America, the Melting Pot? by María Isabel Puerta Riera
María is a Political Scientist teaching U. S. Government in Florida. Interested in U. S. and Latin American Politics.
Give me your Tired, your poor…
A renewed call to action addressing the most recent ‘border crisis’ found a diligent partner in Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis. Following Texas governor Greg Abbot, who has been sending migrants to Washington D.C. since April of this year, DeSantis went ahead and, according to information provided by the migrants, lured 50 Venezuelan asylum-seekers into boarding two charter planes from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard.
The reactions among public opinion vary from outrage at the political stunt to rejecting irregular immigration. However, regardless of the arguments provided by the governor, sending desperate people to an island where they have no relatives or friends is inexcusable. Moreover, these people are legitimately seeking asylum and, after being sent away, are at risk of missing appointments with immigration services. Nonetheless, the divide among the Venezuelan-American community exposes the contradiction of naturalized citizens who benefitted from asylum which is, of course, a twisted way to align themselves with Florida’s governor. This episode questions whether the United States can live up to the idea of a nation of immigrants, especially during a critical moment of its history where the opposing views in the political debate are about the precise identity of who the real Americans are.
Inevitable Demographic Change
The prospects of a minority-majority population in the coming decades have been met with a rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric. The significant growth of Hispanics who will see a one-third increase by way of immigration fuels many of these attitudes. The aging of white non-Hispanics as well as lower birth rates among this group contrasts with a rising and diverse young population that will significantly contribute to programs like Medicare and Social Security that baby boomers already depend upon.
The demographic decline has brought consequences far beyond the ethnic and racial makeup of the country. It carries economic implications that could become a source of instability in the future. Indeed, the very real prospect of population decline has direct costs on an economy heavily dependent on consumption for growth.
Closing the Door on Immigration
Because the past administration forced legal immigration to almost a halt by reducing it to 49 percent, some experts now attribute the current labor shortage to the decline of immigrant workers. The impact of the covid-19 pandemic has only heightened an already critical situation from the slowdown in population growth. Indeed, as long as the unemployment rate during the post-pandemic economic recovery remains low at 3.7 percent, the need for immigrant labor remains high. The immigration system needs comprehensive reform that under the current political circumstances seems impossible to negotiate.
Over the past six years, we have witnessed the successful adoption of persistent anti-immigrant messaging, even among immigrant communities. The stream of migrants fleeing conflict and poverty continues to be met with demonization at the border. The immigration crisis cannot be seen exclusively as the result of thousands of asylum-seekers showing up at ports of entry. This is a broader discussion. At its root is an outdated system allowing cheap labor that is among the obstacles to an ugent immigration overhaul. If the economy is not enough reason to pass a bipartisan immigration reform bill, then there is very little to argue against the fact that the current situation at the border should be considered a fabricated crisis.
The Venezuelan migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard remind us that most of the anti-immigration sentiments have less to do with a lack of space in the country and more with the type of immigrants showing up at the door. Yet, even from this myopic perspective, America may miss out on an opportunity. According to Pew Research Center, in 2018, 64 percent of recent arrivals of Venezuelan immigrants held at least a college degree. Furthermore, 79 percent of Venezuelan immigrants are between 18 to 64, representing a significant addition to the labor force.
The apprehension against immigrants, especially those coming from Latin America, the Middle East, and Asia, may be unfounded, but that is probably due to those more interested in creating obstacles for legal pathways to immigrate into the United States. We must make an organized effort to educate others about the benefits of immigration which should not be difficult since this was once a country that stood proud as a nation of immigrants. This is an opportunity to revisit the principles described in the notion of America as a melting pot.
Fixing the System
Widespread worker shortages outside traditional sectors like agriculture, construction, or hospitality challenge the myth that immigrants take jobs from American workers. In Florida, school districts struggle to fill teacher vacancies. Healthcare staff is also in high demand. An immigration overhaul should focus on growing a labor force with the skills and academic training that could help the pandemic recovery and manage the effects of demographic decline. However, this policy direction should not exclude those searching for protection from authoritarian regimes. The likelihood of demographic stagnation is the real threat the country is facing. The economic repercussions will not only impact future generations but will benefit the livelihoods of an aging population in need of assistance both today and tomorrow.
Still, the country must first embrace the certainty of a diverse and multicultural population (that in no way threatens the American way of life) so it can convene an effort to reimagine its immigration system based on the same fairness and solidarity that benefitted previous generations.