Immigrants strengthen the U.S. economy, but the costs and benefits of immigration are not evenly shared. On December 7, 2022, The Hamilton Project at Brookings convened experts for a webcast exploring reforms.
Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin introduced a fireside chat between Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Glenn Hutchins, co-chair of the Brookings Board of Trustees.
Sen. Manchin focused on the need for immigrants in the workforce, both in West Virginia and in the rest of the country: “Take the politics out of it and put the necessity of what it takes to maintain this economy so that people can have an opportunity.” He also emphasized the need for stronger border security, protection for “Dreamers,” and pathways for immigrants studying in the U.S. to stay.
To start the first roundtable, moderator Ted Gayer (Niskanen Center) invited Jennifer Hunt (Rutgers University) to share an overview of her new proposal, “Renewing America, Revamping Immigration.”
“My plan is tailored to admit immigrants who benefit Americans the most while costing the least,” Hunt said. Her piece proposes increasing immigration inflows in all categories except for family-based immigration, where inflows would be reduced by eliminating green cards for most siblings of U.S. citizens.
While John C. Yang (Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC) applauded the proposal’s purpose, he pointed to innovators and entrepreneurs who came to America on family-based visas. While noting the importance of the economic lens, Yang stressed, “The other aspect we have to remember is the morals, our values with respect to what we’re trying to accomplish with the immigration system.”
“The other aspect we have to remember is the morals, our values with respect to what we’re trying to accomplish with the immigration system.”
Dane Linn (Business Roundtable) urged a “both/and” approach to creating a highly skilled workforce. “We can’t recruit enough people from other countries to meet the workforce needs today or in the future,” he said, so immigration reform needs to be paired with efforts to strengthen the domestic talent pipeline.
Carlos A. Guevara (UnidosUS) reinforced Linn’s point by noting that one in four American kids are children of immigrants. “There needs to be some accountability or some role in evaluating how we’re doing in our public schools, in our higher education system, preparing kids here for the workforce itself—and that be part of the analysis as well.”
In the second roundtable, moderated by Eduardo Porter (Bloomberg Opinion), panelists continued the conversation about educating a future workforce while focusing on immigration’s fiscal effects.
Kim Rueben (Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center) noted education’s beneficial multiplier effects. But, she said, “A lot of the differences across states—and the differences between the federal government and state and local governments—have nothing to do with immigration and more to do with how we provide public services in this country,” specifically how state and local governments pay for schools.
“The federal government ultimately is in charge of making these decisions about our immigration policy, and the effects are not felt fully at the federal level,” Tara Watson (Brookings) said.
“The federal government ultimately is in charge of making these decisions about our immigration policy, and the effects are not felt fully at the federal level.”
In “A More Equitable Distribution of the Positive Fiscal Benefits of Immigration,” Watson and Hamilton Project Director Wendy Edelberg propose federal transfers to state and local governments to compensate for the near-term costs of immigration. “Even if it doesn’t solve the entire set of issues that come along with immigration, I do think it would be an important step in building a fairer and more equitable system,” Watson said.
Plus, transparent flows of funds to local communities could generate more political support for immigration. “When you go and look at the data on a public opinion polls, what you find is that actually fiscal issues matter even more than labor market concerns,” Anna Maria Mayda (Georgetown University) said. “There is quite a lot of evidence in the academic literature that these fiscal effects are really important.”
The discussion covered how increasing immigration and improving policy could benefit the economy, state and local governments, and people. “If you have been blessed with a life in America, there’s other people [who would] like to have that same opportunity,” Sen. Manchin concluded. “So let’s never forget what built the country and what it’ll take to maintain it.”