Immigration is an economic necessity, not a threat

Immigration is an economic necessity, not a threat
© Getty Images

Recent actions against immigrants are deeply troubling and downright un-American. In the past two weeks alone, hardline anti-immigration rhetoric has reached a new extreme.

First, thousands of military troops are being ordered to the border to “intercept” a so-called invasion of migrants into the United States. These innocent people are actually fleeing dire conditions in Central America and seeking a better life elsewhere, just as each of our ancestors once did before.

ADVERTISEMENT

Second, on Oct. 29, it was announced that the administration would attempt an executive order to end birthright citizenship for children born in the U.S. to immigrant parents, erasing part of the 14th Amendment.

These actions are part of a disturbing trend. From efforts to eliminate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to the “zero-tolerance policy” that separated and detained migrant families, the administration has been making sweeping efforts to limit both legal and illegal immigration.

Once again, across our country, efforts to demonize immigrants have arisen right before the midterm elections.

Let’s be clear: America is a nation of immigrants. With the exception of the Native American community, we all had ancestors abroad who were uprooted, voluntarily or involuntarily, from their countries of origin and who built new homes in the United States.

The year your family immigrated — whether it was seven generations ago, like my own ancestors, or only a few months ago — is no determinate of your patriotism.

The sentiment that immigrants are enemies is a divisive falsehood that has become a political strategy. If followed through, these immigration policies will have a crippling effect on our nation’s economy.

This is more than a social or humanitarian issue. Immigration is an economic imperative, and immigrants of all skill levels are necessary to help this great nation reach its maximum economic potential.

The United States needs more immigrants to help our economy grow in the post-recession era. In fact, economists estimate that, for every 1 percent increase in immigration to the U.S., GDP rises by 1.15 percent.

Right now, key industries in our country are facing a labor shortage. This means that some companies are scaling so rapidly that they have more jobs than workers that can fill them. From construction to agriculture to the restaurant industry, America needs more immigrants of all skill levels.

In the construction industry, there are more than 196,000 jobs waiting to be filled. Across the country, 25 percent of construction workers are immigrants. In urban areas, that number is much higher. In New York City, 74 percent are immigrants.

There is a similar labor shortage in agriculture, and crops are dying before they can be harvested. According to the most recent National Agricultural Workers Survey, 73 percent of farmworkers are immigrants.

The restaurant industry is also experiencing a labor shortage, and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 1.4 million workers in the restaurant industry shortage are immigrants.

The industries with the greatest labor shortages are the industries that largely employ immigrants. That’s because immigrants are innovative, hardworking and ready to do both low-tech and high-tech jobs that U.S.-born workers are unwilling or unable to do.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, summed it up perfectly: “Fixing immigration is not about the mass deportation of people but about creating a legal visa system for jobs Americans do not want.”

We don’t need to be greeting impoverished migrants with active duty troops that could be focusing their efforts on actual security issues. We need to be raising visa caps to meet the demands of our American industries.

We don’t need to be limiting the rights of children born to immigrant parents on U.S. soil. We need to be providing permanent legal protection to Dreamers and holders of Temporary Protected Status, who have already been contributing to our economy for decades.

To the immigrants that deeply believe in this great American experiment, who want to work to build a better and stronger United States, I have a message:

Welcome to America. Our economy needs you.

Ramiro Cavazos is the president and CEO of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the largest Hispanic business organization in the United States.