why not send some of them here?)

I do not be­lieve in open bor­ders, and I fully sup­port send­ing peo­ple with se­ri­ous crim­i­nal records pack­ing. But I do not re­gard cross­ing the bor­der a sin­gu­lar act of vil­lainy call­ing for de­por­ta­tion. Most of the peo­ple who cross are des­per­ate. Most of them set­tle here and con­trib­ute to our coun­try with their la­bor, of­ten in jobs that most Amer­i­cans don’t want. Why this cruel cru­sade against them?

This coun­try needs an­other amnesty pro­gram, like the one that oc­curred in the 1980s when Ron­ald Rea­gan was pres­i­dent, and we need a re­form of the sys­tem that is hu­mane, prin­ci­pled and prac­ti­cal, not driven by prej­u­dice.

If you look at what the U.S. Cen­sus Bureau says about us — the co­horts of Amer­i­cans in var­i­ous age groups (baby boomers, mil­len­ni­als), the num­ber of us who are work­ing, the num­ber who are re­tired or about to re­tire, and the na­tion’s fall­ing fer­til­ity rate — there won’t be enough of us to keep ev­ery­thing go­ing.

Sev­eral econ­o­mists have agreed that, to main­tain pro­duc­tiv­ity for growth at a de­cent rate — at least the 2.1% reported in the sec­ond quar­ter of this year, if not 3% or 4 % — we will need more im­mi­grants, not fewer.

And we will need them to main­tain the tax base and So­cial Se­cu­rity sys­tem. We were told years ago, when Alan Greenspan was chair­man of the Fed­eral Re­serve, that un­doc­u­mented work­ers had con­trib­uted bil­lions to the So­cial Se­cu­rity trust fund and to the Medi­care sys­tem, though the many who leave the coun­try, ei­ther of their own will or through de­por­ta­tion, will never col­lect re­tire­ment or health ben­e­fits.

I have reported on this in the past be­cause it’s an over­looked as­pect of the im­mi­gra­tion pic­ture. By 2007, the So­cial Se­cu­rity trust fund had re­ceived a net ben­e­fit of some $240 bil­lion from unau­tho­rized im­mi­grants, rev­enue that kept the sys­tem from ex­pe­ri­enc­ing persistent short­falls.

A few years later, Stephen Goss, chief ac­tu­ary of So­cial Se­cu­rity, reported that un­doc­u­mented work­ers had con­trib­uted about $12 bil­lion an­nu­ally to the trust fund. Cit­ing more re­cent re­search, Mar­ket­place put that num­ber at $13 bil­lion in 2016, with an­other $3 bil­lion go­ing to Medi­care. And if blue-col­lar im­mi­grants were not ex­ploited, if they made bet­ter wages, they would have con­trib­uted even more to both sys­tems.

De­port un­doc­u­mented work­ers in big num­bers, as Trump would like to do, and who do you think will make up the dif­fer­ence to keep So­cial Se­cu­rity sol­vent, the Wal­ton fam­ily?

If poor le­gal im­mi­grants or poor un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants are a drain on Amer­i­can tax­pay­ers — pub­lic schools and free lunch for their chil­dren, for ex­am­ple — re­search shows that, within a gen­er­a­tion, that drain pretty much goes away. And, of course, these “drains” the ad­min­is­tra­tion talks about would not be so if the out­ra­geously wealthy paid more in taxes in­stead of get­ting tax cuts.

My fa­ther was an im­mi­grant al­most a cen­tury ago. He and his mother strug­gled af­ter his fa­ther died. Many years later, of­fer­ing a rare mem­ory from his boy­hood, he de­scribed in­dig­ni­ties in­flicted by the rul­ing class of a small New Eng­land town when he and his mother had to ask for re­lief, what to­day would be de­rided as “wel­fare.” That was be­fore one of the rich­est coun­tries in the world be­came, as a mat­ter of pol­icy, one of the most de­cent and hu­mane, pro­vid­ing for those in need while wel­com­ing the tired and the poor of the world. That gen­er­a­tion, my fa­ther’s gen­er­a­tion, many of them im­mi­grants or their chil­dren, be­came known as the Great­est Gen­er­a­tion.

And look where we are now.

GETTY-AFP

A Home­land Se­cu­rity In­ves­ti­ga­tions of­fi­cer guards sus­pected un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants last Wed­nes­day in Mis­sis­sippi.

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