With a major tax reform bill signed into law and the deregulation of the economy in full-swing, this is the time to make progress on some of the major elements of immigration reform and protect and, ultimately, modernize NAFTA so we can lock in a decade or more of 3 percent economic growth or better.
Both trade and immigration involve our borders; moving people and moving goods through ports of entry. Sensible immigration policy and free and fair trade are two big reasons why the U.S. is the wealthiest, most powerful, and most honorable country on the planet.
The president made get-tough approaches on immigration and trade pillars of his campaign. He hates NAFTA and loves walls. Let’s not pretend otherwise. He’s not changing his mind.
The business community wants a permanent solution for Dreamers, a skills-based immigration system with visa programs that meet the country’s labor needs, and a NAFTA that aligns with today’s economy.
So, let’s make a deal.
FIX DACA NOW
Let’s start with the urgent. Fixing DACA is the right thing to do morally and economically. The average age for those who were brought to the U.S. by their parents without documentation is six. President Trump has called these kids “terrific.” Some of the DACA recipients have already lost their protected status, and the program completely dissolves by March 5th. Time is running short.
Approximately 30,000 Arizonans have DACA protections, and most contribute in our workplaces, attend our colleges and universities, or serve in the military. According toresearch by New American Economy, the DACA-eligible population earns almost $19.9 billion in total income annually, and they contribute more than $1.4 billion to federal taxes and more than $1.6 billion to state and local taxes in the U.S. Congress and the White House should legalize their status and establish a path to eventual citizenship.
THE PRESIDENT WANTS BORDER SECURITY. GIVE IT TO HIM.
In exchange, the president will insist on increased border security. Congress should give it to him. A secure border is particularly important to border states like Arizona. The business community in Arizona has always been united behind the belief that border security is a major – and necessary – prong of immigration reform.
Increased border security can in part be achieved by upgraded infrastructure at our ports of entry, which can also help facilitate legitimate trade and travel and give the economy another shot in the arm. For example, Arizona could use a remodeled Douglas port of entry to keep pace with trade levels there.
The president has requested $33 billion for border security, $18 billion of which would be for construction of a wall, and the rest for technology and personnel. Up the ante. Provide the executive with even more resources – but for trade facilitation – including increases in Customs staffing, port improvements, and highway trade corridors like Interstate 11.
On the immigration front, make the shift from so-called chain migration to a system that prioritizes skills. The visa lottery system is something that was slated for elimination under the Gang of Eight immigration bill. So, get rid of it now, but update our other visa programs and categories, like the NAFTA TN visa, which should permit the entry of professions that may not have been contemplated nearly 25 years ago when the agreement came into force.
As we make the visa programs more usable and skill-based, let’s expand E-Verify to all employers nationwide. All federal contractors must use E-Verify, and certain states like Arizona require it for all hires. E-verify works. It’s time we all play under the same rules.
But Congress should deny strongly any attempt to reduce overall legal immigration. That is a non-starter. The White House has its non-negotiables, and so does the business community. And make smart reforms to encourage cross-border tourism, like expanding the border travel zone for Mexican nationals to visit Arizona.
CONGRESS SHOULD TAKE THE REINS ON NAFTA
On trade, Congress needs to assert itself. Mexico, for example, only permits its Congress to dissolve NAFTA. The U.S. Congress should demand a similar role. Exiting an agreement that is responsible for $3.5 billion in trade each day should not be left to any one person, no matter who is in the White House. There are a host of sanctions and actions that are entirely appropriate for the chief executive to have. But, to allow any administration to dismantle an agreement like NAFTA without congressional approval is nuts. Not one member of the president’s own party supports his position on NAFTA. A withdrawal from NAFTA – or any trade agreement – should require an up or down vote from Congress. A reasserted Congress assures changes to NAFTA will be for the better.
Preserving NAFTA connects to immigration. If NAFTA dissolves and Mexico’s economy gets hammered – and it likely would – the bet here is that undocumented immigration to the U.S. spikes.
And finally, get creative. Go huge. Insert language into a deal that welcomes the United Kingdom into an updated NAFTA. Since Brexit, the U.K. is the global economy’s equivalent of an impact free agent. Let’s make the special relationship even more special and figure out a way to truly change the world balance of power for the better.
The clock is ticking. The next round of NAFTA negotiations in Montreal is underway. DACA expires in less than two months. The tax reform passage showed that minor miracles are possible. It’s time to order up another one and strike a deal for Dreamers, free traders, the U.S. economy and our national security.
Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry