America’s immigration policies should focus on strengthening the nation, its economy, and its future. We should actively recruit immigrants from across the world with a diverse array of high-tech skills, experience, and businesses to grow our economy in the Digital Age. Yet only 13 percent of the one million green cards issued each year were employment based.

Americans are struggling in today’s economy. One in six Americans lives in poverty today. One in six.  One in five requires government assistance to get by each month.  Forty-six million Americans require food stamps including one in four children. Over 17 million Americans are unemployed, underemployed, or gave up looking. In June there were 250,000 new jobs created, yet 400,000 gave up looking for work.  That’s the size of the entire population of Oakland, Cleveland, or New Orleans. In the last decade, the working age population grew by 26 million, yet only 7 million have jobs. The number of Americans aged 25-54 employed hasn’t been this low since the mid-1980s. Middle class wages continue to decline with the median household income down nearly $5,000 since 2000. In a recent poll, 70% of Americans are strained by crushing debt loads, insufficient savings, or income that’s too low to cover their expenses.

Clearly there is a disconnect between the needs of our 21st century economy, the concerns of American workers, and our bloated immigration policy.

We need to get more Americans working, particularly those who lack a basic education and skills.  We need to raise the wages of America’s poor and middle class. The Secretary of Labor recently stressed “The best way to lift wages is to have tighter labor markets”. Yet since 2000, the U.S. added two new immigrants for every new job created.  One study found all net new jobs in the last eight years went to immigrants. American workers lose over $400 billion annually in reduced wages as a direct result from immigration.

In addition to the one million legal immigrants added each year, illegal immigrants represent a growing share of our labor force.  Nevada and California have the largest share of illegal immigrants in their labor forces at 10.2% and 9.4% respectively.  They also have the 2nd and 8th highest unemployment rates in the nation including over 500,000 long-term unemployed.  A majority of the states with the largest share of illegal immigrants also have unemployment rates higher than the national average. Millions of unemployed Americans struggle to compete with legal and illegal immigrants for work. Imagine the economic and social impact if over the next year one million of the 17 million unemployed and underemployed Americans took the jobs held by illegal immigrants.  

The immigration debate by politicians and in the media focuses largely on those who were able to get by border security or overstay their visa. The debate for immigration reform must also include rethinking the number and selection criteria for the legal immigrants who enter the U.S. each year. Consider asking these six questions to our elected leaders and those running for office:

  • Should the U.S. reduce the number of green cards issued until jobs and wages improve?
  • Is it hypocritical for politicians who advocate for raising the minimum wage to also support flooding the U.S. labor market with unskilled labor from foreign nations?
  • Should the U.S. prioritize visas based on skilled labor demands over chain migration?
  • Why do elected leaders spend billions of dollars and champion recruiting and retaining millions of unskilled foreign workers when Americans struggle to get a good paying job?
  • Do you believe America has enough natural resources and public services for the population to grow 40% in a generation?
  • Why do you insist on importing poverty, doesn’t America have enough?

America’s future lies in its people. As a nation of immigrants, our strength lies in integrating the best the world has to offer in a free and open society that provides opportunities for everyone to succeed. We mU.S.t have an intelligent debate on immigration and the impact on our nation’s future. We mU.S.t drown out the radicals on either end of the political spectrum to offer sensible solutions to ensure America as solid immigration policies to strengthen our future.  

The author of this guest opinion is a federal policy analyst.