November 15, 2006
The United States is far less divided on immigration than the current debate would suggest. Washington's challenge is to translate this consensus into sound legislation that will start to repair the nation's broken immigration system, says Tamar Jacoby in Foreign Affairs.
Much of the consensus is the product of changing U.S. demographics, which will require a large immigrant workforce in the future:
- Between 2002 and 2012 the U.S. economy is expected to create some 56 million new jobs, half of which will require no more than a high school education.
- More than 75 million baby boomers will retire in that period.
- Declining native-born fertility rates will be approaching replacement level.
- Native-born workers, meanwhile, are becoming more educated with every decade.
Given this need, the critical question for the future will be how to protect the design as it moves through the political process. According to Jacoby, any plan will need:
- A realistic system in which the annual legal intake is more or less equal to the flow generated by supply and demand -- around 400,000 to 500,000 per year.
- Incentives for migrants to return home when their temporary status expires or incentives for becoming citizens if they stay.
- Realization that that the United States needs both low- and high-skilled workers.
- Border enforcement that uses technology such as biometric identity cards and computer databases.
- Effective management of the current immigrants already in the United States, with a system in place that allows long-term residents the ability to obtain citizenship.
Of all the naysayers' concerns, the most serious have to do with assimilation. But it does not help to pretend that immigrants are not arriving or to fantasize that tough enforcement can solve the problem, says Jacoby. This is all the more reason for Americans to face up to the facts of the immigrant influx.
Source: Tamar Jacoby, "Immigration Nation," Foreign Affairs, November/December 2006.
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