I play pool almost every week with a very good friend. We don’t talk much while we’re shooting, but we take a break a couple three times between games and chat. He’s pretty hard line on immigration. “Build that wall” he would say. “Heck, I’ll even help.”
The issue resonates with many Americans, as our current President knows. But, just like healthcare, it’s complicated. But not nearly as much.
There’s little doubt immigrants can boost our economy. A quarter of the Fortune 500 companies started since 1985 had immigrant founders. In 2016, four of the five American Nobel Prize winners were born outside our borders. But for most middle-wage, income stagnant American workers, displacement by low wage immigrant labor doesn’t float their boat. It’s not just the job displacement and growing income inequality that immigration amplifies. There is the bottom line cost. A National Academy of Science study from 2017 took the state revenue expected from an immigrant and subtracted the costs for their public services. For Idaho, that netted a negative $1,040 per immigrant per year.
But the simple fact that the US population has doubled in my lifetime is the issue that gets my pool buddy riled. He, and I like the wide-open spaces Idaho has in abundance. We don’t live here for the Broadway shows.
We hear an anti-immigrant tone in Idaho now, but it’s mainly aimed at Californians. There’s a fear amongst some that these “foreigners” will corrupt our Idaho values. I think the Idaho Republican supermajority is seeing boogeymen. Most of the people choosing to move here like the politics. But that strife, that fear is indeed a burden on our society, whether the foreigner is from Orange County or Ethiopia. And who pays for that growth? That struggle is playing out right now in the exploding Treasure Valley, where commuting and parking are major concerns.
But it’s not just Republican imagination; it’s real. Idaho is the fastest growing state in the nation. Moreover, if you look at world population growth, there are hundreds of millions of people who would migrate to our shores. Idaho may not be the first place they will land, though it might be where they settle.
It’s no wonder the powerful symbol of a wall on our border with Mexico resonates with so many; symbols motivate, symbols simplify, symbols capture emotions. But $30 billion is a darn expensive symbol.
Why haven’t our congressmen solved this issue? I watched when Representative Labrador got elected in 2010. I thought his background would give him credibility and motivation. He had worked as an immigration lawyer. He made some strong runs at the issue in his four terms, but “The Swamp” is a hard place to make headway. I can’t say I agreed with all his positions, but I sure respected his effort. In fact, his positions seemed to evolve, maybe as the political landscape moved.
And what did his efforts get him? He was accused of being “soft” on immigration by one of his primary opponents, Brad Little when he ran for governor in 2018. Raul Labrador was not soft on immigration.
I watched a political pundit state that the immigration problems our country faces could be solved in three days by 150 random people off the street. Set them all down in a room together, have them hash out what they think, talk with each other, listen, compromise. He was making a comment on the toxic political environment we are in.
Maybe we will, as a country, fall for saluting symbols instead of working for the common good. If that happens, then I guess we’ll know just how this American representative democracy experiment turned out.
Dan Schmidt is a family physician who lives in Moscow. Dr. Schmidt, a Democrat, served in the Idaho state senate from 2010 to 2016.