Our immigration policy is ever-changing, but never improving. Last month, the president proposed an "immigration package." Its main thrust is to replace our largely family-based immigration system with one that is largely skills-based. It eliminates the diversity lottery and does nothing about a road to citizenship for immigrants currently in our country, including those with TPS (temporary protected status) or DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals). It would also build the wall.
Just last week, the administration announced that unaccompanied immigrant children held in facilities around the country will no longer receive educational services (such as learning English), recreational opportunities (such as playing soccer), or legal aid. These services are deemed "not directly necessary for the protection of life and safety" of these children.
These moves, plus the thousands of children still separated from parents and the six recent child deaths from untreated illness, demonstrate the extent to which our president disregards the importance of families and children at the border.
Family-based immigration has been the cornerstone of our immigration policy for decades. Many institutions, including churches and charities, advocate for family-based immigration. The Catholic church is at the forefront. Its leaders immediately denounced the president's plan: "We oppose proposals that seek to curtail family-based immigration ... Families are the foundation of our faith, our society, our history, and our immigration system." (USCCB, May 17, 2019.)
The president of Church World Service adds, "Unified families bring stability to individual households and strengthen neighborhoods and communities. Family members help one another navigate a new culture, pursue job opportunities, start businesses and prosper economically, socially, and spiritually." Another immigration advocate says, "Families take care of each other and are a social safety net for members. They contribute to our country and facilitate social cohesion." (Jesuit Review, May 16, 2019)
Furthermore, many believe that eliminating the diversity lottery is racist. This lottery assures that immigrants come from all over the world, bringing us the transformative diversity that enhances the vitality and multi-culturalism of our communities. Recall our president: "Why do we want people from Haiti here? ... why do we want people from all these s**t-hole [African] countries here? (Jan. 11, 2018) This attitude informs our policy.
Here's what I think. We have a president who won over his base by preying on their fears of economic uncertainty and safety. He tells them that immigrants take away American jobs, cause lower wages and increase crime. He dehumanizes immigrants by calling them hordes, vermin, infestations, murderers, rapists and worse. Once they become less than human, it becomes ok to mistreat them. Even families. Even children.
And, sadly, this will be the hallmark of Trump's reelection campaign.
As an economist, I can assure you that immigrants contribute to GDP, thereby enhancing economic growth and U.S. jobs. They do not cause wages to fall. Their demand for consumer goods and services results in more production and even more jobs. Their entrepreneurship vitalizes our business communities and their diversity enhances the quality of life in our communities. Immigrants pay taxes to support services they receive, and young immigrants contribute to a frayed social security system for our rapidly aging population. Immigrants bring down crime rates in the neighborhoods they join. They add to the vibrancy of our communities, schools and churches.
Our population is growing at its lowest rate in 80 years and will soon begin to fall. Our towns are losing people, our businesses are closing, and our schools and churches are emptying. We need immigration to revitalize our economy.
And, we can be so much better. As the world's richest country, we can show the world that it is also the most humanitarian. Our immigration policy could be the shining star for the rest of the world. We have no lack of resources, only the misguided priorities we use in allocating them. We can afford to improve conditions for children at the border. We can expand resources for faster asylum processing. We can provide development assistance to Central Americans rather than money for their militaries and police that are often part of the problem. We can open a path to citizenship for immigrants already in the U.S., including those with TPS and DACA status. We can resume the admission of refugees to more closely align with our traditional values.
Last week, local church and community members rallied in support for immigrants. We can follow their leadership and speak up. We can help locally through the Ecumenical Asylum Committee (Barb de Souza, firstname.lastname@example.org). We can contact our legislators