Better Immigration Policy Is Possible And Needed
By James Massa
September 21, 2023
Americans have been waiting for "comprehensive immigration reform" since 1986, when President Reagan granted amnesty to most illegal immigrants in the country -- roughly 3 million at the time -- in exchange for lawmakers' promises to secure the border.
Congress quickly reneged on those promises. Four decades and eight amnesties later, the border has never been less secure, employers continue to hire illegal workers with near impunity, and the illegal immigrant population has ballooned to roughly 12 million and is growing every day.
Better immigration policy is possible and very much needed. Yet both political parties have failed to deliver reforms that promote economic fairness for American workers -- especially the most vulnerable in our society -- while safeguarding our natural resources for future generations. Voters across demographic and ideological lines all recognize the system is not working and broadly support such an approach.
Legal immigration has accelerated over the last four decades. Since 1990, when Congress raised immigration levels, the United States has admitted around one million legal immigrants annually. That number is double any level recommended by congressionally appointed panels, and doesn't even include millions of additional guest workers, visa overstayers, or illegal border crossers. Federal Law Enforcement Officers have already encountered almost 2 million illegal immigrants at the southern border this fiscal year, on pace to surpass last year's record 2.4 million.
According to the Center for Immigration Studies, the foreign-born population could reach 51.7 million by the end of President Biden's first term -- constituting 15.5% of the total U.S. population, the largest share in history.
This influx has harmed American workers, especially those with lower levels of education. There are now around 50 million people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 64 who are not working. Some don't want to work. Others don't have to work. But many find it impossible to obtain work at fair wages in reasonable conditions due to desperate economic migrants.
It is distressing to constantly hear that tens of millions of Americans are too lazy or incompetent to hire. Even more troubling is the argument that the solution is to bring in tens of millions more foreign workers. Many U.S. employers simply refuse to recruit, train, and retain available and willing Americans. Too many businesses have become reliant on cheaper, unprotected, more compliant foreign workers.
What is happening to those Americans who are brushed aside and become merely a data point in monthly reports from the Bureau of Labor Statistics? The ongoing tragedies include drug addiction, suicides, and violent crime. Policymakers must consider the effects of having so many Americans out of work, and how immigration, both legal and illegal, has contributed to those outcomes.
America has long welcomed newcomers, and most Americans support continued, legal, permanent immigration -- but within sustainable parameters.
Stopping the recent surges of illegal immigration and reducing numerical levels of legal immigration held widespread support from leadership of both parties. Presidents Clinton and Obama spoke in favor of it. Senator Bernie Sanders called the idea that the United States should admit as many foreign workers as employers demanded a "Koch brothers proposal" as recently as 2015. President Trump endorsed Senator Tom Cotton's RAISE Act, which would have roughly halved legal immigration by ending chain migration.
Democrats and Republicans must recommit themselves to stopping illegal immigration and reducing annual immigration to reasonable levels. The party that supports sensible immigration reform will win the battle for American workers.