How do we change course and begin treating immigrants as a vast, untapped human resource? The answer goes to the heart of shifting from an immigration policy to an immigrant policy.
For starters, the billions of dollars spent on border enforcement should be gradually redirected to replenishing and boosting the education budget, particularly the Pell grant program for low-income students. Some money could be channeled to nonprofits like ImmigrationWorks and Welcoming America, which are at the forefront of helping migrants assimilate.
Second, the Departments of Labor, Commerce and Education need to play a greater role in immigration policy. Yes, as long as there remains a terrorist threat from abroad, the Department of Homeland Security should have an immigration component. But immigration policy is all about cultivating needed workers. That means helping immigrants and their children graduate from high school and college. It means that no migrant should have to stand in line for an English class. It means assistance in developing migrants’ job skills to better compete in an increasingly information- and knowledge-based economy.
Thanks to our huge foreign-born population (12 percent of the total), America can remain the world’s richest and most powerful nation for decades. Shaping an immigrant policy that focuses on developing the talents of our migrants and their children is the surest way to realize this goal.