Immigration is always a hot-button political issue, with a constant flow of migrants and refugees crossing the 1,952-mile southern border. But even amid ongoing battles over policies like Title 42 — which prevents asylum-seekers from entering the United States before their cases are resolved — leaders from both political parties are weighing reforms, acknowledging the role these newcomers play in the economy. In 2021, for example, House Democrats passed the Farm Workforce Modernization Act with some GOP support — and compromise. Meanwhile, some thinkers advocate for a broader reimagining of both the system and how we view it.

Let States compete

The Great Immigration challenge of our era is not at the borders but inside them. It’s not who gets in, but what happens once they’re here. As Congress remains gridlocked, why not let states decide how the foreign-born get to belong? Consider education, abortion, health care, gun control and marijuana. States blue and red are going their own way on all these issues, often in conflict with one another and sometimes with Washington. So why not let states decide how the foreign-born get to belong?

It is already happening, but the question is how much power over immigration will eventually devolve to the states. They can create a fragmented landscape of places that welcome immigrants and others that close their doors. And within that patchwork, we might eventually end up with a federal policy that works.

States differ in the access to health care and safety-net programs they make available to immigrants. Dreamers — unauthorized immigrants who arrived as children — are welcomed into public higher education in some states but shunned in others. Some make it easier for professionals trained abroad to get licenses; others make it harder. As states diverge further, immigrants would choose to settle in welcoming places and avoid unfriendly places. 

The United States can have only one form of citizenship, but states can compete over access to the world’s best brains, to the people who will care for aging boomers and to young adults with years ahead of them to pay taxes and bear children. Americans and their marketplaces have a way of sorting these things out.  

Adapted from an op-ed in The New York Times by Roberto A. Suro, a professor of journalism and public policy at USC Annenberg, specializing in immigration and the Latino population. 

Focus on farm workers

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act passed in 2021 by the House — not the Senate — treats immigration as a practical matter, incorporating hard-fought compromises that address conservative values and concerns. Democratic support is a given, but there are compelling reasons why 13 Republicans co-sponsored the bill. 

For one, it could help address rising food costs that contribute to inflation. A report issued in September 2022 by the Cato Institute detailed how the bill’s reforms would reduce agricultural labor costs by about $1 billion in the first year and $1.8 billion in the second, “which would lead to more workers hired, more productivity and lower prices for consumers.”

It would also make E-Verify — the web-based system that lets employers confirm that hirees are eligible to work in the U.S. — mandatory for all agricultural workers. Further, certified agricultural workers would remain ineligible for many forms of federally funded public benefits, even as the bill brings many more workers into the tax-paying world.

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Finally, the bill would directly benefit rural America, increasing tax revenue in some deeply red states, stimulating rental and real estate markets in rural communities with 10 years of farmworker housing vouchers and grants, and funding new housing developments.

This act honors the idea that immigrants should “get in line and wait their turn,” but also acknowledges the crucial undocumented workforce that is already here, establishing serious residency and work requirements before immigrants can gain a safe and stable place in society.  

Adapted from an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times by DW Gibson, a research director at, a nonprofit focused on bipartisan immigration policy, and author of “14 Miles: Building the Border Wall.”

This story appears in the March issue of Deseret MagazineLearn more about how to subscribe.

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