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La Búsqueda de la Felicidad

| Monday, February 22, 2016

When Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign last June, he declared if elected president “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay.” Since then, each Republican candidate has scrambled to match Trump’s proposal’s bombastic fury. Interestingly, America and immigration appear so inseparable that a primary process rewarding fiery nativist rhetoric is being contested among candidates with strikingly cosmopolitan families. Marco Rubio is the son of two immigrants, Trump and Cruz each have one immigrant parent, and both of John Kasich’s parents were first-generation Americans. The vanquished Jeb Bush married a foreigner, though Trump outdid him and wedded two. Ted Cruz, whose website proclaims “we have a serious immigration problem in America,” is a Canadian-born immigrant himself. Grandiose denunciations of immigration are political theater impotently railing against the truth: immigration is fundamentally American, integral to our past success and future prosperity. Americans ought still call for the world’s tired, poor and huddled masses, in a voice louder than ever.

Immigration is deeply ideologically compatible with conservative and liberal ideals. Though this will not, perhaps, persuade many of its foes, it clears the way for a powerful presentation of its pragmatic appeal.

For liberals, immigration offers one of the best opportunities to aid the world’s victimized and downtrodden. The perilous journey to the United States up through Mexico is traveled by desperate immigrants for whom braving the route is their families’ only hope. Once in America, these immigrants are hounded by officials intent to deport them for the crime of working to ease their family’s burden. A path to amnesty for illegal immigrants, and further opening of immigration policy, promises to swiftly ease the burden of countless put-upon souls and offer a path to a better life for untold millions suffering abroad.

The appeal to conservatives is comparably compelling. Immigration has, since days of hazy posterity, been one of America’s key values. The original colonies were built through immigration, and foreigners Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Paine were integral to the American Revolution. Free-market values of open competition and equality of opportunity seem to demand immigration — or are those for born Americans only? — and little is more individualistic than leaving behind home, family and friends for a new life in a strange land. Whether cloaked in Americanisms or in free-market principles, the conservative case for an open immigration policy is clear.

For those bored by ideological romanticism, the numbers make an obvious case for an open immigration policy. In a University of Chicago survey, 89 percent of economists “strongly agreed” or “agreed” with the statement “the average US citizen would be better off if a larger number of highly educated foreign workers were legally allowed to immigrate to the US each year.” Although less educated immigrants attract less excitement and more opprobrium, they are vital to our economy. Such immigrants often do the silently essential jobs Americans won’t, a reality demonstrated by the consequences of a 2011 Georgia immigration bill intended to push illegal immigrants from the state. Anticipating a massive labor shortage for the state’s farms, Georgia’s governor planned to replace the immigrant workers with probationers. The governor’s foresight was apt, but limited; the farms were abandoned by migrant workers, but the probationers recoiled at the backbreaking labor and walked off the job. As a result, tons of produce rotted away in fields across Georgia. The data supporting claims that immigration lowers employment and wages is murky but inconsequential, because as the Cato Institute’s Alex Nowraseth writes, “discussion of immigration’s small impact on native wages and employment misses the forest for the weeds,” as “the real question is whether immigration would increase wealth. The answer is a resounding yes.”  

Plunging fertility rates are an increasingly urgent concern across the developed world; Japan’s economy is dragged down by its dwindling youth’s obligation to support increasingly disproportionate numbers of elderly, while Putin’s adventurous foreign policy is undermined by the slow dying of Russia’s population. The U.S. fertility rate, currently 1.88 children per woman, is well below the replacement rate of 2.1. Only immigration is able to fill the labor gap created by our low fertility, and luckily America is one of the few countries open and attractive to immigrants. We ought work for an America that stays this way, as declining numbers of working-age adults could place existentially threatening pressure on our pension schemes and labor markets.  

America must preserve and expand its legal immigration programs, while reaching an accommodation with its undocumented residents that eases our government’s quixotic persecution of illegal immigrants. Doing so is, at the very least, compatible with the predominant ideological concerns of American liberals and conservatives, and at the same time, bears crucial economic and demographic boons.  

Devon Chenelle is a sophomore in Keough Hall. He is a history major with an Italian minor. He can be reached at dchenell@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Devon Chenelle

Devon Chenelle is a senior, formerly of Keough Hall. Returning to campus after seven months abroad, Devon is a history major with minors in Italian and Philosophy. He can be reached at dchenell@nd.edu - On résiste à l'invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l'invasion des idées.

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