In Other Views: Immigration Through a New Lens

Border Patrol agents are stopping unauthorized migrants coming from Mexico at record levels. Little wonder more than half of Americans now say an “invasion” is underway at the southern border, according to a recent NPR/Ipsos poll.

At the same time, net immigration in the United States — the number of all foreign arrivals, including illegal ones, minus the number of departures — has been on a downward slope for five years, partly but not only because of the pandemic.

As the Economist noted recently, migrants added just 247,000 people to the U.S. population in the year that ended in July 2021, the smallest increase in three decades and an amount equal to less than one-tenth of 1% of the country’s population. The Trump administration, having launched an assault on legal as well as illegal immigration, drove down the number of entries through red tape even before covid-19’s arrival.

Two things are simultaneously true. First, the Biden administration has mishandled immigration messaging by telling migrants not to come even as it pressed for more humane — meaning relaxed — border policies. Second, without a more forward-looking immigration policy, one more closely aligned with labor-force demands in an economy starved for workers, the nation’s long-term economic growth prospects will be stunted.

For now, the former has fouled the prospects for the latter. Despite the fact that most apprehended migrants are sent back to Mexico under a public health edict the Trump administration imposed, Republicans predictably weaponize the surge of migrants at the border, using it to scare Americans and score political points. The fact that net immigration is tumbling and contributing to labor shortages — and thereby also to inflation, by helping to drive up wages — is lost in the tsunami of political rhetoric about an “invasion.”

Credit where it’s due: Despite its contradictory messaging, the Biden administration has taken measured steps to funnel migrants legally into seasonal nonagricultural jobs in sectors where they are desperately needed.

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