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.

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