Public policy professor Jack A. Goldstone ’76 sought to convey that “opening our doors to immigrants is not only desirable, but an absolute necessity,” at an event yesterday at the Harvard Kennedy School.
“I’m stunned that when our economy is in trouble so many Americans are turning against what has been one of the motors of American growth,” said Goldstone, who is director of the Center for Global Policy at George Mason University.
Goldstone devoted much of his lecture to dispelling myths about the negative impacts of migration on wages and the economy. He presented data that both legal and illegal immigration declined during the recent recession.
Goldstone believes immigration is vital to sustaining the economy. The baby boomers especially require labor-intensive health care services as they age, partially driving the demand for new migration.
One of the most common misconceptions, Goldstone said, is the impact of immigrants on the availability of American jobs. “It doesn’t matter who is living next door to you, If you have skills that are good, you’ll do fine.” The real factors, Goldstone said, are the decline in unionization, competition with foreign companies and lack of training opportunities.
While discrimination against immigrants in the U.S. is not as intense as in Europe, he said, there is still a profound amount of fear. “A lot of the so-called facts that are used to frighten people about migration are simply not true,” he said, noting that there are “real problems absorbing immigrants into democracies.”
This is due in part to the common view of “American citizenship as a consumer good,” in which admitting new members into society is seen as violating a mutual trust, Goldstone said.
During the lecture, which was part of the Kennedy School’s Democracy Seminar Series, he also mentioned that the perpetuation of such misconceptions is driven by both fear and “elite” interests.
“The persistent communication of these non-facts in large-scale media and by politicians on the air suggest to me that it is more than just cranky individuals.”
Goldstone will give 19 lectures this fall and early winter on the topic of immigration across the globe, including places as diverse as Helsinki, Rhodes, Venice and Brussels.
“I believe that democracy belongs to everybody,” Goldstone said, commenting on his motivations for his work.
“America’s great strength and success have come from an open society, and we have benefited from letting anyone who wants to succeed use their talents in this country. We need to make our laws support those ambitions and not frustrate them.”
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