By David M. Simon
Contrived illegal immigration crises, like the recent caravan of Central Americans demanding immigrant status, harm prospects for much needed legislation to increase legal immigration. They make even the strongest advocates for increased legal immigration feel that foreigners are attempting to take away from Americans their right to determine the nation’s immigration policy.
The case for increasing legal immigration is strong. Decades of data and comprehensive economic analysis, including research by the late economist Julian Simon and more recently by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, show that immigration improves our economy. Immigrants work more, save more, and start more businesses per person than native-born Americans. They raise the overall incomes of native-born Americans. And, particularly through the taxes they pay, they have an overall positive impact on the public coffers. Their positive impact on federal government finances is greater than their negative impact on state and local government finances.
Immigrants are a boon to America, but a decision to increase legal immigration must be made by Americans through their elected representatives, not by foreigners seeking immigrant status. I have sympathy for the plight of foreigners in distress who respectfully ask to be granted the privilege of immigrating to the United States. I hope our government grants their requests. But when they instead insist that they must be permitted to immigrate here, it makes me feel that they are seeking to usurp our rights as American citizens to determine the nation’s immigration policy.
If I, as an advocate for increased legal immigration, feel this way watching a contrived illegal immigration crisis like the recent caravan of Central Americans demanding immigrant status, I’m confident that many millions of other Americans, many of whom are less supportive of increasing legal immigration, feel the same way. The result is yet more resistance to legislation to increase legal immigration.
I have great sympathy for Central Americans who leave their countries to escape persecution. But their need to leave their countries does not mean that they must be granted the privilege of immigrating to the United States.
When I think of their plight, I compare them to Jews in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (including my ancestors), who sought to escape the pogroms of the Russian Empire, and then just before World War II, to flee the Nazis. Many were not permitted to immigrate to the United States. They instead went wherever they could. They went to Great Britain, France, and other Western European countries. They went to Turkish and then British-controlled Palestine. And they went much farther away, to Argentina, China, South Africa, and other distant countries.
Central Americans who need asylum can seek it in nearby Mexico. If Mexico is not acceptable, they also can go to Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, or other prosperous Latin American countries in our hemisphere where they would not have the additional burden of learning English. The United States is not their only option. Exclusion from the United States does not sentence them to prison or death.
Much needed legislation to increase legal immigration is more likely to gain support and become law if Americans focus on immigrants’ critical role in making our economy grow, their military heroism, and their cultural, artistic, scientific, and athletic contributions. Contrived illegal immigration crises not only distract from this focus, but create a feeling that foreigners are seeking to take away from Americans their right to determine the nation’s immigration policy. Those who hope for increased legal immigration would do well to not encourage the development of illegal immigration crises.
David M. Simon is a lawyer in Chicago. The views expressed in this article are his own and not those of the law firm with which he is affiliated. For more, please see www.dmswritings.com.