tags: Press Releases

Why Biden Approach to “Downplay or Defuse” on Immigration Is Wrong for U.S. Economy and His 2024 Re-election

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Douglas Rivlin: “Creating a modern immigration system that works for America and the American economy is a strength to be embraced, not an issue to ‘downplay or defuse.’”

Washington, DC – Political journalist Ron Brownstein’s analysis is always insightful. In his latest column at The Atlantic, Brownstein highlights how President Biden and his political advisors are embracing a political calculation to “downplay or defuse” cultural issues including on immigration. According to Brownstein, Biden and his advisors are consciously deciding to emphasize economic issues over responding to or engaging with the GOP on “culture war” issues:

“[V]oters don’t want to be subjected to fights about … polarizing cultural issues and would prefer that elected officials focus more on daily economic concerns such as inflation, jobs, and health care.”

Yet even when focused on those three listed economic priorities of “inflation, jobs, and health care,” it’s impossible to get those policies right while ignoring immigration, according to Douglas Rivlin, Director of Communication for America’s Voice: 

“Creating a modern immigration system that works for America and the American economy is a strength to be embraced, not an issue to ‘downplay or defuse.’ Getting the economy right, combating inflation, progressing in the fight against climate change, and staffing the care economy are all political and policy priorities for President Biden and Democrats. Each of these priorities argue for Democrats leaning in and taking control of the immigration issue and defining themselves as champions of an immigration strategy that goes hand-in-hand with strengthening the American economy and prosperity for American workers. As it is, Biden is choosing to ignore the subject, adopting GOP-lite positions, and ceding the debate and its terms to the right wing.

Yes, of course President Biden and Democrats need to fight against the lies and caricatures about his vision and his record on immigration and the border. But Democrats can and should win that debate about why a safe, legal and orderly immigration system benefits all consumers, producers and voters in the U.S. economy. 

We cannot build more chips or expand green technology to power broad economic growth if we are struggling with labor shortages in the technology, construction and service fields that make that growth possible. We cannot address health care, elderly care, child care and teacher shortages if our focus is primarily on how we keep workers out of our economy or keep them in temporary or undocumented statuses, not devising ways to incorporate immigrants fully into a pro-growth strategy. It is a smarter approach than ignoring the immigration issue or focusing on ever greater (and ever failed) deterrence regimes that blur the clear distinctions between the parties. 

Democrats can define themselves in favor of solutions and a policy overhaul in sharp contrast with the Republican Party. The GOP is increasingly against all immigration, not just controlled immigration. As a result of their anti-immigrant obsession, the GOP is hurting the American economy, hurting American workers and leading to lowering of basic worker protections and labor laws. Republican governors are actually relaxing child labor laws to address worker shortages, while some are begging for more workers, all while House Republicans are mainstreaming white supremacy and seeking to scare people about the menace of immigrants. Democrats and the President are much closer to where the American people stand on immigration and should feel confident articulating how their approach will help economic prospects and address the ‘kitchen table’ concerns of Americans, especially as Republicans remain focused on wokeism, wedges and culture wars.”

A host of recent analyses and observations remind us why getting immigration policy right – and leaning into the accompanying political debate – should be inextricable from the broader political and policy priorities of the Biden administration and re-election campaign:

  • Note the Politico story from this week, “No avoiding it now: Immigration issues threaten Biden’s climate program, which notes, “President Joe Biden’s plan for greening the economy relies on a simple pitch: It will create good-paying jobs for Americans. The problem is there might not be enough Americans to fill them. That reality is pressuring the Biden administration to wrestle with the nation’s immigration system to avoid squandering its biggest legislative achievements.”
  • Or see the Bloomberg story from yesterday, “America’s $52 Billion Plan to Make Chips at Home Faces a Labor Shortage.”
  • Meanwhile, as Republicans roll back child labor laws in numerous states despite the high-profile revelations of migrant children’s exploitation, read this Slate Q&A with Michigan Rep. Hillary Scholten on how combating child and worker exploitation must involve a broader overhaul on immigration.
  • And read David Dayen in The American Prospect, “Biden’s Ostrich Maneuver on Immigration,” recognizing that the proposed reinstitution of family detention is the type of misguided political and policy idea that simultaneously is at odds with our economic needs: “anyone with a passing familiarity with the Biden administration’s economic strategy knows that a restrictionist immigration policy is incompatible with the growth in domestic manufacturing and employment that Biden is seeking. There is now a serious shortage of construction workers for the expansion in manufacturing encouraged by Biden’s policies. One of the more obvious ways to handle that workforce shortage is through expanding immigration. But the ostrich-like approach of the White House makes that option politically impossible.”
  • Or read Jack Holmes in Esquire making a similar point, connecting the dots between restrictive border and asylum policy and our economic imperatives: “Of course, asylum seekers are just one part of the bigger equation. What we think of as ‘immigration’ is really at least five separate, complex issues: border enforcement; visas for employment or school; visas to join family; humanitarian visas; and dealing with the millions of people who already live and work in the U.S. without papers. Lumping all of these disparate processes together and yelling at each other about it on TV and Twitter might be good for ratings, but it isn’t productive. It’s also just bad for business. Here’s another fact that gets lost in all the heated debate: America desperately needs more immigrants. “There are about 300,000 more job openings in Texas than there are unemployed people,” says Ray Perryman, an immigration economist in Dallas. “Nationally, there are millions more job openings than the number of unemployed persons.” The pandemic played a role in driving people out of the workforce, but the U.S. was facing shortages already. “The recent census revealed that there are about one million fewer persons under 18 years old in the U.S. than there were ten years ago,” says Perryman, “and birth rates have been at or near historic lows in recent years.” With the baby boomers hitting retirement, we’re running short on workers to support Social Security. It’s not a pretty picture. Just ask Japan.”