The issue of the border and migration is a politically charged issue. Republicans have seized upon it as one of the few concrete issues that they think can help them win elections, since their other issues involve culture wars that do not seem to have gained much traction. So desperate are they to keep this issue alive that the speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson, urged on by serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT), has promised to torpedo a bipartisan plan negotiated by Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to deal with the border issue, so that it will not be resolved before the election, even though the plan seems to give hard-line Republicans almost every thing that they had demanded.
Opponents to any attempt to deal with the border issues have exploited the xenophobia that is always lurking in the minds of people to view anything other that harsh exclusionary treatment of those seeking asylum as constituting an ‘open borders’ policy that will destroy the US. This xenophobia is laced with racism since the immigrants they are concerned about stopping are people of color, while SSAT has bemoaned that they are not people from Europe who would no doubt be welcomed into the country.
As John Cassidy writes, the US needs immigrants, especially young ones, if its demographic spectrum does not get skewed too much towards old people, as is also happening in countries like Japan and China.
Demographers and economists have been warning that the aging baby-boomer population presents a serious challenge to the nation’s finances, as the ratio of seniors to working-age adults – the age-dependency ratio – rises. The reason is straightforward: Social Security and Medicare are largely financed on a pay-as-you-go basis, which means that some of the taxes paid by current workers are transferred to current retirees. If the dependency ratio rises, the financial burden on the working-age population also increases.
A front-page piece in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal pointed out that this problem was contained for a long time because the age-dependency ratio remained relatively steady. In 1980, there were nineteen Americans age sixty-five or older for every hundred Americans between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four. The dependency ratio was nineteen per cent. By 2010, it crept up to twenty-one per cent, an increase of just two percentage points in thirty years.
But the end of 2010 marked an important threshold. In 2011, the first members of the baby-boom generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) turned sixty-five. By 2017, the age-dependency ratio had risen to twenty-five per cent—an increase of four percentage points in just seven years. In the coming decades, it is expected to rise even more sharply. By 2030, “the ratio would climb to 35 retiree-age Americans for every 100 of working age . . . and 42 by 2060,” the Journal story said, citing projections released earlier this year.
The final option is to welcome more immigrants, particularly younger immigrants, so that, in the coming decades, they and their descendants will find work and contribute to the tax base. Almost all economists agree that immigration raises G.D.P. and stimulates business development by increasing the supply of workers and entrepreneurs. There is some disagreement about the net fiscal impact of first-generation migrants. The argument is that they tend to be less educated and therefore earn lower wages than the native population, and that they tend to contribute less in taxes. But this is disputed. There is no doubt about the contribution that immigrant families make over the longer term, however.
“Second-generation adults – the children of immigrants – had, on average, a more favorable net fiscal impact for all government levels combined than either first-generation immigrants or the rest of the native-born population,” a study of the period from 1994-2013 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, published in 2016, pointed out. “Reflecting their slightly higher educational achievement, as well as their higher wages and salaries, the second generation contributed more in taxes on a per capita basis during working ages than did their parents or other native-born Americans.”
In the long run, welcoming immigrants is a good investment for the United States. The entire history of the country demonstrates this fact.
Apart from the actual bill and the politics involved, I have been thinking about what kind of immigrants the US should let in. There are plenty of young immigrants and their families who are trying to get across the southern border. The problem is that these people have been characterized by SSAT, notably in his announcement as a candidate is 2015, as terrible people, rapists, murderers, drug dealers, and other types of undesirables and that we should fear them, and this view has permeated through society. He has continued to demagogue on this issue. Any large group of people will have such people among them but there seems little or no evidence that they constitute a significant portion. Instead, they seem to be mostly poor people fleeing persecution and poverty, and claiming asylum in the US is seen by them as the only hope for themselves and their children for a better future, so much so that they are willing to make a highly dangerous journey that has low probability of success.
It has been argued by some that even though these people are seeking a better and safer life, they should go through the ‘proper channels’ and get in line with all the others who seek to immigrate. Those (like me) who did come here like that know that it is an bureaucratically arduous process, where you have to show that you are ‘worthy’ in some way, by virtue of having special knowledge or skills (or lots of money) that are needed here. It is tempting for people like us to resent those who seem (at least in our eyes) to be trying to take shortcuts that we did not take, and for us to join with those who dismiss those poor people who lack much education or special skills as likely to be a drain on society and thus deserve to be kept out.
But is that true? I have long been doubtful of that thesis. I was struck by this poignant photograph of what looks like a father and son braving a river to get to the US, with the child having such great trust in the father to get across safely, because it captured something that I had been thinking about.
I cannot imagine myself being so desperate to do something like that. It seems to me that people who would take such risks with their families and leave their home country to get to a far away place that is so different in the hope of making a better life for their children, rather than doing this as an easy short cut, must have some truly admirable qualities, such as ambition, courage, and perseverance. The idea that after arriving here, such people would just do nothing or become criminals strikes me as implausible, unless they are treated so badly that they are forced into it because they are left with no other options. If they are given work permits, they are likely to be industrious and strive to succeed, like almost all immigrants, because of the desire to prove to themselves, their families, and those they left behind that the massive risk they took in leaving their homelands was worth it.
I do not know what the solution to the immigration issue is. But it might help to start looking on the people who are trying to cross the border without proper documentation as potential assets to this country instead of viewing them as liabilities or fearing them as threats.
For a thoughtful discussion of the issue of immigration at the southern boarder and its evolution in the 21st century, I can recommend this 28-minute podcast between Brooke Gladstone (host of On the Media) and Jonathan Blitzer.
Jonathan Blitzer is a staff writer at The New Yorker covering immigration. He’s observed that the last three American presidents have each faced a humanitarian emergency at the southern border – in 2014, 2019, and 2021 – but each of these crises is experienced by the American public as a separate, unrelated incident. In his new book Everyone Who Is Gone Is Here, he traces the broader historical and geopolitical root causes of the unique moment of mass migration to the United States that we’re witnessing today. Brooke speaks with Blitzer about how the causes of the mass migration to the United States from Central America over the past decade stem back to the 1980s and the Cold War.