Tower Center lecture compares immigration in the U.S. to Europe

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Lee Cullum (center) moderated the lecture Feb. 28 Photo credit: Hannah Ellisen

*Editor’s Note: 3:55 p.m. April 24 – This story has been edited throughout.

Labor economist Pia Orrenius emphasized how the strength of America’s workforce is dependent on immigration in a lecture hosted by the Tower Center Tuesday evening. Orrenius emphasized how immigration is not the “crisis” a majority of Americans believe it to be.

Orrenius, who works on regional demographic change, made the comments to an audience of about 60 in a lecture titled: “The Migration Challenge in Europe and the U.S Compared.”

“I don’t see the crisis,” said Orrenius. “We have looked at the data, immigration is slow, and the economy is strengthening, the economy is tightening, the unployment rate is falling, job creation is very robust, we have reports of widespread labor shortages.”

James F. Hollifield, a SMU political science professor who also spoke at the lecture echoed Orrenius when he explained how the rate of immigration in the U.S. is lower than the rate of immigration in Europe.

“The U.S. can absorb much of the population of Central America, without much of hiccup,” said Hollifield. “The Germans on the other hand in 2015, took almost a million people in less than a year.”

Orrenius said the policies being implemented by the U.S. governments are not lining up with the positive growth in the current economy, and that the U.S. needs the talent from immigrants in the workforce.

“If you look at the countries affected by the travel ban, those are over boundingly skilled immigrants, with high levels of education in key sectors,” said Orrenius. “So you wouldn’t target this particular population, so that’s what’s odd. The economic rational is really not there.”

Hollifield blamed people’s ambivalence towards immigration on cultural fear. This attitude was seen after the travel ban, and has occurred different times in America’s history including the amendment of the Chinese Exclusion Act in California in 1882.

Hollifield said he chose to use the term “challenge” rather than “crisis” in the lecture’s title.

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