In the News

Trump's racism threatens U.S. economy

By Chris Tomlinson

January 15, 2018 Updated: January 15, 2018 1:53pm

If you want to talk about the poorest and most dangerous countries on the planet, I've been to most of them. And those are the places where I met the world's bravest and most resilient people.

For 11 years I lived in Africa, making my home in South Africa, Rwanda and Kenya. I'd spend weeks at a time in Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Burundi covering civil wars. I'd vacation in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The belief that someone's birthplace determines the content of their character is, by definition, racist. Where you were born, the color of your skin and your gender does not determine how much you can contribute.

That is why President Donald Trump's questions about why the U.S. accepts immigrants from certain countries is so deeply racist, no matter what word he used to describe them. His uneducated opinion on immigration will hurt the U.S. economy.

We need immigrants to meet our workforce needs, according to federal data collated by Houston commentator and mayoral candidate Bill King. U.S. birth rates have plummeted, and the population is getting older, which as Japan has demonstrated since 1990, is a bad combination without immigration.

"If the U.S. had not been allowing any new immigrants, our population would actually be falling by now," he writes. "We know intuitively that more people in our town means more customers for restaurants, grocery stores, car dealers, etc."

The current 4.1 percent unemployment rate further proves that immigrant labor is needed. The labor participation rate is also rising as more Americans look for work as wages rise. But as baby boomers retire in larger numbers, there are not enough Americans to fill all the gaps.

Aggravating the current worker shortage are opioid addiction, obesity, diabetes and disability rates that contribute to long-term unemployment and poverty. Trump has yet to propose any programs to help these people address their problems or to escape the impoverished pockets of the country where they are concentrated. They await his help.

If Trump does not reach a deal with Congress on immigration reform, and he carries out his threats to increase deportations and end temporary asylum programs, he will shrink the U.S. workforce and stall economic growth.

Nearly 400 top executives wrote to Trump and Congress last week asking for quick action on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program to permanently grant work permits to 800,000 people brought to the country illegally as children.

"At least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies count DACA recipients among their employees," the letter stated. "All 780,000 hardworking young people will lose their ability to work legally in this country, and every one of them will be at immediate risk of deportation. Our economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions."

Last week the Trump administration announced it was lifting the temporary protective status for close to 200,000 Salvadorans. About 20,000 of them work in Houston, mostly in construction.

"Many of these workers are playing an instrumental role in rebuilding the region post-Harvey," the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said in statement. "Studies show that this decision could cost the U.S. economy $1.8 billion, and removing these people from the workforce could unnecessarily cripple the local labor force and devastate industries that rely on their labor."

The chamber points out that many of these people, along with the Haitians and Nicaraguans who have already lost their temporary status, do work that most Americans won't do, such as janitorial services, animal processing and other dirty jobs.

Most of the 10 million people working in the U.S. illegally are working construction, washing dishes, maintaining lawns and filling jobs that do not require a college education. If they are deported, there are not enough Americans to replace them.

We need low- and semi-skilled labor more than we need doctorates from Norway, which Trump seems to feel are perfect candidates for U.S. citizenship. I've also visited Oslo, though, and I'm not sure why Norwegians would want to emigrate. They are too busy taking in exactly the kind of people that Trump wants to shun to keep their economy strong.

Read the story in the Houston Chronicle: