Immigration

Do we need more immigrants?

Do we need more immigrants?

If you just listened to conservative talk radio or blogs you may be under the impression that Hispanics are at odds with conservatives over immigration reform. But, for the most part, they’re not.

The results of a recent “Opiniones Latinas” national survey by John McLaughlin shows that the majority of Hispanics, particularly registered voters, agree with conservatives on the important issues of securing the border, E-Verify, and no welfare for non-citizens. For example:

- A majority of Hispanic voters, 60%, support tougher enforcement of the border to keep undocumented immigrants from coming into the U.S. legally. Only 35% opposed.

- A majority of Hispanic voters, 64%, support giving employers an E-Verify system to find out if a job applicant is lawfully in the U.S. or not. Only 29% opposed.

- Three in four Hispanic adults, 77%, support immigration reform which would include granting legal status to those who are already here and giving them a way, after a wait, to become citizens. Only 17% oppose.

- Among all Hispanics, 60%, support granting legal status to those already here only when the border is 90% secure; 32% oppose.

- Among Hispanic voters, 56% support stopping undocumented immigrants who are already here from getting food stamps, welfare, Medicaid, and Obamacare benefits while they are going through the legalization process; 40% oppose.

You get the point.

As I have argued before, conservative principles can comfortably be applied to piecemeal aspects of this challenge, including: border security (with reasonable triggers), market-based legal immigration (which prioritizes needed high skilled and entry level jobs over a current system of lottery and family reunification), and a top-notch employment verification mechanism that holds both employers and employees accountable.

Legalizing the 11 million people in our midst who either entered unlawfully or decided to overstay their visas is the real challenge for conservatives.

Our nation is no longer composed of vastly underpopulated territories in dire need of settlers. We are not in need of a massive influx of immigrants to build our railroad system or man our industrial revolution.

But, do we need more immigrants? The answer is a resounding “yes.”

Ours is a declining native population. Much like Japan and Western Europe, if we fail to grow, ours will be a less productive, older workforce which cannot compete in today’s global economy without an infusion of younger workers. We need to retain foreigners educated in the sciences, engineering and math to complement our great needs for a highly skilled workforce as well as find workers who can meet our needs in agriculture, hospitality and construction.

The 11 million in our midst are generally younger and thus more productive. We have already trained many of them who currently work here and hundreds of thousands of youngsters came to our country through no fault of their own. They have served our nation patriotically in the military and many attend college and are ready to work. Some of my friends who have either never met nor really know these immigrants believe that they are “moochers” — that they came to America to receive benefits and not to contribute to it, but to take from it.

Well, I am one of those immigrants. I came to America at the age of 12 and have worked every day since. From middle school through high school I mowed lawns, delivered newspapers and sold donuts. I paid my way through the first years of college by cleaning offices in the evenings and parking cars on weekends.  I even borrowed an Uncle’s old coat to go to the prom and did not have a bedroom until my third year in college.

When I cleaned those executive offices, I had never met the people who worked there, and would not have dreamed entering such buildings unless it was to clean there. The immigrants who worked alongside me all came to this country for the same reason: to make a life for themselves and their loved ones. I lived amongst them because I was one of them. I saw them struggle to save for a daughter’s humble wedding or buy an old clunker car so they wouldn’t have to take 3 buses to get to work. Many of the 11 million immigrants currently living in the shadows share the same story.

But, today America is different. Not because of our immigrants but because of a federal government which has chipped away at our ability to celebrate the virtues of American exceptionalism, the obligations of self-reliance and love of country.  It’s a federal government that has showered more than one hundred million Americans with one form of federal benefits or another — a government which incentivizes government dependency over individual thrift.

We have an obligation to reconfigure the safety net in our country and Congress needs to pass immigration reform which will offer legal status to these 11 million folks but on the condition that they receive no benefits whatsoever from our federal government.

Clearly the majority of Hispanics in this country favor border security and the Republican-led conservative majority in the House has indicated that securing the border is first on their agenda. The House needs to show courage in standing up to those within our movement advocating, once again, to do nothing. It is up to the House to eliminate the pork, find a formula to legalize the undocumented and show up at conference committee with a willingness to negotiate.

Surely the House and Senate conferees can work this out and with compassion as their guide work to provide a road to legalization for those undocumented who came here for a better life and to participate in the American dream.

As this debate continues it seems fitting to recall the spirit of President Ronald Reagan’s farewell speech in 1989 as he described his version of that shining city on the hill: “In my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” That’s how Reagan saw America. That’s how Hispanics see America. That’s how conservatives see America. Now if we can just get these groups to realize they see the same thing, we’ll have the reform America needs.

Al Cardenas is the Chairman of the American Conservative Union and two-time Chairman of the Republican party of Florida. John McLaughlin is CEO and Partner of McLaughlin and Associates.

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