Saturday, September 16, 2017

DACA, immigration, and economic growth

Immigration has been a divisive issue ever since we stopped celebrating it as an engine of American growth, expansion, and creativity, as it was for generations of our immigrant forebears. Diversity, not homogeneity, forms the core of America's strength as a society. The American ideal is that we care not whether you and your lineage have been here for days or centuries, whether arrived willingly, or forcibly removed or driven by circumstance in leaving ancestral homelands.

Our own parents were refugees who lived in camps for years until they were able to immigrate. And then only with a sponsor and guarantee that they would not be a "burden on society." We hear stories of people getting off planes, being met by facilitators with paperwork, and going straight to the hospital for heart surgery at American taxpayer expense.

From our own experience, our first impulse is to deny immigration to those who don't have individual or organizational sponsors to guarantee the newly arrived will not become a social burden. And regardless of circumstances, anyone arriving illegally — a felony under U.S. law — should be deported back to their country of origin. Yet, that is a course which, in the end, benefits no one, not even those whom the deportations seek to protect.

DACA — Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

Let's put aside party-line arguments over the legality or constitutionality of former President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. DACA recipients voluntarily came forward based on assurances of safety and were subjected to a rigorous vetting process to even be eligible for DACA status. To now threaten to deport them from the only home they know to a country they were born it but have never known is not the act of a moral nation. DACA status recipients — some 800,000 — are among our best, brightest, bravest, and most industrious. It is vindictive to punish someone who as a child had no say in arriving to America. They should be accorded residency and be provided a path to earning citizenship. Otherwise, what is our message? If your parents fled drug violence in your country [which American demand drives!] and brought you as an infant to the U.S. illegally, we will find you and destroy your life, no matter how long you have been here?

DACA opponents quote 2015 Trump advocating that all undocumented aliens, that is the"dreamers" and all other illegal immigrants, must be deported.1 There is also the issue of "chain immigration," that is, if DACA recipients become citizens and can sponsor family and relatives, where does "rewarding" the initial illegal immigration of their parents stop? Permitting an endless flood of [UNWANTED!!!] extended families into the U.S.? Potentially creating a whole new crop of DACA recipients in another decade or two because we continue to "reward" illegal immigration? Those questions are part of the broader question of the role of immigration and immigrants in today's America, not just about DACA.

RAISE — Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act

RAISE would limit family members who can apply for green card status to only spouses and non-adult children, limit immigrants to only the most skilled and educated, curtail residencies for refugees, and eliminate the Diversity Visa Lottery. Over the next decade, legal immigration would plunge from over a million in 2015 to 500,000 a year.

The underlying premise of RAISE, and of stoking opposition to DACA and to "chain immigration" in general, is that immigrants, legal or not, are either unskilled labor who will not find jobs and require social safety net support aka are coming to America for taxpayer handouts, or have skills which put them in the position to take away jobs from Americans. This is simply not true, and is nothing but fear-mongering and a cynical excuse for politicians to posture they are protecting their constituency.

Economic growth does not come from lower taxes and incentives to businesses promoting investment in new factories or expanded services. Every economic survey over the past half century of tax cuts targeting "investors" shows no growth generated as a result. Even David Stockman, the head of the OMB and architect of the Reagan era tax policy, is now an ardent opponent of the very policies he created.

Economic growth comes from an increase in demand, which supply then responds to. Passing tax cuts to make the supply side cheaper does nothing to incentivize investment and drive growth if there is no demand, that is just the government throwing away revenue. Corporations already pay the least they ever have as a proportion of tax revenue compared to what the rest of us contribute in income tax.

America's challenge is that our economic growth is tied to our population growth. However, America's active workforce is ageing and shrinking, and real wages are decreasing. For all intents and purposes we are at full employment as measured by the 5 million jobs currently open. Immigration is the only way to infuse workers-consumers into our economy to drive demand and growth. Limiting immigration will not guarantee more jobs for Americans — millions of jobs already go unfilled because of a lack of qualified individuals. By slashing legal immigration, the RAISE Act will only shrink a shrinking pie faster. Where to put our efforts? Apprenticeship programs — for centuries the way individuals passed from the ranks of the unskilled into essential trades — have virtually disappeared. There is a growing shortage of electricians, plumbers, and carpenters. Some economists now even predict a future shortage of unskilled labor, the very immigrants the Trump administration and Republican proposals seek to devalue, even ban, and see as only more mouths to feed, contributing nothing in return.

We have watches our own neighborhood transform over the years as demographics and new waves of immigrants arrive. Our own experience living through these changes and looking back through our own families' histories is that immigrants are among the hardest working and most thankful for everything America offers. Unfortunately, some of our leaders would rather horde what we have — to watch it shrivel and die, instead of sharing it and in that sharing multiply and grow it for everyone.

We are a nation of immigrants. Painting immigration as a zero sum game of citizens versus immigrants guarantees we all lose.

Read more

  • Chin, Kathy Ko. Immigrants Drive Economic Progress, The Atlantic, 26 December 2013, accessed 12 September 2017. LINK
  • Lerman, Robert I. et al. VII. The Low-Skilled Labor Market, AN OVERVIEW OF ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND DEMOGRAPHIC TRENDS AFFECTING THE US LABOR MARKET, The Urban Institute, August 1999, accessed 12 September 2017. LINK
  • Pogue, Paul F. P.. Why Do We Have A Skilled Trade Shortage?, 16 January 2017, accessed 12 September 2017. LINK
  • Gillespie, Patrick. America has near record 5.6 million job openings, 9 February 2016, accessed 12 September 2017. LINK
  • Marohn, Charles. The Growth Ponzi Scheme, accessed 12 September 2017. LINK — one of a series of articles, menu at bottom

1Donald Trump: Undocumented Immigrants 'Have to Go', NBC. LINK
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