Thursday, December 5, 2013

Immigration -- The Math and Moral Courage

The Center For Immigration Law is a few blocks from the action on Capitol Hill, although it is calm even as their signature issue heats up.  The Center works for common sense immigration reform, and right now the legislative calendar is offering them their close-up. So folks there are busy trying to inject facts and reason into an intensely political issue. 

Where facts and logic take them is to the inescapable conclusion that more immigration is a good thing. And the facts are on their side. For companies seeking a place to locate, workplace skills are a site selector and immigrants are representing as much as 80% of the growth in some hard-to-find skills in the STEM sector. (Note that STEM refers to a grouping of science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills and is a preoccupation American policymakers hold with considerable passion)

As well, immigrants are considerably more likely than average to start a business and to succeed to the point that they are job creators. Far from taking jobs from established citizens, immigrants tend to both create and attract more jobs for their new neighbours and countrymen. 

If you're thinking that more people and more jobs would sound pretty good at home in New Brunswick, you're right. Our population has declined for all but a handful of the last twenty years (Shawn Graham, so frequently maligned, was the most successful premier by the numbers).  Yet lacking large urban centers, existing support communities and autonomy over immigration policy doesn't always allow New Brunswick to work with the urgency our declining population demands. 

Trying to take some opportunity for learning away from each of our sessions, one set of numbers keeps nagging at me. If you listed the Top 100 American cities in population, and then listed the 100 cities with the fastest immigration growth, you would notice 29 cities that may contain the answer for New Brunswick. Twenty-nine cities are not among the biggest, but are punching above their weight when it comes to immigration. The folks at the Center, understandably busy with government relations, have noted this group but haven't yet done work to identify what these 29 overachievers have in common. Sure, some may have a unique industry that rains jobs down like manna from heaven, but others may just be enacting policies and attitudes that work. This would be a great job for a keen researcher at our policy centers in New Brunswick.

If we can figure that our, we should be demanding that Ottawa give us the power needed to try something different. Our shrinking numbers, down in the skills companies demand, the incomes our social safety net requires, the middle-class that makes communities click-- these numbers are an emergency that demands action. New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has called for a policy of stapling a green card on to every university and college degree earned by foreign students. Frankly, we could do a lot worse. 

That brings me to the moral challenge for our political and business leaders. Too many people still cling to a simple, easy-to-understand, wrong belief that if we have unemployed people here, more immigration means more people "taking" scarce jobs. This is built upon a wrong assumption, the assumption that jobs are a static good unaffected by the arrival of people with skills and drive and entrepreneurial spirit. But it is a powerful belief. 

Something dangerous has entered our political bloodstream; the belief that it is a leader's lob to poll and discover popular misconceptions and repeat them back to us rather than challenge us. In this political theory, those who attempt to challenge conventional wisdom are "arrogant", those who accept existing beliefs are humble purveyors of a new approach. But the moment calls for leaders with a different humility -- the humility to take risks in the service of the greater good of ideas and evidence-driven policy. 

In the end, we learned that places which attract immigrants are places who want immigrants and make that a civic goal. And each one of us who love New Brunswick need to be willing apostles for the benefits of immigration, convincing our neighbours that greater opportunity awaits all our kids if we have the courage to think differently, globally and openly about opening our doors to those who want to join our communities. 

It was nice to meet people who are passionate about following the evidence and opening their shores up to others. I hope to bring the evidence and the passion home with me. 

No comments:

Post a Comment