Maybe it’s time to talk about immigration — again. Against the backdrop of an ever-diminishing supply of labor to meet the demands of our economy and the often extremist views on both sides of the aisle, we will likely continue to see the illogical and ideological swings in politics that do not respond to one or the other. solve the problem or harness the potential of a potentially valuable human resource for the betterment of our economy and our society.
The immediate cause of my discomfiture is an article describing the State of Tennessee’s participation in a lawsuit against the Biden administration’s action to end a public health policy that allows border control to refuse immigrants due of the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, Title 42 prohibits the entry of persons who potentially pose a health risk by seeking asylum. It also allows for the rapid expulsion of people who attempt to circumvent health control measures by entering illegally.
It is completely incomprehensible that we allow illegal immigration into our country of people who could create additional liability for an already crisis-ridden health care system and impose avoidable additional costs on taxpayers.
What could be the motivation to cancel such a program? Is it a politically motivated decision designed to pander to a specific ethnic group in the belief that it will ultimately generate additional votes to keep your party in power? Alternatively, one could consider the original restrictions from the same angle. In any case, a rational policy seems absent.
We seem unable to understand the true nature of this multifaceted problem. We also do not recognize that there could be coherent solutions. Based on the realities on the ground, how could we find a rational approach that would protect our country, be “fair” (although that is likely to be in the eyes of the beholder), and foster economic dynamism?
As an addict, the first step is to recognize that we have a problem. We are inundated with illegal immigrants, who pose tangible threats to our system. They can make health problems worse. Likewise, they create (at least to some extent) a burden on social protection systems. This exacerbates the movement towards an underground economy which promotes the exploitation of workers and deprives 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 it really the case if virtually every segment of the economy has an inventory of vacancies? Either we have a legitimate need for workers (in which case we need a coherent policy to allow them into the country) or we have become a lazy society (with people who don’t want to work). If it’s the latter (which I suspect is part of the problem), we need to eliminate the incentives to stay out of the labor market. In other words, remove subsidies. This concerns both sides of the equation.
On the other hand, if we have a shortage of available employees that is holding back the economy, we need to find a legitimate (and legal) way to increase the workforce. Obviously, it is advisable to seek outside help (provided they have a paid job). They could retain this status and remain so as long as they continue to provide economic benefit to the country. Otherwise, they must leave or be expelled. Easier said than done.
So what would it take? A rational approach must be twofold. We need to face the current realities and create a coherent policy moving forward. Today we have a significant parallel society and trading system. People here live illegally in the shadows and operate in a “cash only” economy.
The constant fear of repatriation and problems such as family separation prevent them from fully integrating into society. This same threat allows unscrupulous employers to exploit workers, disadvantage them and deprive the government of tax revenue. And yes, this very system is at work in our own community today.
To overcome this, we must (by necessity) find a way to attract these people into the wider society. This is both the rational and humane approach. Many proposals have been put forward by both sides that would “legalize” the status of important and productive members of this group. Similarly, there must be a “pathway to citizenship” if you want to create a compelling reason to participate in the program. Introduce a period of amnesty, then be tough on those who remain outside the system. Join or get kicked out.
The way forward is to create a registered “guest worker” program that allows employers to sponsor and hire the workers needed to meet their employment needs. Legitimate participants would be safe and could stay. In this framework, people who have “legitimately” participated in the social and economic fabric of our country should finally be able to access full citizenship (including those who 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 examples that would mitigate such an approach.
However, we must have the courage and intelligence to differentiate between anecdotal evidence, “fake” information and material relevant facts. Maybe not possible, but you have to try!
Dave Clark is an entrepreneur and former Councilor of Kingsport.