I am a pro-immigration and pro-immigrant candidate, for three primary reasons. First,
I support policy that emphasizes individual freedoms and liberties. It is desirable to enable people to move where they want and pursue lives that they deem meaningful. Second, the social history of the United States is based on liberal immigration policy. Inviting people from other nations to come to the country and establish roots is one of the dominant narratives of our country’s history. The United States is comprised of peoples from every conceivable national, racial, ethnic, linguistic and cultural background – and this is a major source of its strength. Third, recent research suggests that there are often significant economic benefits that accrue to the nation as a result of immigration. For example, it used to be commonly argued that immigration led to a surplus of labor and the subsequent erosion of wages. More recent scholarship suggests that this increase in labor tends to attract capital investment that employs the labor, leading to no net decrease in longer term wages. It also used to be commonly argued that immigrants were a net drain on public resources – they utilized more public services than they paid for in taxes. Recent scholarship suggests the opposite. Because immigrants tend to be youthful and have low unemployment rates, they generally provide a net positive benefit (and often quite significant) to public finances. In addition, immigration generally leads to a net increase in world GDP, as immigrants move from economies with underdeveloped infrastructures that don’t support high levels of GDP/capita to economies with developed infrastructures that do. For these reasons, some countries (e.g., Japan) are considering raising immigration levels in order to create a more youthful demographic profile to ameliorate the strains of a more elderly population on public finances. There are a variety of tradeoffs to consider when establishing immigration policy (many more than can be covered here), but recent research suggests that the economic benefits to the host country are generally far more favorable than historically understood. For all of these reasons, I am philosophically in favor of liberal immigration policy, and policies that support immigrants who reside in the country.
To discuss immigration policy, it is necessary to divide the subject into categories. I will briefly comment on five: border enforcement; legal immigration policy; the challenge of undocumented immigrants; amnesty programs; and policy that addresses the children of undocumented immigrants.
The United States does need secure borders. Immigration, while desirable, must be managed. And it is difficult to operate an effective legal immigration process if there are high levels of illegal immigration. Nonetheless, I am strongly opposed to border walls and barriers as a means of thwarting illegal immigration. I believe they are generally ineffectual, and I believe that they are antithetical to the nation’s heritage
(as discussed above). I do, however, support strong border enforcement. It is imperative that individuals who seek to come to the U.S. do so legally, not via illegal entry. This raises the question of how to deal with the recent wave of illegal immigration from Central America. In my view, this situation demands a segmented solution. It would be inappropriate to let all individuals who have entered the country illegally to stay in the U.S. – this would be unfair to individuals waiting in legal immigration queues, and it would incent further illegal immigration. On the other hand, it would be inappropriate to deport all of the illegal entrants. Some have fled human trafficking networks and gang organizations, and would be at physical risk if deported. Individuals facing these types of dangerous situations should be allowed to stay. Thus, policy should be segmented – most individuals should be deported, but some
(based on case by case assessments) should be allowed to stay.
Regarding legal immigration policy, I support expanded immigration volumes in existing channels for legal immigration. For example, I support broader access to green cards (permanent work visas), expanded use of H-1B visas (for foreign workers with special skills), enabling the spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in the U.S., additional H-2A visas (temporary work permits for agricultural workers), etc. I also favor an expanded guest worker program. I also believe that it is appropriate to levy a fee on host companies in the U.S. for H-1B visas beyond a certain threshold. Collectively, these policies promote expanded legal immigration into the U.S.
A difficult policy issue is that of undocumented immigrants that are already in the country. Here, I support an amnesty program that provides these individuals with the opportunity to obtain citizenship. This program would require undocumented immigrants to pay a fine and back taxes, as well as to meet other requirements.
It would enable undocumented immigrants to become naturalized, rather than living here illegally under the fear of deportation. The U.S. does not currently have a structured amnesty program, and this raises the question of how undocumented immigrants should be treated in its absence. There are many dimensions to this question (more than can be addressed here). Suffice it to say that I do support employment checks of prospective hires to ensure that those being hired are in the country legally. However,
I do not support prolonged detention of undocumented immigrants in detention centers without cause. Recent experience in Oregon establishes the rights of states to refuse to comply with federal ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) requests for prolonged detention without cause.
Finally, I support the provision of a full range of public services to the children of undocumented immigrants. In the last legislative session, the Washington State Legislature passed the “Dream Act”, which enables the children of undocumented immigrants to apply for state financial aid for higher education. I strongly support this measure, and others motivated by the same sentiment of supporting immigrant youth. In my view, our state and nation do not benefit from depriving youth of the services necessary for them to flourish in our society.
As noted previously, this essay briefly deals with just several of the many topics associated with immigration policy. Nonetheless, several important themes emerge from this discussion. First, immigration policy needs to be subdivided into categories. One cannot adopt a simplistic blanket approach to deal with all immigration issues,
but instead needs to adopt a more nuanced approach that recognizes the different challenges that reside within each area of immigration policy. Second, as is commonly known, failure to implement comprehensive immigration reform is a major policy failure of our time. Our nation needs a set of clear, unambiguous policies in this area. Third, a political candidate needs to be clear on their philosophical orientation toward immigration, and mine is pro-immigration and pro-immigrant. This philosophy is consistent with my broader views on human rights; it acknowledges and reinforces the importance of immigrant communities in our nation’s history; and it is comports with recent research on the myriad economic benefits of immigration.
- John Stafford