KENNEBUNKPORT — There is considerable fearmongering and a lot of myths when it comes to immigration policy. Recently, Jonette Christian dusted off these inaccuracies to make her case in a commentary titled “Maine Voices: Lawmakers shouldn’t protect illegal immigrants and ignore U.S. workers” (May 10).
Before I discuss the many holes in her argument, let me mention what was not shared: Ms. Christian is a longtime member of a group called Mainers for a Sensible Immigration Policy. She has been rehashing this same agenda with nativist scare tactics disconnected from any real facts for nearly 20 years, predicting the end of Maine and the nation as we know it due to U.S. immigration policy, in forums ranging from think tank conferences to newspaper editorial pages.
Now that we understand the perspective that her recent column represents, let’s talk about the facts. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King may not agree on everything, but they are adamant and unwavering in their support of Maine and the people of Maine. Both senators are aware of, and have access to, the nonpoliticized facts of the immigration debate.
Maine is in a negative population spiral. It is a fact that more Mainers are dying than are being born. But immigration has helped to offset what the Portland Press Herald’s own news coverage says is Maine’s population problem. Maine’s state economist, Amanda Rector, told the Press Herald: “Population growth is directly related to economic growth. Businesses that want to move here or expand need to be able to fill their workforce needs.”
This is a very big deal to Mainers whose ability to earn a living requires population growth to sustain their families and jobs. Negative population growth also affects Maine’s schools. A decline in the number of students leads to budget cuts, because funds are based on enrollment, so districts eliminate staff members, extracurricular activities, course offerings and even bus routes. Those Mainers who lost their jobs teaching or in the administration of the schools, whose children had courses or extracurricular activities cut, are undoubtedly the very people Sens. Collins and King are looking to support.
In order to protect and grow Maine’s primary economic engine, tourism, while also enticing new businesses to move to or open in the state’s cities, Maine needs workers of all skill types. According to the Press Herald, businesses that cater to tourists generated $6 billion in 2016 while employing “106,000 people, or one out of every six jobs in the state. The total economic impact is estimated at $9 billion, and last year tourists paid $596 million in taxes to the state.”
The service industry requires workers to continue the power of this economic engine. It is missing the point to speculate that raising pay will magically fill positions without more H-2B workers or simply more workers in general, wherever they hail from. As documented above, the population of working-age adults is declining in Maine. It is imperative to attract workers. For 27 straight months, unemployment in Maine has been at the extremely respectable rate of 3 percent, reflecting “a historically tight labor market in which employers are finding it difficult to find qualified workers,” this newspaper reported. These numbers – some of the simple facts that were left out of Ms. Christian’s column – prove that immigrant workers are not taking jobs away from U.S. workers.
Finally, long-term growth relies on people relocating permanently to Maine. People relocate only if there is job growth. Ms. Christian took Sens. Collins and King to task for encouraging high-paying jobs to come to Maine through the H-1B program. Fortune magazine recently reported on a Center for Global Development study that found that H-1B visa holders – who, like their H-2B counterparts, have their salaries approved by the Department of Labor – generate a significant net economic gain for the U.S. workers around them, to the tune of $431 million.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has reported that one H-1B worker creates 3.1 U.S. worker positions, which is good for the United States. And in places such as Maine, where the workforce is declining, the H-1B program is a boon we could only wish was bigger.
These are the facts once the fearmongering and anti-immigrant agenda is set to the side. Immigrants are good for Maine. They help offset a negative birth rate, and they supplement the native-born workforce rather than suppressing or replacing it. Maine is lucky to have two U.S. senators who put Mainers first when it comes to the immigration debate.