America Needs Immigrants
In 2010, fresh off high school graduation and working my first job in Washington state, I had the pleasure of being trained by a Mexican immigrant named David. He showed me how to prune trees, trim bushes, and edge lawns at breakneck speed, all while maintaining a high quality of work. Not only was he one of the best employees at that company, he was also the most well-adjusted to society. Other native-born employees struggled with family disengagement, infidelity, drugs, and other addictions. Yet, David consistently demonstrated to me how he valued and fulfilled his role as a husband, father, and US citizen. He embodied the American values of personal responsibility, work ethic, and self-reliance. This was a time when many conservatives still subscribed to the belief that “Latinos are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet” and actively sought to win their vote.
Boy, how the times have changed.
Historically, Republican leaders have been clear to draw lines differentiating dangerous illegal immigrants, illegal immigrants, and legal immigrants to the US. One of the key features of the Trump campaign has been the erasure of those lines. In a series of vitriolic statements that catapulted his 2016 presidential bid into the media limelight, Donald Trump infamously said:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. …They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people. (1)
Of course, illegal crossings from Mexico are at a 46-year low(2) and data show that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans (3), but those most receptive to Trump’s message were afraid. In their fear, the Mexican immigrant functioned as a convenient scapegoat to their problems.
One of the hallmarks of conservatism—and rightly so—is the protection of the free market, and the labor market is an essential component. Without a robust immigration system, the United States will not be able to assert itself as a world leader in economic output, much less avoid the stagnation problems of other developed countries whose birth rates have dropped below replacement levels. While our current president peddles harmful stereotypes about job-stealing immigrants, research shows that “the impact of immigrant labor on the wages of native-born workers is low. However, undocumented workers often work the unpleasant, back-breaking jobs that native-born workers are not willing to do" (4).
Economists agree on a few things. One of those things is the boon that immigrants provide to the labor force and gross domestic product of the US (5). Immigrants are big believers in the American Dream: while they make up only 15 percent of the workforce, they represent a quarter of entrepreneurs (6). Yet, economics aside, conservatives of all people should be the biggest proponents of immigration, for the reasons David Brooks outlined earlier this year: immigrants are, on average, less crime-prone, less likely to have children out of wedlock, and much more likely hold traditional views on the family (7).
Among the most concerning aspects of the Trump administration’s treatment of immigrants is the deportation of men and women who have lived and worked peacefully in this country for ten, twenty, even thirty years—the good, upstanding people that America needs—and the terrible predicament in which their children are left. The latest addition to this administration’s “tougher approach” to illegal immigration involves separating parents from children in detention centers (8). There is no question: this practice is cruel, unnecessary, and utterly reprehensible.
At this point, the damage done to immigrants’ perception of the GOP may be irreversible. Whatever short-term gains were made in the 2016 presidential election will soon be undone. Latinos represent the largest minority population in the US at 18 percent, and this share is expected to grow significantly in the coming decades (9). Furthermore, so long as GOP leaders support a president whose immigration policies are counter-productive, heartless, and racist, they are not acting in the country’s best interest. Those who support policies that needlessly separate families in detention centers will never be able to claim the moral high ground.
That’s why we need a New Conservative Movement. It’s time we elect leaders who promote sensible immigration reform. It’s time we provide legal avenues to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who have peacefully contributed to our country for years, while prioritizing the removal of those who actually pose a threat. It’s time we send a message of inclusion to model citizens like David, who immigrate legally and exemplify American values.
It’s time for a New Conservative Movement.
Washington Post Staff, “Full Text: Donald Trump Announces a Presidential Bid,” Washington Post (2015). Link.
John Burnett, “Arrests for Illegal Border Crossings Hit 46-Year Low,” National Public Radio (2017). Link.
National Academies Press, “Infographic: Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Immigrants,” National Academies of Science, Engineering, Medicine (2015). Link.
Vanda Felbab-Brown, “The Wall,” The Brookings Institution (2017), quoted in Brennan Hoban, “Do Immigrants “Steal” Jobs from American Workers?” The Brookings Institution (2017). Link.
Jeff Flake, “We Need Immigrants with Skills. But Working Hard is a Skill,” The New York Times (2017). Link.
Planet Money Podcast, “Episode 436: If Economists Controlled The Borders,” National Public Radio (2014). Link.
Brennan Hoban, “Do Immigrants “Steal” Jobs from American Workers?” The Brookings Institution (2017). Link.
David Brooks, “The East Germans of the 21st Century,” The New York Times (2018). Link.
Pete Williams, “Sessions: Parents, children entering U.S. illegally will be separated,” NBC News (2018). Link.
Michelle Mark, “John Kelly: It's not 'cruel' to separate families at the border — children will be 'put into foster care or whatever',” Business Insider (2018). Link.
Newsroom, “Facts for Features: Hispanic Heritage Month 2017” US Census (2017). Link.