We need immigration policy; we get partisan war

In just 30 years, the U.S. population will increase by 84 percent, mostly resulting from a massive and wave of immigrants.

The ethnic make-up of many parts of the country will change. The economy will experience major growth, though it will suffer through deep recessions. The income gap between the wealthiest and the poorest people, many of them immigrants, will widen, and only small part of the population will control most of the American economy.

This is not today’s America. That was the United States in 1880.

Skip ahead exactly a century. In the next 30 years, the U.S. population will increase by 36 percent, including 10-11 million immigrants who do not enter the country legally.

The ethnic make-up of many parts of the country will change. The new arrivals will take unappealing jobs, shunned by citizens, as they escape economic privation and physical danger in their home countries. They will rise in their new freedom.

The economy will experience steady growth, though it will suffer through a deep recession. The income gap between the wealthiest and the poorest people will widen, and only small part of the population will control most of the American economy.

In both periods, many U.S. citizens resent the immigrants and want them excluded from the country.

The difference between the two periods is that, during the first, the United States did not limit immigration while in the second it did. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama each expelled about 2 million illegal immigrants.

Still, there are an estimated 11 million people in the country who came across the thousands of miles of American borders that are virtually impossible to patrol or wall off satisfactorily.

Their presence is a tribute to the appeal of American political and economic freedom. But these so-called undocumented immigrants present both opportunities and challenges.

Many immigrants provide essential contributions to the economy, performing necessary but often undesirable jobs. As they join the economy, they become consumers. As a group, consumers support about two-thirds of the economy, so adding to their number promotes growth.

But the new immigrants can impose costs on the economy as well. They require public services ranging from education for their children to social welfare assistance.

And they are in the country without legal right, a fact that concerns some law-abiding citizens. Each year, they become more integrated into American society.

Few Americans believe it would be possible to send all 11 million out of the country and back to their places of origin. But many believe that people who broke American law should not be rewarded with citizenship.

The president and Congress understand the complex issues and the inevitable need to solve the immigration problem without massive deportations. But partisan politics, pandering to one side or the other and a lack of leadership has blocked agreement on a solution.

Now, with no more elections left in his term, Obama proposes to allow a large segment of the new immigrants by directing his administration not to seek to deport them. Using his discretion about which lawbreakers to pursue, the president could set a dangerous constitutional precedent.

While allowing millions to stay in the country and work, the federal government will seek to block further illegal immigration and to deport recent arrivals. In Obama’s view, some action must be taken, because the Republicans choose to do nothing.

Congressional Republicans are furious, and charge Obama with abusing his powers as the chief executive by allowing immigrants to remain in the country who should be deported. But they must know that mass deportation is both impossible and undesirable for the economy.

The president may gain support for the Democratic Party from the growing Hispanic community and may even be taking the kind of action that is inevitable. But it amounts to another hostile move in the partisan conflict paralyzing Washington.

Now, it looks like the GOP has a choice between a counter attack and making a counter proposal. So far, the Republicans have offered little more than proposing tighter border controls.

Instead of continued partisan games with an issue of great national importance, the two sides should sit down and try to negotiate. And the public should be able to understand which side is willing to compromise to resolve the issue before we arrive in another election year.

The lesson of this year’s elections is probably less that the voters rejected Obama than that they urgently want divided government to work. Here’s an immediate chance to respond to that demand.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.