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OPINION: Stand with me, not against me

If you were tasked with deciding who was more important in our society, high-skilled or low-skilled American workers, who would you choose? Could you really say that one group possesses more worth than the other when our country is based on the notion of equality? 

According to current U.S. immigration policies, the U.S. has placed value on high-skilled natives, while dismissing those of lower skill. This has become a heated topic on Clemson’s campus due to the recent appearance of anti-immigrant flyers. As we look more closely, we find that the issue of immigration is not a matter of valuing Americans over immigrants, but rather, valuing certain American citizens over other American citizens themselves.

The U.S. takes in more immigrants than any other country in the world and a large portion of these immigrants are low-skilled workers. High-skilled American employers realize that these immigrants are willing to work for significantly less pay than current American workers. In fact, according to studies done by George J. Borjas, a professor of economics and social policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, wage trends over the past half-century show that a 10 percent increase in the number of workers with a particular set of skills lowers the wage of that group by at least 3 percent, and according to Census data, immigrants without high school diplomas have increased the size of the low-skilled workforce by 25 percent. This fact fuels the argument to restrict immigration, statistically displaying that jobs are being taken. Simultaneously, however, it also fuels the argument to maintain immigration because if employers pay these workers less, then the company’s revenue increases, which in turn helps the country’s economy as a whole. In essence, immigration is a way to redistribute wealth, with high-skilled workers and company owners coming out on top while the low-skilled citizens that manage the foundation of our day-to-day lives are forever restricted to the bottom of the totem pole.

So what’s the solution? Is there a way in which we can choose not just one group of citizens, but to choose equally for all? We’re at a crossroad: if we restrict immigration, we’re taking away a proven boost to our economy and national wealth, yet, if we continue to allow immigration to go on as it is, we see hard working American citizens lose their jobs. It seems like either way, someone loses. Although a tall order, programs could be implemented to compensate or re-educate workers that are laid off so that they are more likely to find another job in the near future. This would be similar to the NAFTA-Transitional Adjustment Assistance Program (NAFTA-TAA), which aids workers who are laid off or have had their wages reduced due to an employer shifting company production to Canada or Mexico. NAFTA-TAA combats this by providing both long-term training as well as income support to the affected employees. However, this kind of program would take a portion of the extra revenue away from employers, and it is extremely unlikely that our government would actually implement such a plan due to the time, effort and intense controversy that would surround it. Despite this, it’s still something to think about: all groups of people, high-skilled, low-skilled and immigrants, would be able to benefit in this scenario.

As students at Clemson University, we may not see how immigration really affects our lives, but, as we come closer to the end of our college career and the beginning of our “real world” life, keep in mind that we want to be the ones who’ll benefit when the economy is booming. Keep in mind that we will soon be high-skilled workers, and that we will want policies to work in our favor. But, also remember that our higher-education has made us more informed on societal issues and more aware of the disparities within the country. Use this education as a basis to step up and be the person that is willing to understand and accept compromise when it benefits the citizens of the nation as a whole. Use the power that you will soon possess to stand with others as equals, not to work against them.

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