The obstructing haze of misinformation and manipulation thickens as a means of galvanizing movements of hate. With attempts to place immigration as a centerpiece for the 2020 presidential election, the volume of fear mongering and fictitious rhetoric deployed increases. President Donald J. Trump has adopted an erroneous new message regarding migrants seeking refuge in the United States: “Our country is full.”
When former President and conservative icon Ronald Reagan spoke of America as John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill,” he did not imagine its grandeur to be exclusive and protectionist against those wishing to immigrate. He envisioned in his farewell address, “a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace — a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”
There was once bipartisan acknowledgment of the importance of immigration for a prosperous nation, an acceptance of immigration as a unique strength of this nation. Reagan would also assert his support of anyone with the courage and commitment to leave their origins in hope of attaining entrance to America.
His realistic consideration of immigration as a positive attribute of America was not something he stumbled into as he left office but rather, in a 1952 commencement address to Williams Woods College he said, “Any place in the world and any person from those places, any person with the courage, with the desire to tear up their roots, to strive for freedom, to attempt and dare to live in a strange and foreign place, to travel halfway across the world was welcome here.”
Contrary to the claims of being too full, America is in need of a stronger influx of immigrants. With the Congressional Budget Office forecasting that the nation’s labor force is slowing to only 0.5% a year over the coming decade, which is approximately one-third as fast as from 1950 to 2007, our economy would be supported by increasing in the population of eligible workers. Economic Innovation Group found in a recent study that 80% of American counties witnessed declining numbers of prime working-age adults from 2007 to 2017.
At the same time, the United States’ population growth has dropped to an 80-year low. With a record-low fertility rate, this nation is experiencing a population drain that has placed a strain on private industries and public programs. Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, put more into the social safety net than they take out and increasing immigration rates have been considered a potential solution to the problem of our collapsing Social Security program. The declining rates of immigration will, in fact, increase the Social Security deficit.
In New Jersey, according to NJ Advance Media analysis, “from 2003 and 2017, the native-born population in New Jersey declined in nearly half of the 19 counties where the Census Bureau recorded data.” Reflecting the national trend, New Jersey is also experiencing a declining fertility rate that now sits at 1.74 births per woman, while the “replace rate” is 2.1.
“President Trump’s statement is factually incorrect. America is not full yet. It’s rhetorically useful for his base but it is incredibly destructive for the country,” said Janice Fine, a professor at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University, in an interview with NJ Advance Media.
Behind the ruse of its restrictive rhetoric, the Trump administration even recognizes the current dependence on immigration in labor. Though its talking points are of dehumanization and hard-line exclusion, it announced plans to issue up to 30,000 additional H-2B visas for temporary workers.
Former President Lyndon B. Johnson, ending the immoral quota system and ushering in a new era of immigration by signing the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1965, proclaimed in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, “The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources — because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.”
This nation has reaped the benefits of immigration, profiteering off of immigrants' skills and labor, while their existence is demonized and their status degraded. As Eleanor Roosevelt observed, “… we find that we have always been ready to receive the unfortunate from other countries, and though this may seem a generous gesture on our part, we have profited a thousand-fold by what they have brought us.”
Though such illegitimate claims that the country is too full for more immigrants must be confronted by fact and reason, the ultimate adjudication must not solely accept a profiteering motive and economic gain as justification for a pro-immigration position. We must not travel down a path of immigration policy debate that lacks moral considerations.
There cannot be an acceptance of immigrant labor exploitation. Simply garnering economic gains without allocation of rights and justice to the immigrant workers cannot stand. America is the world leader of foreign born residents, a nation of immigrants. And this nation flourishes when human dignity and inalienable rights are preserved, protected and promoted.
The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 151st editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.