This week marks the 50th anniversary of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which helped to make the United States into a more diverse and economically vibrant country. At the same time however, there is a bill (HB 318) sitting on Governor McCrory’s desk that would make it harder for immigrants to integrate into local communities, make police work more difficult, and hurt North Carolina’s reputation on the global stage.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 is one of the most important pieces of legislation in our nation’s history. The Act put immigrants from all countries of origin on equal footing, ending a quota system that essentially ensured most new immigrants came from Europe. This shift in policy allowed immigrants from around the world to realize the dream of joining the American experiment, and helped to fuel the last fifty years of economic growth in our country.
Examining immigrant business owners’ countries of birth illustrates how opening immigration up to non-European counties has strengthened our economy. As the chart shows, immigrant proprietors have come to North Carolina from all over the world.
The immigrant business community is not just broad, it is deep as well. In North Carolina, immigrants make up less than 8% of the population, but own more than 20% of the main street businesses. In many communities, both rural and urban, immigrant entrepreneurs have helped to revitalize crumbling downtowns and neighborhoods.
Many local governments are exploring ways to work with immigrant communities to ease the process of integration. Efforts run the gamut from recognizing different forms of identification, to providing English language training, to fostering relationships between immigrant and native-born entrepreneurs. Given that counties with larger immigrant populations tend to do better economically than their neighbors with fewer immigrants, these are common-sense, economy boosting efforts.
HB 318 moves in the opposite direction. It would prevent local governments from recognizing many forms of identification that immigrants currently use, making it harder for immigrants to contribute economically and greatly complicating police work.
The immigration debate plays an outsized role in shaping our image around the world, so its not just the immediate hardships of HB 318 that are concerning. If HB 318 becomes law, the next brilliant computer engineer, or doctor, or craftswoman could decide to take her talents elsewhere. Regardless of what the bill hopes to achieve, it may very well cost us good neighbors and skilled colleagues.
The lesson of the last fifty years is clear– HB 318 would take us down the wrong economic path.