Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Interview from the Archive: Ali Noorani on immigration, wages, and refugees

Editor's note: This article was originally published on April 21, 2017.

This is the final article of my discussion with Ali Noorani. The first and second pieces are available. 
Story by Joseph Ford Cotto
After several years on the back burner, serious talk about enforcing immigration law finally returned – due to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. With his election, wide-reaching executive-level action was taken.
Do not expect Congress to follow suit, however.
The last time a bipartisan consensus formed on immigration policy was in the then-majority-Democratic U.S. Senate. It centered on an earned pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants. This legislation passed the Senate, but did not get through the Republican-led U.S. House.
Among the GOP ranks, opposition to amnesty has solidified since Trump's victory and the 2014 midterm elections. Not long before Trump launched his bid, House GOPers rejected defense legislation because it would have provided for citizenship should the undocumented serve in our military.

This move was met with strong criticism, including from center-right voices. What everyone came to realize was that kicking the can down the road no longer works. Illegal immigration has grown too vast and far too expensive. The time for legislative action is now, but it must be asked if said action will help or harm the situation.
Displaying Ali headshot 2016 (print).jpgThe National Immigration Forum represents the less restrictive side of what is perhaps America's most controversial numbers game. 
"Ali Noorani is the Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy organization promoting the value of immigrants and immigration," his biography at the Forum explains. "Growing up in California as the son of Pakistani immigrants, Ali quickly learned how to forge alliances among people of wide-ranging backgrounds, a skill that has served him extraordinarily well as one of the nation’s most innovative coalition builders.
"Before joining the Forum, Ali was executive director of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition, and he has served in leadership roles within public health and environmental organizations.
"In 2015, Ali was named a lifetime member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He holds a Master’s in Public Health from Boston University and is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley. Ali lives in Washington, D.C. and is the author of “There Goes the Neighborhood: How Communities Overcome Prejudice and Meet the Challenge of American Immigration,” (Prometheus, April 2017)."
Noorani recently chatted with me about many issues relative to America's immigration situation. Some of our conversation is included below.

Joseph Ford Cotto: It is often said that illegal immigrants and lawfully-admitted ones on special visas depress wages for American citizens and legal residents. Do you have an opinion on this matter?   

Ali Noorani: To make that argument, at best you have to turn a blind eye to a lot of research that suggests otherwise. Of course we need opportunities for American workers to thrive, but I would argue that immigrants are crucial to make those opportunities a reality. Immigrants support strong economic growth for the nation as a whole. Research last year found that the children of immigrants were are the largest net fiscal contributors among any group, native or foreign-born. Immigrants also innovate and make up a large percentage of entrepreneurs in this country. 

Last but not least, we need workers in their prime to keep up our productivity. We don’t want the decades-long economic doldrums that other countries with aging populations have faced. The best deal for the American worker is to level the economic playing field by legalizing undocumented immigrants and creating a balanced legal immigration system. This will allow all workers to compete for the same job at the same wage. Currently, the only person who is winning is the unscrupulous employer who is undermining the U.S. citizen, the legal immigrant and the undocumented immigrant—not to mention their own industry competitors.

Cotto: Western Europe has seen rising crime and social malaise over the last several decades, though public concern about this is now at a fever-pitch. A great deal of problems experienced by these countries are more acutely felt in communities which have a high proportion of immigrants. Many Americans look at this situation and fear the same thing taking place here, which leads them to oppose generous immigration policies. What would you say to these people? 

Noorani: The United States is not Europe. First, the dynamics of worldwide migration are different here. We don’t have millions of people fleeing war and terror just showing up at our borders. For example, our refugee resettlement system requires two years of security checks before anyone steps foot on American soil. Second, historically we have done a good job of integrating refugees and other immigrants into our communities. By the second and certainly the third generation, you’re not talking about Irish immigrants as Irish but as American. We need to make sure we continue to integrate so we don’t have alienated, disconnected immigrant communities here. And, finally, as a nation with a total population of 318 million, admitting approximately 50,000 refugees per year is barely a blip on the screen.    

Cotto: The prospect of terrorism waged by immigrants does not relate to those in this country illegally anywhere near so much it concerns legal immigrants. Do those who want higher immigration levels, generally speaking, support strenuous vetting for refugees and other immigrants?

Noorani: Of course. Our safety is paramount. To be clear, vetting for refugees in particular is already as strenuous as it gets in terms of groups trying to immigrate to this country. We should make sure that people who want to come here are looking to contribute to our country as they build their own lives—and with extremely rare exceptions, they are. Immigration levels that help American workers, keep our economy humming and acknowledge that people are fleeing desperate situations are not the same thing as closing our eyes and opening our borders. No one is advocating that.

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