It is easy to get demoralized about the inability to reach a consensus, but understanding the complexity of the challenge could help us appreciate what stands in the way of reform — and what needs to happen before change can occur.
For the last several years, the United States has been gripped in a sharp debate over the flow of immigrants into our country. It is easy to get demoralized about the inability to reach a consensus, but understanding the complexity of the challenge could help us appreciate what stands in the way of reform — and what needs to happen before change can occur.
And make no mistake: We must resolve these issues if we are to experience a virtuous cycle of greater openness, wealth and human development, rather than falling back into a vicious cycle that leads the world into greater anarchy, poverty, disorder and war.
Every day, tens of millions of people cross borders, adding up to roughly 2 billion annually. Managing those flows is a huge challenge for nation-states, whose governments must make choices about who can enter — and exit — and on what terms. This is where politics enters the equation.
To reap the benefits of immigration, such as new sources of human capital and labor, nation-states must accept the long-term costs of social integration, the short-term fiscal burdens of concentrated immigrant populations in some regions and localities, and the security costs that come with living in an age of drug cartels and domestic and international terrorism. The strong feelings on all sides of those issues make it painstakingly hard to create actual policies.
Liberal democracies also must contend with the rights of migrants, including their legalization, naturalization and citizenship. It is one thing to need foreign labor, but is it right to admit foreign workers without granting them protections against exploitation?
This is another place where so much of our nation’s debate has stalled, especially when it comes to determining whether unauthorized immigrants should have a shot at legalization. Until we find a way to legalize their status, we risk undermining a social contract that extends rights in return for labor and long-term residence.
By James F. Hollifield for NEWSDAY
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