The latest discussion on immigration has largely focused on the illegal immigration of people crossing over into the United States from Mexico. After taking a backseat into issues regarding our financial crisis, healthcare reform, and political tactics, the passing of immigration law SB1070 in Arizona has rekindled the discussion on immigration and our need to find an effective and just solution. Supporters of the law believe that the law will discourage illegal immigrants from entering the state. Critics believe that the new law will encourage discriminatory actions and encourage racial profiling. I will not focus on the new law enacted in Arizona, but rather take a broader perspective of how immigration affects the United States in a global economy.
Immigration is absolutely critical to the survival of the U.S. economy. The majority of our workplace is comprised of two important groups: immigrants and baby boomers. An article published in the Washington Post states that although immigrants account for 12.5 percent of the population, they make up 15 percent of the workplace. This overrepresentation occurs because immigrants and their children account for 58 percent of the U.S. population growth since 1980. With infertility a concern and the baby boomers reaching retirement age, we stand to have a void in the workplace that we simply cannot fill with native-born Americans. Not only will there be more jobs than people to fill them, but as baby boomers exit the workforce, they will take with them years of experience, knowledge, business relationships and expertise that cannot be easily archived.
This situation poses some very serious questions: How are we to continue progressing at the same level we have experienced over the past sixty years? How do we define progress? How do we pass down the information that cannot be stored outside the minds of our experts? With other countries making tremendous economic gains (I’m looking at India and China), how do we remain a leader, or even a competitor, in an ever increasingly global and competitive marketplace? These questions and several others will require complicated answers, and we need those answers now. How we answer them will help define the course for our future.
The United States has historically been a highly desirable place for foreign students to study abroad and we have attracted many of the top intellectuals from all over the planet. Over the past few years we have lost considerable ground to the United Kingdom, Spain, Sweden, Singapore, and China, who have all implemented strategies to make them more attractive to prospective students and professionals. As other destinations become more alluring we stand to lose the rate of innovation that has fueled our development. Madeleine Albright, Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel and Albert Einstein are just a few of the notable immigrants who helped shape the United States.
This country was “founded” on immigration. Today, the immigration of Mexican people is the focal point of the media. Although Mexicans do make up the largest number of illegal immigrants in the United States, they also make up the largest number of legal immigrants. According to the 2009 Annual Flow Report, published by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the total amount of legal permanent resident flow into the United States was 1,130,818. Of this number, Mexican immigrants accounted for only 14.6 percent, or 164,000 people. This number is down from 189,989 or 17.2% in 2008. A large number of immigrants are migrating from China, the Philippines, India, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Vietnam Columbia, and South Korea.
The top destinations within the U.S. were California, New York, Florida, Texas and New Jersey respectively. Sure Texas and California share a border with Mexico, but who was the last person you knew who walked from Mexico to New York? Immigration is a big deal that needs an appropriate solution, but illegal immigration from Mexico is only part of what should be a larger debate.
[Photo By Grand Canyon NPS]