Is Legal Immigration a Key to Solving our Labor Problems?

Perhaps it is time to talk about immigration … again. Set against the backdrop of an ever-decreasing supply of labor to meet the demands of our economy and the often-extremist views on both sides of the isle, we are likely to continue to see the illogical, ideologically driven swings in policy that neither address the problem nor harness the potential of a possibly valuable human resource to the improvement of our economy and society.

The proximate cause of my discomfiture is an article that described the participation of the State of Tennessee into a lawsuit against the Biden Administration’s action ending a public health policy that allows border control to turn away immigrants because of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Specifically, Title 42 prohibits the entry of persons who potentially pose a health risk from seeking asylum. It also allows for the rapid expulsion people who attempt to by-pass health-screening measures by entering illegally.

It is utterly incomprehensible that we would allow illegal immigration into our country of people that might create an additional liability to a healthcare system already struggling with a crisis and burden the taxpayers with further preventable costs.

What could be the motivation to rescind such a program? Is it a politically motivated move designed to pander to a specific ethnic group in the belief that ultimately it would generate additional votes to keep your party in power? Alternatively, one might view the original restrictions in the same light. Either way, a rational policy seems absent.

We seem unable to fathom the true nature of the multi-faceted problem. Nor do we recognize that there might be some coherent solutions. Based on the realities on the ground, how might we find a rational approach that would protect our country, be “fair” (although that is likely in the eye of the beholder), and promote economic vibrancy?

Like an addict, the first step is to acknowledge that we have a problem. We are inundated with illegal immigrants, which pose some tangible threats to our system. They may aggravate healthcare problems. Likewise, they create (to at least some degree) a burden on the social welfare systems. It exacerbates the movement to an underground economy which promotes worker exploitation, as well as deprive governments of tax revenue.

However, we also have a significant labor shortage in our country. One argument against immigrant labor (legal or illegal) is that it takes jobs away from our citizens. Is this really the case if virtually all segments of the economy have an inventory of unfilled positions? Either we have a legitimate need for workers (in which case we need a coherent policy to allow them to enter the country), or we have become a slothful society (with people unwilling to work)? If it is the latter (which I suspect is part of the problem), we must eliminate the incentives to remain outside the workforce. In other words, remove subsidies. This addresses both sides of the equation.

On the other hand, if we have a dearth of available employees that is proving a drag on the economy, we need to find a legitimate (and legal) way to expand the workforce. Clearly, bringing in outside help (with the proviso they will be gainfully employed) is advisable. They could keep this status and remain so long as they continue to provide economic advantage to the country. Otherwise, they must leave the or be expelled. Easier said than done.

So, what would it take? A rational approach must be two-fold. We must deal with current realities as well as create a coherent policy for moving forward. Today, we have a significant shadow society and business system. People here illegally live in the shadows and operate in a “cash only” economy. The constant fear of repatriation (along with issues like family separation) prevent them from wholly integrating into society. That same threat allows unscrupulous employers to exploit workers, disadvantaging them and depriving the government of tax revenue. And yes, this very system is at work in our own community today.

To overcome this, we (by necessity) must find a way to pull these people into the broader society. It is both the rational approach and humane. Numerous proposals have been put forward by both sides that would allow “legalization” of the status of significant, productive members of that group. Likewise, there must be a “pathway to citizenship” if you are ever going to create a compelling reason for participation in the program. Establish a period of amnesty, then be hard-nosed with those who remain outside the system. Opt in or get kicked out.

Moving forward entails creating a registered “guest worker” program that allows employers to sponsor and hire the workers necessary to meet their employment needs. Legitimate participants would be safe and may remain. Within this, people who have “legitimately” participated in the social and economic fabric of our country ought to ultimately be able to enter full citizenship (including those that serve in our armed forces).

Of course, this is a gross simplification of an extremely complex and controversial issue. It is easy to find individual anecdotal instances that would mitigate such an approach. However, we must have the courage and intelligence to differentiate between anecdotal evidence, “fake” information, and important relevant facts.

Either you want to solve the problem or you want to pontificate. I vote for trying to solve the problem.

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