From Rhetoric to Reality
Now that the last piece of confetti has rained down on the Democratic National Convention, it’s worth examining the latest political rhetoric concerning immigrants.
Like the Republicans at their national convention, Democratic stump speeches were liberally sprinkled with references to the country’s immigrant roots. But the Democrats didn’t stop there. From the vice president to the president, Democrats lauded the Obama administration’s efforts to aid immigrants who were brought here as children without the benefit of immigration papers.
So-called “Dreamers,” their plight as long-time residents of a place they can’t legally call home has sparked failed legislative efforts in the past that would have helped them to realize the dream of American citizenship. The latest effort supported by President Obama is a policy change that offers a two-year reprieve and possible work authorization to select immigrants who meet certain criteria.
That the president cited this policy change as among his top achievements may not be that surprising since at least one rapidly growing voting bloc — Latinos – has historically close ties to immigrants. The policy change also will help to blunt critics of the administration’s record number of deportations.
But the strategy is politically risky as well at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment is running at a fever pitch in some states. Throughout the country’s history, the tide of public opinion has risen against immigrants in bad economic times.
Obama rightfully took credit for taking action to avert the total financial meltdown he faced when he entered office. But there still are 23 million people out of work.
Entire organizations feed off the premise that immigrants are to blame for stealing jobs from Americans. But the reality is much more nuanced. While some studies show that immigrant workers have a short-term negative effect on the native, low-skilled labor pool, the same studies show a long-term positive effect from immigrant workers in terms of productivity and business expansion.
For now, the Republicans are seizing on the anti-immigration platform, opposing amnesty in any form, even a two-year reprieve for immigrants brought here as children and who have always called this country home. But both parties agree that other changes need to be made to the visa system to ensure that the foreign-born labor force is large enough to provide enough skilled workers to allow for American business expansion.
With the economy looming as the top issue in this election, it’s doubtful that immigration reform will be making any headlines soon. That’s unfortunate, as immigration reform may be exactly what’s needed to help provide the jolt the U.S. economy needs.