The Importance of Immigration Reform

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Every day, people across the world make one of the hardest decisions in their lives: to leave the place where they grew up for a new home. For many, this means a move to the next village or city; for others, it might be as far as the other side of the world. Still, for all of them, it is a profound change in their way of life.

The United States, which has always been a nation of immigrants, is today no exception to the rule. The country’s current immigration framework, largely constructed in the 1950s and 1960s, is struggling to keep pace with the nation’s needs for population growth, family reunification, and economic productivity.

In 2018, most of the nation’s 28 million legal and unauthorized immigrants lived in just 20 major metropolitan areas, with two-thirds of these living in California, Texas, and Florida. These top-tier immigrant-majority regions have higher average incomes and larger education levels than the rest of the nation. They also have higher rates of homeownership, with more than half of the immigrant population owning their homes.

There are many reasons why it’s important for America to continue to embrace its heritage of immigration. First and foremost, it’s a vital driver of our economy. Immigrants boost national productivity by filling low-wage jobs, increasing demand for goods and services, and spurring business investment and capital formation. As a result, they contribute far more to our tax coffers than the public services they use (CBO estimates show that they pay $90 billion in taxes each year and consume only $5 billion in welfare benefits).

Despite popular belief, there is no evidence that immigrants “drain” our government’s coffers. Indeed, social scientists have long found that higher rates of immigration tend to correlate with lower unemployment rates, as they increase overall productivity and drive up consumption, while boosting labor force participation and raising savings rates.

The country must find a balance between these important economic and social concerns. To do so, we must reform the immigration system to allow for more flexibility in where and when people immigrate to the United States. This can be done by allowing states to petition for additional visas, by establishing a regional employment-based visa program, or by giving localities the power to create their own visa programs that prioritize specific types of high-tech workers. Such initiatives would help alleviate the burden of a national immigration system that is not designed to meet the needs of an increasingly polarized nation. And they would reinforce the fact that our greatest strength is our diversity.