Jeff Flake - U.S. Senator ~ Arizona

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) today spoke on the Senate floor to urge against using a DACA fix as a vehicle for fast-tracking, short-sighted efforts to limit the flow of legal immigration, which Flake warned would be devastating to the nation’s economy:

“Legal immigration policy is a complicated but important issue, and it is more than worth debating its reform. There is a strong appetite for a merit-based immigration system, and rather than drastically cut legal and necessary immigration flows, we should work together to provide a way for the best and the brightest to make it to the U.S., both for our benefit and theirs. Let’s not be fooled into thinking legal immigration is some kind of simplistic zero-sum game that can be easily reformed without consequence.”

Video of Flake’s remarks can be viewed here.

A complete transcript of Flake’s prepared remarks can be viewed below.

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Mr. President, as we continue to debate the issue of immigration as it relates to providing a permanent solution to those young immigrants who benefited from the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – or DACA – program, the scope of this debate has expanded to include other issues.

Some of these issues are directly related to the DACA issue, including persistent concerns on the southern border, like improving on border access roads and providing hiring and retention incentives for Customs and Border Protection personnel to ensure all locations of the border remain secure.

Other things being debated, like changes to legal immigration levels, truly need their own debate.

Some appear to have seized on this as an opportunity to push forth an agenda aimed at limiting the future flow of legal immigration.

Before this idea gains any steam, we must fully discuss and debate its potentially enormous impacts on our economy.

It is easy for some to see unemployed Americans and point to immigrants as a scapegoat.

To suggest that every immigrant who passes through our borders represents a job being pried from an American citizen is farfetched at best.

But after taking the time to actually examine the facts, the shortsightedness of this thinking is exposed.

For example, cleaving the number of new legal immigrants by almost 50 percent- which is what the White House proposal appears to envision- would initially reduce the overall rate of economic growth in the United States by an estimated 12.5 percent when compared to currently projected levels through 2045.

This is because labor force growth is one of the most important factors tied to economic growth.

More troublingly, these changes in legal immigration would come just as the aging U.S. population increases our dependence on a growing workforce.

Some have suggested legal immigrants represent some sort of drag on government resources.

In fact, the National Academy of Sciences estimates the average immigrant contributes, in net present value terms, $92,000 more in taxes than they receive in benefits over their lifetime.

We can only expect these numbers to increase as we move to the kind of merit and employment based system.

Now, I should note in the bipartisan approach in 2015, we did restrict the number of family-based immigration.

I think it was a total of 75 percent of legal immigration, and we moved it down to 50 percent for family-based visas.

But at the same time, what we did was reallocate these visas to merit based or employment-based visas, so we wouldn’t have an overall legal immigration.

To look into the future of what happens when the philosophy of limiting legal immigration takes hold, look no further than the current economic struggles facing Japan.

In a timely piece by Fred Hiatt in the Washington Post this past Sunday, he points out that Japan’s population of 127 million is forecast to shrink by one-third over the next half century.

The increase in lifespans coupled with a decrease in fertility is projected to lead to near-stagnant economic growth, reduced innovation, labor shortages, and huge pressure on entitlements and pensions.

These disastrous realities facing Japan are a direct result of the nation’s historically low admission of immigrants.

As Hiatt astutely puts it: “You can be pro-growth. You can be anti-immigration. But honestly, you can’t be both.”   

Legal immigration policy is a complicated but important issue, and it is more than worth debating its reform.

There is a strong appetite for a merit-based immigration system, and rather than drastically cut legal and necessary immigration flows, we should work together to provide a way for the best and the brightest to make it to the U.S., both for our benefit and theirs.

Let’s not be fooled into thinking legal immigration is some kind of simplistic zero-sum game that can be easily reformed without consequence.

During the last administration many of us rejected the “new normal” of low economic growth driven by overregulation and irrational tax policy. It would be a supreme irony if we were to fix those anti-growth fiscal and regulatory policies only to counteract them with immigration restriction.

Let’s give this important and complex issue the time for discussion, analysis, and debate it deserves and not shoehorn it into a DACA fix.      

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