Thursday, February 25, 2021

Thoughts on the Immigration Debate

Immigration Experts and Economists across the Ideological Spectrum agree that Increasing the Future Flow of Legal Immigrants will be Essential to Driving Economic Growth and Maintaining a Sustainable Balance between the Number of Working-Age People paying Taxes and Retired Americans drawing Benefits through Social Security, Medicare, and other Entitlements for the Elderly. That Pressure is especially acute because the Latest Census Data suggest the Nation's Population may have Grown more Slowly from 2010 to 2020 than over any other 10-year Span in American History, an ominous dynamic that's received Little Attention from either Party.

Without Immigration it becomes increasingly impossible to Sustain Entitlements, much less a Functioning Health Care System, or a Local Tax Base in Rural and Suburban Cities, and Communities across the Country. Given the Slowdown in the Growth of the Working-Age Population, in the Absence of Immigration, the U.S. becomes Japan. We become smaller in size, Older, less Economically Potent, and less capable of Projecting our Values on our Global Stage.

After Trump sought to Slash Legal Immigration through Legislative and Administrative Action, the Legislative Proposals introduced last week by President Biden and Congressional Democrats would Boost the Number of New Arrivals to a much Greater Extent than Initial Reactions to the Bills recognized, the Bill would end up Significantly Increasing the Legal Immigration Level and that should have a Significant Benefit demographically. But the Proposals could quickly Fall-Out of the Immigration Debate if Democrats conclude that they have No Chance of Winning enough Republican Support to Pass a Comprehensive Bill.

All of this year's Legislative Calculations about Immigration are Shaped by the Failures of 2006 and 2013. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama tried to Pass Comprehensive Immigration Bills that Balanced Legalization for the roughly 11 Million Undocumented Immigrants, a Democratic Priority, with Tougher Border Enforcement, the Top Republican Goal, and Changes in the Legal Immigration System, mostly a concern of the Business Community and a source of Ambivalence, if not Hostility, from Organized Labor. Both in 2006 and 2013, the Senate passed Omnibus Bills with Bipartisan Majorities, though with Support from notably fewer Republicans the Second time. But each time the Legislation died when the Republicans who Controlled the House Majority at the time Refused to consider the Bills. That Legacy of Failure largely explains why there's Little Enthusiasm among Democrats today for the Extended Bipartisan Negotiations that Characterized the 2006 and 2013 efforts.

Advocates hope to include Legalization for the: Young Undocumented; Farmworkers; Immigrants who are in the U.S. on so-called Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from Countries experiencing Natural Disasters or Political Instability, and beyond that, up to Millions of Additional Undocumented People working in Occupations that have been deemed "Essential" during the Pandemic. Together, these Categories, which Overlap somewhat, might cover as many as 7 Million of the Estimated 11 Million Undocumented Workers.

Legalizing the Undocumented, who in many Cases are Longtime Residents or have U.S. Citizen Children, has always been the Top Priority and Moral Center of the Immigration Debate for Democrats. But because the Undocumented, by definition, are already Living in the U.S. and the Vast Majority are already Participating in the Workforce, they would Not address the Population Squeeze that's Tightening on American Society.

The Slowdown in Population Growth is one of the most Significant Changes in the Political Landscape since Congress last seriously tried to Overhaul the Immigration Laws. From 2019 to 2020 the Nation's Population grew more Slowly than in any year since 1900. That was obviously Influenced by the Pandemic, but more Troublingly, with Deaths Rising, Births Declining, and Immigration Contracting during the Trump years, the Nation's Population Growth rate from 2010 through 2020 could be the Lowest in any Decade since the First Census was conducted in 1790.

The Details of this Slowdown are even more Discouraging. While the Working-Age Population is Stagnating, the Senior Population is Exploding. Even under current Levels of Immigration, the Census Bureau Projects that the Senior Population will grow by nearly 40% from now through 2035, almost exactly 10 times as Fast as the Working-age Population.

We need to be talking about the Future of Immigration with the Bottom-Line Self-Interest of Americans who want to Retire in mind.

The Nation's growing Diversity is centered among the Young. The 2020 Census will find that for the First time, a Majority of the Nation's under-18 Population is Non-White. But because the U.S. largely Cut-Off Immigration from 1924 to 1965, most Older Americans are White. This Demographic Contrast is a Collision between the Brown and the Gray, and one of its many Implications is that through the 21st Century, a Growing and Preponderantly White Senior Population will depend on an Increasingly Non-White Working-Age Population to Pay the Taxes that Fund Social Security and Medicare.

A Proposed tweaks to the System, Reorienting Legal Immigration Policy around that Dynamic. The U.S. should set Legal Immigration Levels with the Goal of Maintaining the Dependency Ratio at about its Current Level of 3.5 Working-Age Adults for each Retiree. As the Senior Population Grows over the coming Decades, that would require roughly a 37% Increase in Legal Immigration, about 370,000 more People a year than the roughly 1 Million to 1.2 Million Annually the U.S. has been Admitting.

Neither the White House nor Congressional Democrats have yet Produced an Estimate of how many more People their Plans would Admit, and each seems Reluctant to do so. But in the Detailed Analysis, if Fully Implemented, the Democratic Proposal would essentially meet these Target. The Bill would Increase the Flow of Legal Immigrants to about 1.5 Million Annually.

At points over the coming Decade, the Increase would be even Greater, because the Bill also would Clear-Out the huge Backlogs that now have nearly 3.8 Million Eligible Immigrants waiting for Family Reunification Visas. Under the Legislation America's Working-Age Population would Grow by nearly 1/4th more each Year than it would under Current Policy.

The Bill does Not fundamentally Restructure the Legal Immigration System, which now Admits Migrants primarily through Two Principal Streams: Family Reunification and Employment. But it Adjusts the Rules in seemingly Technical ways across Multiple Entry Points in that System, systematically Widening the Spigot. For instance, the Legislation seems to make Only a Minor Change in the Employment-based System, increasing the Number of Visas from the current 140,000 Annually to 170,000.

But in fact, the Bill could more than Double the Number of Employment-based Entrants, a Top Priority for Business Groups. While the Spouses and Minor Children of Employment-based Immigrants are now Counted against that 140,000 Annual Cap, they would be Exempted from the New Higher Limit. That would allow All of the Slots to be used for Employment-based Applicants, and would have a further Multiplying Effect by Creating Eligibility for the immediate Family Members of that Larger Group.

It is hard to have this Discussion now that we've had a Terrible Economic Tragedy, a Terrible Public Health Tragedy. But when you do Immigration Reform it should be what do you want the Rules-of-the-Road to be for the next 20 years. You Don't want to do this Every year.

Other Key Changes include: Allowing All Foreign Students who earn Ph.D.s in the U.S. to receive Green Cards; a Pilot Program allowing Cities or Counties facing Population Loss to Sponsor Immigrants who will Relocate there and slightly Increasing the Number of Visas available to Countries whose Small Immigration Flows make them Eligible for the "Diversity Lottery", while again Multiplying the Impact by Exempting Spouses and Minor Children from the Count.

Another Big Change: Providing Visas to Any Eligible Immigrant who has been Waiting 10 years or More because of Annual Caps and Country Limits that Restrict Entry for certain Family Members, such as Adult Children or Siblings, of U.S. Citizens. Typically, Democrats have Supported Clearing such Backlogs before Legalizing the Undocumented to Preempt the Criticism that Legalization Penalizes Immigrants who have been Legally waiting in line.

While Employment, and Family-based Immigration have been pitted against Each Other in the Previous Legislative Debates, that's a False Choice. Whichever Door Migrants come through, the Vast Majority will eventually join the Workforce, which is exactly what the U.S. needs in the coming years. You can make a Case that Anybody who is Working Age is a Net Contributor to the System. But can it get through Congress?

The Question is whether Any of this has a Path toward becoming Law. One Obstacle is the Partisan Conundrum. Legal Immigration Revisions are likely to make the Cut only if there's a Comprehensive Bill, rather than a Package that's Stripped Down to try to Squeeze it into Reconciliation. But there will be a Comprehensive Package only if 10 Senate Republicans are Willing to Vote for one, and given Trump's continuing Influence that seems dubious, despite Strong Business Community Support for such a Deal.

Timing is a Problem too. With Millions of Americans still Unemployed as a result of the Pandemic, this isn't the ideal time to talk about the need to Add more People to the Workforce. Yet Experts say America must shape these Policies with an eye Not on the Next Few Months but on the Next Few Decades.

Yet even amid the Pandemic, Awareness of the Population Squeeze, and its Implications for the Economy, may be Growing. We are beginning to hear it in the States and almost on a Local Basis. If we're going to do immigration Reform it's Critical that we think through what Provisions work Best for supporting the Economy, and increasing Legal Immigration is one of the Best things you can do to Support Future Economic Growth.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker

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