by Mike Fernandez : Don't oversimplify the immigration issue, but note the Minnesota impact : August 30, 2016
Photo by Liz Pangerl
Aim for firm laws, humane actions and an engine of economic growth.
As Donald Trump prepares to get more specific about his immigration plans, it is instructive to note that no one has talked of building a wall on our northern border.
As Minnesotans, we share a 547-mile border with Canada, and most us do not appear to be threatened by what is on the other side. Instead, it is viewed as cause for cultural goodwill, collaboration and economic exchange.
Despite all of the panic and irrationality infiltrating the immigration debate, the reality is that the U.S. exports more than $280 billion a year in goods and services to Canada — and more than $235 billion to Mexico. That’s important to U.S. jobs and our economy — and, interestingly, immigrants are a significant part of that success.
According to a new report from the Partnership for a New American Economy (NAE), immigrant-led households in Minnesota are earning more than $12 billion a year and contributing more than $3 billion in taxes. Immigrants are creating and saving manufacturing jobs in our state, and they are having a hugely positive economic impact on areas from agriculture and food to health care and housing.
Most amazingly, despite their making up only 8 percent of the state’s population, the NAE study shows that immigrants represent nearly 16 percent of all scientific, technology and engineering jobs in our state.
All that said, there are important and sensitive immigration issues that still need to be addressed — from border security to immigrant worker visas and the E-Verify system used to screen them, to being careful not to break up families and deciding what to do with the 11 million here who are undocumented. These are nuanced issues that cannot be settled by blunt instruments or emotional arguments.
The reality is that we need both firm laws and humane actions. A better immigration system can be an engine for economic growth. In Minnesota alone, we need more workers in fields like health care, where the Minnesota Department of Health already identifies a huge portion of the state as underserved by health professionals and where already about a quarter of all our physicians and psychiatrists attended foreign medical schools.
Minnesota and much of the Midwest still have a higher demand for agricultural, food production, and housing and construction workers than there are current workers willing and able to do those jobs.
The impact of immigration in our state and across our nation is broad, and our elected officials need to get the message that we, the voters, understand the big picture and expect them to do the same.
Reforming our immigration system can help every sector of our economy — from agriculture to cutting-edge high-tech.
There are many reasons for reform, and people from across Minnesota and indeed the entire nation are adding their voices to the discussion at reasonforreform.org.
I encourage others to do the same. Thoughtful voters who grasp that immigration reform is more than a one-dimensional issue need to speak up so that reasonable policies deliver smart border relationships and economic growth — not just an effective campaign sound bite.
Our northern border testifies to that. Minnesota knows a better way.
Mike Fernandez recently retired from Cargill as a senior executive; he lives in Wayzata.