There are compelling self-interest reasons to support easing restrictions on immigration, especially here in Southeast Minnesota. The latest projections from the Minnesota Demographic Center indicate that Southeast Minnesota will experience a decline in labor force of 2.3% over the next 35 years. For parts of the region outside Olmsted County, the decline is steeper: a population decline of 7.5% and a labor force decline of 11.9%. Four counties in our region will experience labor force declines of over 20%.

Unless immigration increases to make up this labor force deficit, our regional economy will likely suffer. In practical personal terms, this means, for example, that when your older sister needs a hip replacement, the rehab center will be unable to find the workers to provide adequate levels of care.

The beneficial role of immigrants in meeting the coming labor force shortage is well known among business leaders. In March 2021, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce published a document titled "The Economic Contributions of Immigrants in Minnesota," which makes a very strong case for the economic benefits of immigrants both to employers and to native-born workers. Among its key conclusions, it states, “Federal immigration reform remains a crucial ingredient for economic growth for the state and the nation. Reform should include moving to a modern system that synchronizes the needs of the economy with the future flow of immigrants, in addition to addressing the status of those unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. already.”

So why is there hostility to immigration? Perhaps it is revealed in the term “legacy American,” with which Tucker Carlson presumably distinguishes Americans of recent immigrant origin from those whose immigrant ancestors arrived earlier. (It is unclear which groups in our population qualify as “legacy Americans.” How many generations living here does it take to qualify? Does the continent our ancestors came from or their language or religion make a difference?)

When automation and globalization result in localized unemployment, the right thing to do is to invest in income support, retraining, and human capital. The counterproductive thing to do is to scapegoat immigrants and any others who are “not-quite-legacy-enough.” In the long run, this approach harms our economy now and in the future.

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Genuine, humane immigration reform is a case in which compassion, justice, and humanity will benefit not only refugees, asylum seekers, and other immigrants (and our souls), but also the livelihoods of our children and grandchildren.

Phil Wheeler is the former director of the Rochester-Olmsted Planning Department and current chairman of the Southeastern Minnesota Interfaith Immigrant Legal Defense. He lives in Rochester.