The Trump administration’s decision to seek a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has led to both uncertainty and opportunity. The action creates uncertainty for an estimated 800,000 young individuals in America, including more than 6,000 in Minnesota. It simultaneously creates an opportunity to design a permanent solution not just for these individuals but also to make our immigration system more responsive to the changing economy. Immigration reform is both long overdue and critically important to Minnesota’s livelihood.
The affected individuals in DACA are students in our K-12 system. They are students and scholars at the University of Minnesota and other state institutions of higher learning. And many are members of the workforce, filling the needs of our employers while paying taxes as productive members of Minnesota’s economy.
For the past year, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the University of Minnesota have toured the state, talking with local chamber members and community leaders about the role of immigrants in the development and growth of our state’s economy. Turns out these folks contribute as workers, entrepreneurs, consumers — and links to the world economy. All of these aspects are important to Minnesota.
Minnesota’s workforce dynamics underscore the need to fix our immigration system. Our state demographer tells us we have an aging population, yet we also have the good fortune of a growing economy. That combination places a premium on educated and available workers. In the past, our birthrate promised plenty of workers in the long run. Domestic migration, typically from the Upper Midwest, met immediate needs. Today, our birthrate is not sufficient to replace Minnesotans we lose through death and out-migration. Domestic migration is a fraction of what it was. Our major source of population and workforce growth is international migration — immigrants and their children.
Our historically low unemployment rate has compounded the challenge. Fewer workers, particularly in Greater Minnesota, have slowed the growth and expansion of companies in their communities. We want that growth to happen here and to benefit all Minnesotans, but we will fail if we can’t produce the talented workers that our employers desperately need and want. We certainly can and will do a better job of employing our native-born workers. However, success here will not provide all of the workers our economy needs — not by a long stretch.
The potential elimination of DACA would potentially remove 6,000-plus individuals from the Minnesota workforce. These individuals are our neighbors; they could be our colleagues; and, most of all, they are a key part of our future. Young people, no matter who they are, are going to be in the workforce for decades to come. Don’t we want their talent, their drive and their enthusiasm here in Minnesota? Don’t we want to see them achieve the dream of a two-year or four-year college degree to be qualified for the jobs of today and tomorrow? Don’t we want the taxes they will pay, the businesses they may start, the homes they will purchase?
The president has given Congress the opportunity to enact an immigration policy that better aligns with today’s evolving economic realities and needs. We urge the administration and Congress to work together to quickly find a legislative solution before the DACA program expires and seize this opportunity to pass meaningful immigration reform that will benefit the entire nation as well as Minnesota for decades to come. Because it’s the right thing to do.
Eric W. Kaler is president of the University of Minnesota. Doug Loon is president of the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.