January 12, 2018


We need more immigrants

This is National Migration Week, declared by the U.S. bishops. However, this is not a newly declared week. As the bishops’ website says, “For nearly a half century the Catholic Church in the United States has celebrated National Migration Week, which is an opportunity for the Church to reflect on the circumstances confronting migrants, including immigrants, refugees, children, and victims and survivors of human trafficking.”

Although the week is celebrated each year, it comes at a time this year when some people, including President Donald J. Trump, are trying to reduce immigration in the United States. He continues to demand that Congress approve the financing for a wall between the United States and Mexico to keep out people who are desperate.

We have to ask why. Why should we be trying to discourage immigrants now? Of course, we have the right to try to keep out undesirable immigrants, but why are we trying to keep out people who would contribute to our country at a time when we badly need more immigrants, not fewer?

Why do we need more? Because our current unemployment rate is only 4.1 percent, which is nearly full employment. Companies are trying to find more workers, especially in agriculture, construction and landscaping—the industries that attract many immigrants, and, incidentally, that most U.S. citizens shun.

We also need more immigrants because our birth rate is so low. The Central Intelligence Agency keeps track of the average number of births during a year per 1,000 women and makes a report each year at the end of June. So does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics.

Last year, they reported that we had reached a record low of 61.5 births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. That’s 1.84 births per woman, below the replacement level of just over two children per woman, or enough babies to sustain the population level in industrialized countries. (The rate is higher for women in underdeveloped countries because of higher infant death rates.)

The record low in the birth rate prompted The Washington Post to report last June, “The United States is in the midst of what some worry is a baby crisis. The number of women giving birth has been declining for years and just hit a historic low. If the trend continues, the country could face economic and cultural turmoil.”

The New York Times, in reporting the same statistics last July, quoted statistician and demographer Brady E. Hamilton as saying, “Yes, it’s below replacement level, but we have a high level of influx of immigrants that compensates for it.”

That’s one reason we need more immigrants—not fewer—to help compensate for our low birth rate.

It’s true, too, that immigrants contribute greatly to our economy, including those forced to come here illegally because it’s impossible for them to come legally because of our tight immigration laws. Estimates are that undocumented immigrants pay $11.64 billion every year in state and local taxes.

The U.S. bishops’ theme for Migration Week is “Many Journeys, One Family.” It “draws attention to the fact that each of our families has a migration story, some recent and others in the distant past. Regardless of where we are and where we came from, we remain part of the human family and are called to live in solidarity with one another.”

As Catholics, we believe in the human dignity of all immigrants and refugees. With more than 65 million people displaced from their homes and more than 22 million displaced outside their countries as refugees—the worst forced displacement crisis since World War II—the United States should be admitting more refugees.

However, the Trump administration has already announced that only 45,000 refugees could come into the United States this fiscal year, the lowest rate in several years. The U.S. bishops hope that that will be raised to at least 75,000 refugees in 2019.

Meanwhile, the Church in Indiana as well as those throughout the country will continue to advocate for refugees and help them resettle in this country. You can see more information about what the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is doing by visiting archindy.org/immigration.

—John F. Fink

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