Immigration has always been a hot button issue in America, and our generation is no different. Most recently, controls on immigration have been portrayed as racist and repressive by the open-borders Left and too expansive by the increasingly nativist Right.
Both sides have it wrong: Immigration is one of America’s great competitive assets, but making sure this remains the case requires finding sensible policy—which won’t much appeal to either the nativist Right or the multi-cultural Left.
That neither side is interested in reasonable policy is all too apparent when you take a look at the way partisans on both sides of the political aisle have been talking about the topic of late. Many conservatives see immigrants as a threat to the nation’s culture and their own political prospects, and as a result, some have sought to limit all immigration, legal or not. The opposite seems to be the case on the Left, where a progressive push for open borders seems designed to augment their political power on the logic that demographics is destiny and immigrants from Latin America and Asia naturally would vote for Democrats over “the racist” GOP.
These are both extreme ideologies, neither of which works best for the country as a whole.
The Left-wing ideologues miss the fact that amidst a deepening cultural rift and rising inequality, inviting large numbers of poor, largely uneducated people seems a poor policy choice, assuring ever more conflict and competition at the bottom of the labor pool. For proof that this is the case, look no further than the fact that working class and minority workers did better in terms of income under the restrictionist economic policies of President Trump, who targeted illegal immigration, than under previous administrations from both parties.
Indeed, one does not have to applaud Trump’s often offensive comments on immigrants or the calls by the likes of Arkansas’ Senator Tom Cotton to slash legal immigration to see the need for a more intelligent and sustainable policy.
But the Right-wing ideologues are wrong, too. Immigrants still remain critical to our economy, especially at times like these when we’re seeing a persistent labor shortage. The role of immigrants in high-value industries has also been well-documented; about one fourth of all technology and engineering companies started in the U.S. between 2006 and 2012 had at least one immigrant co-founder, and more than half of the American startups that became companies valued at $1 billion or more—including Google, Tesla, Stripe, and Uber—count immigrants among their founders and top executives. By some estimates, immigrants account for a quarter of U.S. invention and entrepreneurship.
Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.