In June of 2006, Robert Morison, the co-author of the book Workforce Crisis made an appearance on The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. This is what he said, "Don't let the current hubbub about illegal border crossing from Mexico give immigration a bad name. The U.S. economy needs immigrants, because the growth rate of the native-born workforce is slowing to a trickle. There will be a period during the next decade when all of our workforce growth will be thanks to immigration. We also need skilled immigrants, people who come to America either already skilled or seeking education. That's because the economy continues to add jobs requiring technical training or a college degree, while the aggregate demand for unskilled labor is nearly flat." (see the rest of Mr. Morison's comments here).
I would be interested to know what Mr. Morison would say today. Since June the un-employment rate has dropped again and crackdowns on illegal immigration have caused labor shortages in farm labor and other areas. The April 9, 2007 issue of Business Week reported, "In agriculture, the crackdown on illegal immigration has dried up farm labor so much that crops were left rotting in the fields last year. Even Michigan, which has the nation's highest unemployment rate, is reaching out to migrant farmworkers from Texas and, soon, Florida. Its slogan is "Venga a Michigan"--Spanish for "Come to Michigan." (see the full article from Business Week here)
"Come to Michigan," seems to be the only place where the welcome mat is still out on the porch, but what about The Statue of Liberty, you know the phrase, "Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free..."
There are groups in the news who like to loudly proclaim, "Yes, we believe in immigration, but these people need to come here legally." The reality of the situation is that we allow far fewer immigrants into this country than we need to support our economy. There is also the reality that some who come from Canada and Mexico have no interest in becoming U.S. citizens, they just want to be able to come here to work and then leave.
Dr. Wayne Conelius of the University of California was interviewed for a 60 Minutes story about illegal immigration at the U.S. / Mexican border. He said, "They can earn more in an hour of work in the United States then they could in an entire day in Mexico-- if they had a job. The government says crossing the border through the desert is breaking the law... The message that we're sending them is if you can get past the obstacle course at the border, you're essentially home free. You have pretty much unrestricted access to our labor market and there are employers out there eager for your labor." That story aired in December of 2005. Since then border control has been tightened and the need for immigrant labor and the opportunities available for those who are willing to take that risk have become better. (read the very compelling 60 Minutes report here)
It is difficult for anyone to see issue beyond their own perspective and mine is that of a mother. If I were living in poverty and wondering if I would be able to provide for my child the things that every child should have, would I be willing to break the speed limit, (illegal immigration is classified as a misdemeanor) the answer. Yes! Would I have the courage and take the risks that so many Mexican mothers have taken to give their children a better life? I hope that I would. Over eight million illegal immigrants live in the United States. We need them to be here. If we did not need them, there would be no work for them and they would not come.
There are those that claim that we need to build a fence across our southern border, and I have to say that I see something ugly in that. If we are not talking about racism, then why don't we build a fence across our northern border as well.
There is not a perfect solution to illegal immigration that I can see, but I believe in The Guest Worker Program as the only solution that has some humanity and fairness, not to mention responsible economic sense in it, and I pray for its adoption.
My sister-in-law once said to me, "When we lift anyone, we lift everyone," and that is something I truly believe. I also believe that we must spread liberty, we must promote freedom, we must share prosperity and freedom with others, or we must lose it.