Recently I attended a fund-raising dinner for Afghan refugees who want to build a community center in Salt Lake City to serve their people. At my table sat a young Afghan man who has been in the United States for several years. His story is an interesting, and sad, one.
He left Afghanistan with his parents and younger siblings and fled to a neighboring country to escape the Taliban insurgency. But, unfortunately, several family members were left behind in Afghanistan. After several years, his parents were deported, and he and his siblings were resettled in Utah by a relief agency. Thus, this young man effectively became the parent of his siblings. He and his siblings have done remarkably well in Utah under the circumstances — attending school, learning English and being meaningfully employed. But he has been unable to bring his parents and other family members to the United States due to current immigration policies.
Through this conversation and the many stories like it, there are several facets of immigration which, when taken together, span the political spectrum and show little regard for partisan talking points:
- Millions of people would like to immigrate to the U.S. since they see it as a land of opportunity. However, only those who face persecution in their home country, not economic hardship, are eligible for asylum. Thus, under current criteria, most are not eligible for entry into the U.S.
- America needs workers to grow its economy. With the fertility rate for American women at 1.7 per woman, our population will decline in the future. Immigration is the only option if we want to have workers for our businesses, and in my case, to fund my Social Security.
- Our borders are overloaded. It appears that the border patrol is doing the best it can given limited resources, but thousands of immigrants are entering the U.S. with no or limited vetting. This causes a security risk for our country.
- Unaccompanied minors are often given preference for asylum compared to intact families. This results in these children being raised by extended family or by the state in some type of foster-care arrangement. Children growing up in such circumstances tend to do poorly compared to children raised in two-parent homes.
- There are costs to be borne by allowing immigration. It necessitates building more schools and providing more social services. Some estimate that the overall costs are well over $100 billion per year.
- We are a compassionate country that has been built by immigrants. My grandfather immigrated to the U.S. in the 1880s, and I believe he and his descendants have contributed to making this country better. Immigration, if done well, will yield positive results.
What can be done? Here are my suggestions:
- Secure the borders. If people believe they can enter the United States illegally to receive economic relief, they will continue to do so.
- Be more flexible in providing work permits for foreign nationals. This would allow us to fill the jobs that are currently vacant and allow us to vet those who come to the U.S. This would also allow hundreds of thousands living in other countries to find work and provide for their families.
- Federal and local officials and law enforcement need to cooperate to deport those who violate our laws. Research suggests it’s not necessarily the severity of punishment that deters crime but the certainty of punishment. Providing the resources to ensure laws are upheld in every instance could curb illegal immigration and bad behavior.
- Give preference to families who want to come to the U.S. Policies should not encourage unaccompanied children to come.
- Continue to work with countries in Central America and elsewhere to create positive economic conditions, reduce corruption and crime, and provide economic opportunities so people will not feel compelled to leave for the sake of their well-being.
- Create a reasonable path to citizenship or permanent residency for “dreamers” or others who meet citizenship criteria. However, those who knowingly violate the law and cross the borders illegally should be deported.Minor children of parents who come here illegally should be deported with their parents so their families will remain intact. To gain legal status, those currently in the U.S. illegally would need to leave the U.S. and go to another country (probably Canada or Mexico) and apply for a work permit or apply to return on some other basis.
- Immigration policies should give preference to those who have family already residing legally in the U.S., such as the parents and other family members of my newfound Afghan friend. Social and economic support from an immigrant’s family will likely lead to better outcomes and less reliance on the government for support.
Immigration is a complex issue, but the status quo is unacceptable. I’ve only given a few suggestions based on my observations, but unfortunately that’s more than what usually comes of our national rhetoric on the topic. Congress must do something, and do it now, before it’s too late.
Gibb Dyer is the O. Leslie and Dorothy Stone Professor at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business. His views are his own. Volunteers may sign up to help Afghan refugees or donate to the local Hazara Afghan’s community center by visiting www.UtahHazaraAssociation.org.