Immigration Policy is Badly in Need of Change – And Neither Party Understands or Uses Hard Data
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Immigration Policy is Badly in Need of Change – And Neither Party Understands or Uses Hard Data

The Democrats are painting themselves into a corner over a too extreme position in favor of a very liberal immigration policy.  In the current environment, the Democrats will have to give some.  The Republicans, on the other hand, are just as stupid, not even using the very convincing data to champion their own stories.

And, the Wall is a distraction at best, a symptom if nothing else of massive immigration without an up-to-date policy.

Too much of the focus, at least by Democrats, is on the Dreamers.  Focus on the Dreamers is both feel good and important, but it blunts, even obfuscates, the need to see the whole picture about immigration in the United States, and even more importantly about the trends over time in immigration.   The Dreamers should have been given a path to citizenship long ago.  We need both to move on the Dreamers, secure their future in America, and then address the larger picture as quickly as possible.

Interestingly, the Republicans are floundering too as to a broad, new policy, but are largely on the right track.  They are looking beyond the Dreamers and at immigration generally.  And, that is where we do need to weigh policy today against current needs for skills and national security.  Analysis of data and national trends do need to be folded into discussions about immigration policy going forward.

The macro data are where we must start and are really quite interesting.  For example, as of 2015, there were 43.3 million immigrants in the U.S. or 13.5% of the total population.  If you look back a bit, one gets a sense of how fast the number of immigrants has grown (9.6 million in 1970 or 4.7% of the population, 19.8 million in 1990 or 7.9% of the population, and 31.1 million in 2000 or 11.1% of the population). 

The number of immigrants as a proportion of the population has grown quite significantly.  There is need to set some targets for this first half century, not only about numbers but about skill needs and national security.   This must be the focus forward, and such a focus – free of the Dreamers – might allow for some bi-partisan movement. 

Given the exponential growth of immigrants in America, it is not surprising that the U.S. born population feels uncomfortable.  The last election was a clear signal.  It’s time to look at the whole picture, and to set 21st Century policy. 

Daniel Socolow
Daniel Socolow: President, Socolow Group. Former Director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, President of the American University of Paris, Vice President of Spelman College. BA, MA, Ph.D.


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