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The Truth About Immigration

By: Katelyn Six, Section Editor for Block Beat (six1@uic.edu)

Flying cars, Y2K problems, and the human population establishing permanent residency on the moon—all of which were 1990 predictions for the year 2000, and all of which never truly came to fruition. The changes that occur year by year, decade by decade, millennium by millennium are not as drastic as religious zealots, environmentalists, and conspiracy theorists like to let on. Instead change happens at a much slower rate, but these are the very changes that can have the greatest impact on our politics.

The reality is this: there have been considerable transformations to the United States demographic and these transformations are cause for political debate. I believe the changes in immigration policies and the reality of the rapidly growing immigrant population is the principal political issue in the United States and undeniably will have the most influential impact on American politics and prosperity. In order to understand how the changing demographic in the United States will affect the country politically and economically, it is necessary to peer into the 2050 predictions being made at present.

The topic of immigration has emerged as a battleground for many Americans. Fervent proponents, vehement opponents, and even those who simply could care less about the issue are finding themselves being dragged onto the front lines of a heated debate. The future of the United States appears promising to some and daunting to others. According to Joel Kotkin in a Smithsonian magazine article titled, “The Changing Demographics of America,” “The U.S. minority population, currently 30 percent, is expected to exceed 50 percent before 2050. No other advanced, populous country will see such diversity.” This is a shocking statistic to many Americans who believe immigration needs to slow, and Americans need to start providing jobs for fellow Americans rather than lending jobs to the generally less expensive workers: immigrants.

While this rapidly changing demographic is cause for concern for many critics of immigration leniency, I believe that many aspects of immigration will actually stimulate the economy and positively impact the U.S. In fact, immigration may prove to be more vital to our overall wellbeing in the future than ever before. The central components of this seemingly lofty prediction are laid out in another article by Joel Kotkin and Erica Ozuna titled, “America’s Demographic Future.” The assertion made is that “immigration represents a key factor in determining whether the United States can avoid long-term stagnation and maintain its leadership role in the world economy,” the authors confess. This fundamental argument of the debate has helped me shape my opinion on the future politics in the U.S. And I see a future where immigration is met with support and approval, not hatred and opposition.

And I am not alone. Kotkin makes the assertion that “for all these reasons, the United States of 2050 will look different from that of today: whites will no longer be in the majority.” Therefore, it’s more important than ever to see this as a positive stride and never dub it a negative downfall. What’s more, immigration issues are seeping into the homes of suburban families as well, influencing the way our suburban/city dynamics will be handled. Kotkin explains that “about 25 percent of suburbanites in the nation are minorities; by 2050 immigrants, their children and native-born minorities will become an even more dominant force in shaping suburbia.”

In my opinion, these statements highlight the most pressing political issue facing our country today. While I recognize that problems such as fertility implosion and the gray tsunami of baby boomers are sweeping across the nation like wildfire, I believe the impact that immigrants, their children, and their children’s children will have on the future economic stability of the United States is at the forefront of politics in this country.

Simon Johnson, former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund, is an immigrant himself, and also a U.S. Citizen. In his New York Times article titled, “How Immigration Reform Would Help the Economy,” he illuminates an obvious veracity: our country has long been built on immigration. In the early 1800s, the United States population stood somewhere between two and three million people. As of the year 2013, this number has skyrocketed to more than 316 million. But, “what if the original inhabitants had not allowed immigration or imposed very tight restrictions – for example, insisting that immigrants already have a great deal of education?” Johnson posits. “It’s hard to imagine that the United States would have risen as an economy and as a country.”

Think about this for a moment. Imagine where we would be without immigrants. While the 2004 film, A Day Without A Mexican, is only a satire chronicling the consequences of all the Mexicans in the state of California suddenly disappearing, it is a poignant example of why it is so important to recognize immigrants not only as valuable contributors to our economy, but also as integral and indispensable to U.S. success, growth and prosperity. We can’t make it in this world, in the United States, without immigrants. Why? “We are competing in a world economy based on human capital, and people’s skills and abilities are the basis for our productivity,” Johnson explains. “What we need more than anything, from an economic point of view, is more people (of any age or background) who want to acquire and apply new skills.”

In other words, we have to band together, not stand apart, in order to take full advantage of our dwindling resources and pave a future that is brighter than the one our predecessors had envisioned. A future that is better, not for us, but for posterity. With global warming, rampant pollution, political unrest and the debt ceiling, the last thing we want is for future generations to have to worry about immigration issues, too. Hopefully, one day our children won’t know what it means to debate over immigration reform or immigration at all for that matter, so that controversy surrounding this will be nothing more than pages in our history books.    

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