Men of Mexican or Central American origin congregate at an intersection where pick-up trucks and minivans arrive early each day in search of workers. You can find the same sub-legal labor market at Lowes and Home Depot parking lots in the half-light of each dawn.
There’s problem here, but it’s not illegal immigration. It’s an undersupplied labor market, and it will only get worse over the next generation. The baby boom generation, that post-war demographic bubble, is retiring at a rate of 200,000 a month, and it takes a lot more maturing young people to replace them than it took to replace previous retirees. Because there was no corresponding spike in births 20 years ago to match this departing one (in fact birthrates have reached record lows), the shortfall in replacement labor can only come from immigration. Hence the tremendous economic force drawing migrants across our southern border.
This development presents a golden political opportunity for the GOP. Since Mitt Romney’s defeat in November and all the subsequent talk about the changing ethnic hue of the country’s population, there has been a stream of obituaries written for what is supposed to be the white-Anglo dependent, anti-immigrant Republican Party.
But of the two major parties, the Republicans are better positioned philosophically to champion this cause. It’s the party of freedom and opportunity, which is the language of immigration, not entitlement programs. Marco Rubio struck the right theme in his recent Jack Kemp Foundation Leadership Award speech. Speaking of the waves of willing workers that we will need in this new century, he said, “Their journey is our nation’s destiny. And if they can give their children what our parents gave us, the 21st-century America will be the single greatest nation that man has ever known.”
We already have an immigration bottleneck. The seemingly uncontrollable flow of immigrants into our country illegally is sufficient evidence of this. To the extent we succeed in cracking down, fruit goes unpicked and roofs go unshingled.
But we need more than the tempest tossed and sweated brows. A modern economy needs tech-savvy workers, skilled specialists, and gifted entrepreneurs. Hard working men and women from Honduran villages arrive full of promise but they’re unprepared to fill the positions being vacated by people who came of age in the 1960s and ’70s, and our schools and homes are doing a wretched job of equipping people academically and socially to pick up the ball.
We should open immigration offices in the world’s major universities, including Canadian ones, and shop for the world’s brightest young people who are open to a move. As a Canadian graduate student and visa worker in the ’80s and ’90s, I had great difficulty staying “in status” and then getting citizenship. It always puzzled me why the government wasn’t courting me to stay. Today there’s even less reason for such an unwelcoming stance.
“The world must be peopled,” said Shakespeare’s Benedick. So too must our growing nation. Since we have chosen smaller families, we must beckon the world to hopeful shores of liberty.