On immigration front, America needs to find middle ground

A man exits the transit area after clearing immigration and customs on arrival at Dulles International Airport in Dulles, Virginia, U.S., September 24, 2017. REUTERS/James Lawler Duggan/Files

NEW YORK – There is a fierce tussle on the immigration front in America, like unlike anything seen before in the recent past. The chasm between those who want to restrict immigration and those who want to relax it, is growing wider. Trump came to power on the back of promising immigration reforms, to restrict it, but candidates like Bernie Sanders promise heaven and earth to all immigrants, regardless of whether they have a shred of legal document or not, the right to stay legally in the country.

Democrats seem determined to keep up their agenda to be more accepting of immigrants without documents, including those who break rules and cross borders, without seeming to care two hoots of what majority of American voters might really want. That factor alone has kept Trump’s core base intact, loyal to him; his popularity remains almost unscathed, despite the impeachment process going on at Capitol Hill right now.

Sanders, on Thursday, released a sweeping immigration plan that would impose a moratorium on deportations, “break up” existing immigration enforcement agencies, grant full welfare access to illegal immigrants and welcome a minimum of 50,000 “climate migrants” in the first year of a Sanders administration, reported Fox News.

In the plan, Sanders pledges to extend legal status to those eligible under the DACA program, as well as to grant relief for their parents. He also promises to use executive authority to allow illegal immigrants who have lived in the country for five or more years to stay “free from threat of deportation.”

On day one of a Sanders presidency, he would also place a moratorium on deportations until there was a full audit of “current and past practices and policies.” He would also end the so-called Trump travel ban, as well as other Trump policies such as the Migrant Protection Protocols, action against sanctuary cities and the public charge rule that restricts green cards to those immigrants deemed likely to rely on welfare, the Fox News report said.

David Brooks of The New York Times wrote this week of this strange conundrum of Americans being almost forced to be more accepting of foreigners, and feeling squeamish about it – for the right reasons.

Some wavering liberal and independent voters are likely to have a tough choice when it comes to the 2020 Presidential elections, and some of them may vote against their conscience, whether it be for Trump or for the Democratic candidate.

“Right now, we are asking millions of Americans to accept high immigration while they are already living with maximum insecurity. Their wages are declining, their families and communities are fragmenting, their churches are shrinking, government services are being cut, their values and national identity feel unstable. Of course they are going to react with suspicion if suddenly on top of all this they begin to feel like strangers in their own place,” wrote Brooks.

Yet in a country where ageing demographics suggest urgent need for skill and talent in certain critical industries, like urgent care and nursing, as well as quality math and science teachers in middle and high schools, immigration is not just rhetoric, but a necessity. The divide is so deep, that in rural and suburban communities, where some may detest foreigners moving into their neighborhoods, other communities may see a different skinned foreign physician as a savior.

The fact is that nobody trusts what’s really happening on the immigration front, even for legal immigrants.

Jared Kushner’s plan to give more visas for high skilled immigrants has not gained any traction, is stalled, while restrictive rules like the Public Charge rule and health care insurance requirement for immigrants have been placed into law, even as they face legal scrutiny. Yet, the annual quotas for all visas continue to be filled up. Immigrants get jobs in the US, study and plan a permanent future here, despite misgivings and uncertainties.

John Lettieri, president and chief executive of the Economic Innovation Group, a bipartisan research and public policy organization, writing in The Washington Post this week, pointed out that over the past decade, fewer births, mostly flat immigration rates and a rapidly aging society have reduced overall US population growth to its lowest rate since the Great Depression. As a result, the country adds roughly 900,000 fewer people each year than it did in the early 2000s.

“The demographic slowdown falls unevenly across regions. About half of U.S. counties are now experiencing declines in population overall. Fully 80 percent have seen their prime-working-age population shrink over the past decade. And by 2037, two-thirds of U.S. counties will have fewer prime-working-age adults than they did in 1997,” Lettieri wrote.

“The implications are profound. Population loss depresses home values and weakens municipal finances. It is also a serious problem for entrepreneurship, as it leads to fewer available workers and fewer potential customers. These forces conspire to keep many areas locked in a cycle of decline,” he added.

Lettieri suggests ‘place-based’ immigration rather than ‘employment-based immigration, which has been implemented in countries like Canada and Australia, to help US communities caught in the flux of demographic slowdown.

Recently, the Economic Innovation Group released a paper calling for a specific place-based visa program – a “heartland visa” – aimed directly at helping struggling regions break the economic and demographic declines they are experiencing, he said.

Such a program would open a new door – without reducing the slots available through other programs – for skilled workers who could meet a range of local needs, from helping grow a local robotics hub, to filling small-town physician shortages. But instead of relying on employer sponsorship, heartland visas would be tied to communities – ones that qualify based on a stagnant or shrinking local workforce, or other economic criteria.

Lettieri suggest that visa holders would commit to settle in an eligible community for a set period – say, three years – in exchange for being fast-tracked for a green card and permanent status.

“They would have a wide array of choices for where to settle and full job mobility within their chosen labor market. While some visa holders would eventually relocate, many would put down permanent roots. Over time, areas that find success implementing this program would see their populations rise and prosper,” he wrote.

Lettieri’s suggestions may be the right one for the US, going forward. A middle ground on immigration has to be found, for the country to remain in harmony and be accepting of foreigners.

At present, the unfortunate perception has grown that foreigners are increasing in alarming numbers, snatching what rightfully belongs to Americans.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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