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Boyd: The case for immigration, and how President Trump has ignored it

Ryan Boyd, Columnist

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America is a country of immigrants — the bipartisan consensus used to be that this is a good thing. Many Democrats and Republicans alike recognized that welcoming people — skilled or unskilled — who are searching for a better life is both morally right and economically beneficial. Even the most conservative immigration hardliners focused almost all of their attention on undocumented immigration. But recently, many Republicans have turned sharply anti-immigrant and have begun to attack even legal immigration. Given that economic research overwhelmingly supports increased immigration, it is clear that conservative hardliners are not basing their policy positions on what’s best for the economy. Instead, Republican immigration policy seems primarily rooted in a desire to reduce the number of non-white people entering the country.

GDP growth depends on two factors: labor force growth and productivity growth. Immigrants can help to ensure strong labor force growth and thus help produce long-term economic expansion. With current immigration levels, the labor force is expected to grow at an average annual rate of 0.5 percent. According to President Donald Trump, 3 percent growth is the magic number. To achieve that there needs to be productivity growth of 2.5 percent every year, which, if the 1.2 percent average productivity growth rate of the last few years is any indication, is not going to happen. So, politicians concerned with long-term economic growth should want to increase immigration, not reduce it.

Immigrants also make disproportionately large entrepreneurial and innovation contributions to the U.S. Forbes notes that a recent study of “just 87 startup companies valued at $1 billion or more found 44 (more than half) had at least one immigrant founder.” Forbes adds that “University of Colorado economist Keith Maskus found that for every 100 international students who earn science or engineering Ph.D.s from American universities, the nation gains an impressive 62 future patent applications.” The evidence is clear: Immigrants are often remarkably hard-working and bring with them unique perspectives that are valuable in a wide-variety of fields — from tech to teaching.

Some accept these arguments, but contend that while high-skill immigration is good for the economy as a whole, low-skill immigration hurts low-skilled native-born workers. The logic makes sense: If more unskilled workers come to America, the unskilled labor supply increases and wages will go down. But studies have largely shown that this is not the case. First, in many instances low-skilled immigrants are taking jobs that Americans don’t want — they are filling a gap in the labor market. Second, unskilled immigrants are consumers too, supporting local grocery stores, shopping malls, and restaurants. Their work increases American output, and their spending increases consumption. Finally, as noted in the New York Times, “the children of immigrants contribute more to state fiscal coffers than do other native-born Americans.” Fiscally conscious voters, then, should hate restrictive immigration policies.

In spite of all of this evidence, Trump recently endorsed Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue’s (R-Ga.) immigration bill. It seeks to cut annual legal immigration from 1 million to 500,000, drastically reduce family immigration and end the diversity visa lottery. This bill would severely cut both skilled and unskilled immigration, hurting the U.S. economy for years to come. Even Kevin Hassett, the chair of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors, agrees with this analysis and says the U.S. should welcome more immigrants.

But Trump’s support for this bill, it seems, stems from a racist desire to Make America White Again. That is not to say that anyone who ignores or disagrees with the evidence that shows that immigration helps the economy is a racist. But a person who conveniently ignores all of that evidence and calls African countries “shitholes” and says that Haitians have AIDS and supports a Muslim Ban and calls Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers is very clearly supporting the Cotton-Perdue bill to dramatically reduce the number of non-white people entering the country.

It is important to note this because the racial attitudes of the president, his most senior immigration advisor, his chief of staff and senior members of his party are leading to an immigration policy that will hurt all Americans and will especially harm those desperately searching for a better life in the United States.

Ryan Boyd is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at ryanboyd2021@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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