Ron Knecht and Geoffrey Lawrence: Trump’s wrong; we need more legal immigrants

“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” Those were Donald Trump’s words about Mexican immigrants in announcing he’s running for president.

We take strong exception to all that. And, having labored long in the political fields with other dedicated limited-government conservatives and Republicans, we know those are not the views of most of our folks.

America has not always welcomed legal immigrants with open arms, but we should — now more than ever. Overall, they are a blessing to us just as America is a blessing to them.

The issue goes beyond just correcting his gratuitous overstatement mischaracterizing Mexican immigrants in seeking to court the few nativists in our party. It’s not enough to say the incidence of bad apples among them is no greater than among our native population, true as that is. The point is that immigration has always been good for America.

On the whole, immigrants are entrepreneurial: more highly motivated than the average person to seek opportunity and make change, instead of living with oppression and social and economic stagnation. It takes moxie and courage to leave family, friends, community and familiar ways to move to another country; learn a new language, laws and customs; and start anew there in business or an occupation. It’s more difficult when the country being left offers little opportunity or hope and is oppressive.

Yes, the legal immigrant population includes a few who break the law — the reverse of Trump’s suggestion that the minority is “some ... good people.” Our native population also includes an outlaw minority, and with U.S. incarceration rates among the highest in the world, it’s hard to argue that legal immigrants on average degrade the mix, instead of improving it.

Because immigrants have the energy, creativity and productivity to overcome the barriers to immigration, America is essentially cream-skimming the rest of the world in terms of talent and human capital by welcoming them. That’s the basic fact of immigration and the reason it is, on balance, good for us — the opposite of Trump’s view.

From immigration, we have more than our share of high-impact people such as scientists Nikola Tesla and Albert Einstein; entrepreneurs Jerry Yang (Yahoo), Andy Grove (Intel) and Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo); and entertainers Sydney Poitier (film), Mikhail Baryshnikov (ballet) and Hakeem Olajuwan (basketball). Plus a lot of hard-working owners and employees of restaurants, small shops and service firms — people who change the world and our lives in many ways for the better every day.

America’s freedom, markets and other classical liberal social, political and economic institutions make us the artistic, financial, technological, sports, business, educational, etc. wonder of the world. Immigration increases that wonder.

What about the concerns raised by critics and opponents — for example, immigrants benefitting from our excessive levels of income transfers and entitlements? The answer, of course, is to reform those policies, not deprive ourselves and immigrants of the opportunity that benefits both sides. Research shows that immigration within rational policies yields net public benefits from the newly arrived almost from the start.

Ironically, with America having had birth rates below replacement levels for some time now, we face a shrinking population in the future. And new generations increased by immigration will become essential to mitigating the damage from excessive transfer payments and entitlements until they can be reined in.

Obviously, the U.S. has problems with border control and illegals already living here. We don’t claim to have pat answers for those issues. We’ll address them on other days, because they require much more space than we have here. But those issues should not blind us to the fact that immigrants are a blessing to America and that we need many more legal ones than we now get.

Also, allowing people to immigrate legally who now come illegally will let us get full benefit of their entrepreneurial instincts, instead of making them work less productively in the shadows.

Do immigrants often charge less for services than many incumbent firms? Yes, and that’s a great benefit to all consumers and the public interest. Corporate special interests and labor unions complaining about this point are trying to take advantage of the rest of us by limiting competition to protect their oligopolies. And they often use xenophobic bigotry to obscure those facts.

Finally, there’s one more claim as absurd as Trump’s view that because a few immigrants behave illegally we should conclude falsely that immigration is not good for us. This is the notion that they have not earned the right to come here unless they pay some remarkable price. Well, nobody born here did anything to earn that blessing before he arrived, either. And the notion that a person deserves anything because of what his forefathers did is simply wrong.

Ron Knecht is Nevada’s elected State Controller; Geoffrey Lawrence is Assistant Controller.


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