Opinion | The Migrant Influx Could Help With the Labor Shortage

Opinion | The Migrant Influx Could Help With the Labor Shortage

Migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border in Eagle Pass, Texas, July 14.


Miguel Juarez Lugo/Zuma Press

Despite what you’ve been hearing from the White House in recent weeks, the Biden administration doesn’t have a problem with moving illegal immigrants around the country after they arrive here. It just has a problem with Republican governors doing it.

When the administration transports migrants from Texas to New York, as it has been doing on the down-low for more than a year, it’s called “resettlement.” When Texas Gov. Greg Abbott does the same thing in a much more transparent fashion, it’s labeled “human trafficking.” The proper name for all this is political theater, but we shouldn’t forget that flesh-and-blood human beings in the most desperate straits are being used by our elected officials to score partisan points.

Sadly, this immigration war between states is escalating, with GOP governors in Arizona and Florida following Texas’ lead. Immigrants are being sent to liberal strongholds such as Chicago, Washington and Martha’s Vineyard, a celebrity vacation destination in Massachusetts. States and cities that for years have described themselves as “sanctuaries” for undocumented migrants—including violent criminals—and have ostentatiously refused to cooperate with federal immigration-enforcement officials, are now getting a tiny taste of what it’s like these days to be a southern-border state. Local healthcare and education resources are being overburdened, social safety nets are being strained, and lawmakers in Washington are pointing fingers at one another.

There’s a better way. New York Mayor

Eric Adams

told reporters last week that he’s asking the White House to expedite immigrant work visas. “I think it’s imperative that we look at the employment,” he said. “Think about this for a moment. We’re telling migrants and asylum seekers, ‘You can come to the country but for six months you can’t work.’ What? Six months you can’t work. So, six months you are having people who just sit idly by, waiting. So, who’s supposed to pick up the tab for that?”

Mr. Adams is on the right track in recognizing that the foremost driver of illegal immigration is economic hardship, and that there are few ways for people to enter the country and work lawfully. Still, he doesn’t go far enough. What state and local officials really need from Washington is more autonomy when it comes to immigrant labor. This isn’t a new idea, and it’s something that Democrats and Republicans alike have called for in the recent past.

Read More Upward Mobility

Republican Sen.

Ron Johnson

of Wisconsin and Rep.

John Curtis

of Utah have previously introduced legislation that would create a state-based visa system. When

Joe Biden

was running for president, his immigration platform called for “a new visa category to allow cities and counties to petition for higher levels of immigrants to support their growth.” As president, it continued, “Biden will support a program to allow any county or municipal executive of a large or midsize county or city to petition for additional immigrant visas to support the region’s economic development strategy.” People who can come legally to work in Wisconsin or Utah are much less likely to enter Texas or Arizona illegally.

In Canada and Australia (countries with immigration systems that

Donald Trump

and his supporters have cited favorably) the national government allows regional and local authorities to act more independently on migrant issues. “Under the Canadian Constitution, for example, immigration is a concurrent power jointly exercised by both the federal and provincial governments,” writes George Mason University law professor

Ilya Somin

in his 2020 book, “Free to Move: Foot Voting, Migration, and Political Freedom.” “Australia also has a program of state-based visas for workers.”

Even here in the U.S., there have been times when the federal government has tinkered with immigration policy to address regional labor shortages. At the urging of the California and Texas congressional delegations during World War II, the U.S. created the Bracero Program to allow hundreds of thousands of Mexican farm workers to enter the country legally as seasonal laborers. A 1980 Congressional research report concluded that, “without question,” the program was “instrumental in ending the illegal alien problem of the mid-1940s and 1950s.”

The White House initially insisted that the surge at the border was seasonal and would fade over time, but it’s turned out to be about as transient as inflation. Tight U.S. labor markets, stemming in part from overly generous pandemic relief efforts that made not working more attractive, have only added to the problem. The upshot is that illegal border crossings continue at a record pace, while Democratic leaders pretend there is no serious immigration problem to address and that anyone who says otherwise is xenophobic.

If the ultimate solution is comprehensive legislation that combines better border security with more visas, it doesn’t mean nothing constructive can be done in the interim. But that will require at a minimum some acknowledgment on both sides of the aisle that immigration has benefits as well as costs, and that those costs are spread unevenly throughout the country.

Journal Editorial Report: Martha’s Vineyard says no one told them this was coming. Image: Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

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Appeared in the September 21, 2022, print edition.

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