If we can go beyond the emotional arguments, estimates suggest about three-fourths of migrants are coming to the United States for a better economic opportunity. It is our freedom that is so desirable and the tremendous job opportunities in booming states like Georgia, Texas, Florida and California.
There is a strong argument that filling the needs of business is desirable if we can control migration. Where the system has broken down and desperately needs repair is the issue of overstayed visas. Employers should face heavy penalties including fines and jail time for knowingly employing illegal migrants. Our country does not enforce this crime to the level as other nations. When our leaders say we are weak on the Southern border, we have turned many of our nation’s warehouses, farms, food processing, manufacturing centers and construction sites into a sort of labor trafficking system.
We also desperately need an accurate count of illegals. Some sources including Pew research puts the number at 11 million while others such as a recent Yale study says the pool is much larger at 22 million. Realistically, we will never be able to deport 22 million people, so it must start with employers being held responsible.
In order to secure the border, a combination of walls, fences, barriers, surveillance and patrol combined with ending the exploitation of illegal migrants must occur. Anything short and we haven’t really resolved the crisis.
The United States has a persistent labor shortage and our economic growth has been stymied by a lack of talent. We need more skilled workers, but it is unlikely that our gaps will be filled by illegal migrants. However, we must show some compassion in order to compete for the most skilled immigrants available. We need to retain US educated STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) professionals and foreign Ph.D.’s by increasing HB1 Visas based on market considerations. Restricting the flow of skilled immigrants plays into the hands of China, the emerging superpower and our most likely 21st century economic and military rival.
What to do with the illegal migrants who hold important jobs that employers cannot replace is also problematic. Do we really want to pay $4 for a peach because there’s no one to pick fruit? What happens to our favorite Napa wines or the new home we purchased that needs a roof? Perhaps you enjoy having a clean late model vehicle — often your local car wash is staffed by expats. This is where our porous labor participation rate continues to vex. As more baby boomers retire, and without the replacement population, the numbers don’t look promising. How else can you explain unemployment at 50-year lows accompanied by a labor participation rate the level of the Carter economic malaise?
Historically, immigration has been a tremendous positive for our country’s economy. The challenge now is how to regain border control so we can attract the labor we need without being overwhelmed by migrants who can’t offer a positive contribution.
Ryan Blythe is the founder of Georgia Trade School in Acworth.