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To succeed economically, we need sound immigration policies — not scare tactics

To succeed economically, we need sound immigration policies — not scare tactics
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As the U.S. House of Representatives inches closer to an immigration debate and President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I don't trust everybody in the White House' JPMorgan CEO withdraws from Saudi conference Trump defends family separations at border MORE continues pushing a contentious, “zero-tolerance” approach at the border, the Department of Labor reported some staggering statistics that, in another time, would have transformed the immigration debate overnight.

The new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows more job openings than there are people out of work. It’s the first time since Labor started tracking these numbers that we’ve had more positions than prospective employees. In April 6.7 million jobs were open, and yet only 6.4 million people were available to fill them.

What does it mean?

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The U.S. economy is picking up steam in the short term — a very good thing. But it also means that the economy isn’t positioned to remain competitive in the long term — a very bad thing. Because if firms can’t fill all the orders, provide all the services, or sell all the products that they could with a fully-staffed operation, the economy starts to stall. Business owners, many of whom voted for President Trump, are rightly worried they won’t be able to keep their shops open without a growing workforce.

 

And immigration will be a leading factor in whether our economy can continue full-steam ahead.

Our ability to meet America’s future workforce depends, in no small part, on ensuring the U.S. has sound immigration policies that meet the economic needs of small business owners on main street and public company CEOs on Wall Street.

The challenge isn’t in today’s numbers, it’s in the trajectory looking forward: The government has projected that the economy will add 9.8 million jobs between 2014 and 2024, but the labor force will grow by only 7.9 million workers.

Instead of separating young children from their parents to “send a message” at the border, and instead of deploying sting operations to instill fear in immigrant communities, we need to reform the system to ensure the U.S. attracts and retains workers — and their families _ who want to contribute.

This would not represent a new approach to immigration policy, it would represent an American approach: Immigrants always have helped to build this country. They built — and still build — roads, buildings, restaurants and companies. In 2017, 216 companies on the Fortune 500 list were founded or co-founded by immigrants or their children, including Apple, Amazon and AT&T. Those immigrant-founders created $5.3 trillion in global revenue and employed 12.1 million workers worldwide.

But it’s not just about the next Albert Einstein or Sergey Brin ushering in a new wave of innovation, it’s also about ensuring we have an adequate workforce at every level — in the fields, on the manufacturing floor, and in the classroom. We should be making it easier, not harder, for American businesses to hire workers. And between now and 2035, we will have immigrants and their children to thank for all growth in the U.S. workforce. 

While Trump moves to prevent talented immigrant entrepreneurs from launching new American businesses, and while some members of Congress attempt to curb legal immigration, Canada, China, South Korea, and other competitor nations are doing everything they can to lure talent.

Demographics tell the story, as our new report at the National Immigration Forum notes. As baby boomers leave the workforce (10,000 a day turn 65), we simply don’t have the numbers of American-born workers to fill the gap. Immigrants tend to participate in the labor force at higher rates than U.S.-born workers. What’s more, among immigrant workers, a third are not documented. 

We have to provide better ways for all employers, and employees, to fill jobs legally.

Most members of Congress want to see a sensible solution on the immigration debate. One that sends a clear message to the global community that we are a nation of laws and a nation of grace. As other countries recruit immigrant workers — from the farmer to the engineer — we need to come together and do the right thing.

If we don’t, it’s the American worker and the American family who lose. 

Ali Noorani is the executive director of the National Immigration Forum and author of the 2017 book “There Goes the Neighborhood.”