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Grousers aside, Chicago and the nation need immigrants

The US immigration system is broken. Voices on all sides of this debate can agree on this, if not on where to place the blame. But our need for economic growth still dictates that immigration at the levels we are currently seeing must continue to ensure that the U.S. population grows enough to provide the workforce we need and keep the economy healthy.

Congressional Budget Office, nonpartisan fiscal calculators of Congress, published a report This past month has been an eye-opener for many. CBO has projected $7 trillion in additional economic growth over the next decade thanks to net immigrant flows, which the agency had not previously factored into its assessments.

This country’s indigenous population is aging and its workforce is suffering as a result. Thanks mostly to net immigration gains, the CBO projects the U.S. workforce will add 5.2 million workers by 2033. If you close off this source of growth, as some extremist voices are encouraging, our workforce will not be sufficient.

Yet statistical findings from a federal agency rarely attract immediate attention, even when they are this important.

That’s why we were so impressed when we recently heard the same message from Brian Moynihan, CEO of Charlotte, North Carolina-based Bank of America, the nation’s second-largest bank. Moynihan sat down with the Tribune Editorial Board to discuss a wide range of topics, but it was his message on immigration that stuck with us most.

“It’s a shame we can’t fix this,” Moynihan said of our terrible system. And he had very good reasons for saying that.

As our birth rate stands now, without the influx, U.S. population growth is only about 0.5% per year, he said. This rate needs to be around 1.5% to keep the economy healthy (and cover our large healthcare and retirement obligations for our growing elderly population). “It’s a pure math question,” he said, noting that U.S. women are already so widely involved in the workforce that increasing that number is no longer a viable source of major growth. This leaves a need for newcomers.

As the longtime president of one of the few truly national banking branches in the United States, Moynihan is in a unique position to offer insight on this issue. He sees more real-time data about the economy and consumer behavior than most. We should listen to him and other business leaders who have long advocated for more, not less, immigrants.

Many extremists in Washington, D.C., view Americans’ concerns about chaos at the southern border as a political issue to be exploited rather than a problem to be solved. We saw the deplorable results of last month, when a comprehensive border security bill failed to even move to debate in the US Senate. House Speaker Mike Johnson had already declared the measure dead when he arrived in his chambers.

From where? Donald Trump, who was then well on his way to becoming his current status as the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee, ordered his supporters in Congress to kill the measure that President Joe Biden had said he would support.

This legislation would provide the executive branch with more legal tools. This would help increase public confidence that the U.S. government can better control who enters this country and ensure existing laws are enforced.

To transform migration from something frightening and negative to what it should be, public confidence needs to increase; It’s a critical part of sustaining this unexpected economic growth despite inflation and high interest rates.

It’s not just in the halls of Congress where the words of Moynihan and other business leaders need to be better appreciated. Municipalities also need to do this. We thought about this as we digested the depressing but unsurprising news. Cook County’s population decreased by an estimated 24,000 in 2023 — and that’s according to new estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau on the contrary Tens of thousands of immigrants arrived.

The influx of immigrants in Chicago — essentially a product of Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s cynical but highly effective desire to score political points at our expense — is largely seen as a negative for our city. A crisis that strains resources.

For our more diplomatic voices, this has been an unwelcome distraction. For the most xenophobic and myopic of us, this has been an invasion of unwelcome strangers.

This is a crisis no one can argue with. Buses, which transport poor people from other countries, many of whom do not speak English, to sometimes unpredictable destinations, are costly and difficult to manage. Our local leadership fought hard to do this. And it’s understandable that some longtime Chicagoans worry about the impact the school is having on their own children and/or feel that resources are being diverted from their real needs. We also note that most countries are paying more attention to the skill levels of immigrants, ensuring a flow of people who can do the jobs America needs most.

But when the dust settles and we move on to other crises (which we acknowledge may happen in the future), we hope that the parade of new refugees arriving in Chicago will be seen as an influx of productive residents and an economic boost. It’s a shot in the arm for a metro area that needs it more than most. Perhaps those who came here under less-than-ideal circumstances and decided to stay and make a life for themselves will eventually be able to testify what a wonderful city and region this is for them.

Brian Moynihan got us thinking about looking at a broader perspective: More workers. More cultural contributions. More taxpayers are sharing our burden.

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