Give credit where it’s due. President Trump and the White House have put together an immigration plan that recognizes the short- and long-term challenges that America faces in the labor market. These challenges are a direct threat to the future of the nation, and we must begin treating them seriously.
Our current immigration system is broken and doesn’t meet the needs of the American people. These laws were in written the 1960s for an America and an American economy that, quite frankly, no longer exist. The economy has evolved from one heavily focused on manufacturing, as it was decades ago, into a service-based economy. Manufacturing output, though, is at or near-record levels, although employment has declined due to automation.
Previous presidents, such as George W. Bush and Barack Obama, failed to put together an immigration reform plan that could attract wide bipartisan support. Part of the reason these plans failed was because neither administration was serious about passing immigration reform. Rather, these administrations were more interested in scoring political points. The handling of immigration reform by these administrations turned the issue into a political football.
Congress needs to fundamentally rethink immigration to respond to the needs of Americans today, with an eye toward tomorrow. This starts by recognizing that the United States faces long-term labor shortages. Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the births in the United States have fallen to the lowest point in more than 30 years.
This is a crisis, and we must begin striving toward solutions. This is evident in even today’s labor market. CBS News, for example, recently noted that “[t]here are now about 1 million more open jobs than unemployed workers.” The United States needs workers, and we need them now. Sure, the economy faces challenges, but we essentially have a “hiring” sign on our front window.
An aging workforce and lower birthrates should be a concern. Fewer workers mean lower productivity. Lower productivity means less economic output. Less economic output means a nation in decline.
Few are discussing the issue with the seriousness it deserves. Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., recognizes the labor shortage America faces. “[O]ur birth rates are nowhere near what we call ‘replacement rates’ as a society. We are down to…1.76 births, when you need to be up around 2.1 just for population stability,” Rep. Schweikert said during a speech on the House floor in January. “We are getting older very fast as a society, and our birth rates as a society have collapsed. We don’t have enough children right now, over the last decade, to even be at replacement rates.”
Securing the border certainly has to be a part of the equation. This means Congress must find a way to fund new primary and secondary barriers at priority sectors of the southern border, in addition to bolstering immigration courts and Customs and Border Patrol and enforcing visa laws.
Canada has developed a merit-based system that was based on the value created by someone who wants to immigrate to the country. In short, an immigrant has to contribute and society must benefit. Congress should strive to emulate the Canadian immigration system because it would, if done right, bring the best and the brightest to the United States. Such a system allows selectiveness but is also responsive to the needs of the economy as the dynamics shift.
President Trump’s plan resets the conversation on immigration. Funding for barriers at the southern border is important, but it can’t be the only focus. This plan shows that the White House realizes the path forward is more than the partisan bickering that has dominated this issue, with everyone endlessly catering to their constituencies.
President Trump has done his part. He has put forward an immigration plan. Now, the ball is Congress’s court to step up and address the underlying issue: our broken immigration laws.