The Immigration Crisis Is Real but It’s Not What You Think

President Trump is right. The United States is experiencing an immigration crisis. But the real crisis is not that ravening hordes of Latin Americans are pouring across our southern border and pillaging everything in sight.

The real crisis — and the real scandal — is that the U.S. is not admitting enough immigrants to keep our economy going.

Do you like having fresh fruits and vegetables for your table? Then either get behind admitting more agricultural workers or get ready to give up salad — because your federal government is not admitting enough pickers on H-2A visas. That leaves farmers facing a stark choice: Either violate immigration law by hiring illegal migrant workers or leave their crops rotting in the fields.

The government also hits law-abiding farmers with ridiculous paperwork and onerous fees. Filing the I-129 form necessary to admit agricultural workers costs $460. Expedited processing, within 15 calendar days, costs a whopping $1225.

Without a labor force sufficient to get food from the fields to your table, the cost of food goes up. Does anyone out there want to pay more for food? I didn’t think so. Inflating the cost of food also nudges up the core inflation rate, throwing the whole economy out of whack and hurting people who save for their retirement.

As for those sheetrockers you see contractors picking up in the parking lot of Home Depot, they need H-2B visas. But their numbers are currently capped at 83,600. President Obama, shamefully, cut the 2008 cap of 94,304 to 44,847. During his two terms the cap inched up but still remained below the 2008 level.

In 2016, the year when Donald Trump ran around the country baying and howling about a border-security crisis, illegal immigration fell to the lowest level in 12 years. That’s right: It’s lower now than it was when George W. Bush was president.

Therefore Trump’s border wall is a racist response to a non-problem. It is nothing more than race-tinged political theater, an orange middle finger extended to brown-skinned people to appease white-skinned people who have been conned into believing that the poor are robbing them. They’re half right; someone is robbing them. The hyper-rich are robbing them.

Even if the border crisis weren’t utterly imaginary, there would be better ways of dealing with it than building a wall. I hate to be the one to break this to you, but Mexicans know about ladders. Drug smugglers have even built extensive tunnel systems, some with rail tracks and solar-powered lighting and ventilation systems. They generally surface, unseen, in private homes.

Most illegal immigrants enter legally through the ports and then overstay their visas. More and longer visas, sufficient to sustain and grow our economy, are the logical answer. Making it easier for visa holders to become green-card holders (non-citizen permanent residents) or naturalized citizens would also help. More immigration judges would break the bureaucratic logjam.

Trump claims — falsely — that illegal immigrants are draining social safety net programs. The truth is quite the reverse: They pay billions more into the system than they get back in benefits. They cannot receive most federal benefits at all. If the current situation is unfair to anyone, it’s unfair to people paying into a system that will never help them.

Ultimately the biggest victims of Trump’s fake border crisis will be retirees. The federal government can pay the Social Security and Medicare benefits it has promised only if it takes in enough revenue from the FICA tax. But the system is increasingly underfunded and even current benefits are inadequate to keep up with the cost of living. Solving that problem means either raising the FICA tax or getting more people to pay it.

Raising the cap on the FICA tax — thus forcing the affluent to pay on a greater percentage of their income — would be a good place to start. But the best way to keep both the safety net and the overall economy in good shape would be to admit as many immigrants as we need, legally and above board. Let them become taxpayers. Let them pick our fruit, sheetrock our walls, care for our children, serve as home health aides to the elderly, and staff our nursing homes. We need low-cost labor for these purposes more than ever.

Looking the other way when illegal migrants seek work is a provisional solution at best. Let’s officially welcome hardworking immigrants into the United States, make it easier for them to attain legal status up to and including citizenship, and end the vicious cycle of race hate masquerading as policy that ultimately makes us all poorer.

Granting amnesty to the DREAMers would be an excellent place to start. They are already Americans in all but name who have spent their whole lives living and working here. If the law fails to recognize either their plight or their contribution to our prosperity, then as Dickens’ Mr. Bumble said: “The law is [an] ass.”