Jaro: It’s a good time to be an immigrant


Jan Jaro, Columnist

Like most Northwestern students, I’ve been too caught up with responsibilities and trying to have a social life to stay updated on the news. However, I was pleasantly surprised to see the headline “Bipartisan group of senators propose immigration reform.” Immigration is an issue that strikes close to home because my family emigrated from the Philippines. While I applaud the proposal for making common-sense policy changes, I believe that additional reform is still required.

The proposal, spearheaded by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), is a great start to finding an appropriate solution for the 11 million undocumented aliens in the United States. Although the proposal is vague, it makes provisions for creating a “path to citizenship,” along with others to discourage illegal immigration.

However, the need for a wave of amnesty like that provided by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 is the real issue. As long as America remains a land of opportunity, there will always be a flow of illegal immigrants. Adequately patrolling the 1,969-mile border with Mexico and all other ports of entry for immigrants is a financial and physical impossibility. Moreover, the United States struggles to keep highly productive immigrants, especially those with graduate degrees in management, science, and engineering.

Evidence shows that the issues run deeper than too-long wait times for a green card. Research by the McKinsey Global Institute demonstrates that there is a 13 percent shortage of skilled labor and a 10 percent oversupply of unskilled labor throughout developed economies. The real issue is a mismatch of labor skills caused by lack of education and an insufficiently strong entrepreneurial environment. Although it’s one thing to police borders or set quotas, the reality is that immigrants wouldn’t be seen as a “problem” if ways existed to make them more productive.

A more complete policy response would be to focus on providing educational attainment for the children of illegal immigrants while eliminating regulatory barriers for high-achieving immigrants. While providing additional educational support for adult illegal immigrants is impractical, giving immigrants’ children more opportunities to climb the socioeconomic ladder will bring in tax dollars, add productive workers and promote a culture of high achievement in their communities. On the other hand, providing an accelerated path for holders of advanced degrees to become American citizens and funding for promising immigrant startups would foster a more competitive environment by allowing talented individuals to participate in the world’s strongest economy.

The plan laid out by the Senate “Gang of Eight” is a promising start to fixing America’s immigration issues. More encouragingly, the proposal is a positive sign that Republicans and Democrats are more willing to come together in light of November’s election results. However, unless more radical changes are made regarding the mismatch of labor skills, we will likely revisit this issue in a few decades. Genuine chances to make impactful change are rare. Let’s not let this golden opportunity pass.

Jan Jaro is a McCormick sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].