The gut-wrenching images of thousands of migrants, many from Haiti, camped under an international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, and their treatment by federal agents on horseback has renewed Donald Trump-era rhetoric about the dangers of immigration and outrage over the Border Patrol's history of migrant brutality. It's also rekindled a conversation that may never end about the value of immigration, given its central role in America's rise to greatness.
What's needed is a much more thoughtful debate that explores key questions about immigration and doesn't overlook how everyday Americans not caught up in partisan political scrums feel about it.
Here are key points that are often drowned out:
- A Gallup poll released in July showed Americans are almost evenly divided on whether immigration should be increased (33%), decreased (31%) or kept at its current levels (35%). Varying minorities of Latinos (33%), Black Americans (24%) and white Americans (10%) favor increased levels of immigration.
- The presumption in some progressive circles that some or many Latinos support their push for much more immigration is not true at all. The Gallup poll showed 25% want decreased immigration. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, is a sharp critic of President Joe Biden's decision to allow the highest number of refugees to cross the border in decades. Trump's gains from 2016 to 2020 among Texas Latinos flabbergasted coastal liberals, but not those who understand the complexity of Latino political views and the myth of monolithic Latinos.
- Eight months into office, Biden has retained some Trump administration immigration policies that progressives loathe. As The Associated Press reported last week, his administration "is relying on a contested Trump-era policy" using public health concerns as a rationale for dispersing thousands of Haitian migrants along the southern border.
- America's pre- and post-Trump policy of generally welcoming immigrants who follow the rules and don't have criminal backgrounds is not a universal international norm. Many nations, starting with our ally and neighbor Canada, treat immigration admissions like a university would, sizing up what applicants would bring to their potential new home.
- The Trump years undercut longtime claims that immigration of low-skilled workers poses no economic threat to Americans with such skills. Low-skilled workers saw more pay hikes under Trump than any other recent president. Economists may fight about why that happened, but it is common sense to think that a tighter job market leads to wage growth as employers compete for workers.
- That said, there is no question that undocumented immigrants are immensely valuable to the agricultural industry and many other industries. There is little evidence that many Americans are willing to do demanding, low-paying physical work.
The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board has long supported comprehensive immigration reform. We reacted with intense horror to Donald Trump's efforts to scapegoat immigrants and incredible frustration at the fits and starts of a debate that only kicks into high gear briefly during a crisis. Americans will never find unanimity on immigration, but compromise is possible if we keep focusing on it after the migrants disappear from Del Rio.
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