Better immigration laws could benefit Ohio; political stunts, fear must be put aside

Greg Abbott, the Texas governor, sent two busloads of migrants to the nation’s capital, or more precisely, the residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. His counterpart in Florida, Ron DeSantis, lured migrants onto a plane, starting in San Antonio, stopping briefly in Florida, then landing in Martha’s Vineyard, a wealthy Massachusetts beach enclave.

Both governors talk about the rest of us sharing responsibility for the burden border states face. They have a point. Unfortunately, they aren’t interested in constructively addressing the problem, as their political stunts reveal, the episodes about playing cruelly with real lives.

If the governors were serious, they would send the migrants to Akron! That’s said just partly tongue in cheek.

The country has a border problem, most recently in the rising numbers of asylum seekers. For instance, Venezuelans filled most of the seats on the flight to Martha’s Vineyard. They are fleeing their country’s repression and subsequent wreckage. They and others deserve a fair hearing.

The trouble is that the immigration system lacks the resources to process their requests in an effective and expedited manner. The moment requires such things as additional immigration judges and alternative ways to monitor those waiting for their cases to be heard. President Joe Biden has started in this direction.

Ideally, such improvements would be part of a comprehensive repair, the outlines of which have been plain for years. Practically everyone wants improved border security. It also makes sense to construct a path to legal status for those who are undocumented yet long have resided here and contributed to communities.

The country would benefit from expanded legal immigration, notably for farms in need of reliable laborers or other instances in which the economic value is clear. That includes locating migrants, and refugees, where they are most wanted, especially cities navigating prolonged economic transitions.

Immigrants help with challenges. Consider Akron. The arrival of Bhutanese refugees has brought energy to North Hill. It also has slowed the city’s population decline, and more people translates to more economic activity. Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes and more likely to start new businesses.

Their presence, according to researchers, is more about complementing than competing with already established shops and workers.

The findings of a 2016 study, “Welcome to Akron,” by the New American Economy think tank still hold. The report shows how immigrants and refugees boost the local economy. They add spending power and pay taxes. They increase property values and keep “young and active” an otherwise aging work force.

A Brookings Institution analysis notes that from 2010 to 2019, the cities with the fastest growing immigrant populations were all medium-sized with “thriving economies,” such as Charleston, South Carolina; Nashville; and Des Moines. The list includes Columbus, with one of the largest Somali communities in the country.

One consequence of the pandemic has been a shortage of workers. Companies are struggling to hire enough workers to meet demand. This has evolved as overall immigration has slowed, reflecting the harsh agenda of the Trump White House. Today, more immigrants would help close a labor gap that spurs inflation.

Ohio looks forward to Intel setting up a huge semiconductor operation. The many new jobs carry obvious appeal. Yet immigrants can be helpful as the work force expands rapidly. Greg Wright, a Brookings analyst, notes the average share of foreign-born workers in chip-making is 10% — or double Ohio’s average immigrant share.

In this case, immigrants help to facilitate a project of immense benefit.

Something similar applies to the big infrastructure bill enacted with bipartisan congressional majorities. The many projects promise to stretch the labor force. Immigrants can fill openings to ensure the building moves steadily forward.

All of this argues for a broad and humane immigration makeover, Republicans and Democrats making the required legislative compromises. Actually, the achievement would be a win-win for the parties.

This is the country’s story. Immigration refreshes and reinvigorates. That narrative has included many ugly elements of exclusion, prejudice and violence. Recall, for instance, the internment of Japanese-Americans and the callous reception for Jews seeking to escape Nazi Germany.

Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis play to fears. So does J.D. Vance, the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Ohio, as he takes another cue from Donald Trump, whose family separations rate among the darkest moments in American immigration. The Ohio Capital Journal recently reported that Vance last year trafficked in an incomplete and inaccurate story about violence in a Somali neighborhood in Minneapolis.

Immigration policy is another topic worthy of an elevated discussion in an election campaign. Then again, don’t hold your breath. The Abbotts, DeSantises and Vances would have to contend with the reality that for all their fear-mongering, immigration continues to have a role in making the country great.

Douglas was the Beacon Journal editorial page editor from 1999 to 2019. He can be reached at mddouglasmm@gmail.com.

A woman, who is part of a group of immigrants that had just arrived, holds a child as they are fed outside St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Wednesday Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday flew two planes of immigrants to Martha's Vineyard, escalating a tactic by Republican governors to draw attention to what they consider to be the Biden administration's failed border policies.
A woman, who is part of a group of immigrants that had just arrived, holds a child as they are fed outside St. Andrews Episcopal Church, Wednesday Sept. 14, 2022, in Edgartown, Mass., on Martha's Vineyard. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday flew two planes of immigrants to Martha's Vineyard, escalating a tactic by Republican governors to draw attention to what they consider to be the Biden administration's failed border policies.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Tell JD Vance Ohio would benefit from more legal immigration