op-ed vol1:2

A Fact-based Immigration Policy

Illustration by Stephen Rockwood
Illustration by Stephen Rockwood

The immigration debate has divide America and paralyzed our Congress for decades, never more egregiously than in the last two years. Driven by passions more than thoughtful analysis, far more heat than light has been generated on the subject, with the sad result that the true interests of the nation have been all but lost in an endless fog of misinformation and xenophobic demagoguery.


The presence of millions of people in the United States who entered the country illegally is a serious national issue that requires a comprehensive and just solution. The security of our borders is vitally important to the safety and well-being of our nation and its people, and one of the duties of our government is to secure our borders against people who reject our values and intend us harm. As to these facts, there is virtually unanimous agreement in the country, irrespective of political label or party.


Immigration policy, like all policies of national importance, should be based on facts, informed debate, and rational and fair consideration of all the competing interests involved, including, of course, the national interest. In an effort to give more than lip service to the proposition that “FACTS MATTER,” here are some facts about immigration in this country.

  • The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the average immigrant contributes, in net present value terms, at least $92,000 more in taxes than he or she receives in benefits over their lifetime.
  • In 2013, 29% of all research doctorates in science, engineering and health were awarded to immigrants, and an astonishing 48% of all PhD’s in computer science and mathematics were awarded to immigrants.
  • According to the National Foundation for American Policy, in the last seventeen years, immigrants have won 39% (33 of 85) of the Nobel Prizes awarded to “Americans” in Chemistry, Medicine and Physics. All six of the U.S. Nobel Prize winners in 2016 were immigrants, and of the ten Nobel laureates in the last two years who live and work in the U.S., only one was born in the United States.
  • Immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, and overall crime rates are lower in areas where immigrants live. A Cato Institute study released in March of last year found that, relative to their percentage of the population, the incarceration rates of immigrants, including unauthorized immigrants, are less than those of native-born Americans. The so-called “Dreamers” (people illegally brought into the U.S. as children who have lived here all their lives) have the lowest crime rates of all – only one quarter of one percent have ever been convicted of any crime.
  • Since June 2008, more Mexicans have left the U.S. to return to Mexico than have come to the United States. From 2009 to 2014, more than a million Mexicans and their families left the U.S. for Mexico, most of them of their own accord.
  • 42% of the approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. didn’t sneak across the border, they overstayed their visas.


Notwithstanding these facts, President Trump and others continue to demagogue and distort the immigration issue by demonizing immigrants and mischaracterizing their contributions and role in American society. The President continues to insist on building a wall on our southern border that has little, if any, practical justification, and that will cost U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars. His latest “take-it-or-leave-it” immigration proposal to Congress calls for, among other demands, creation of a $25 billion trust fund to pay for a wall that is more political monument and symbol than anything else.


The President’s current proposal also calls for cuts in legal immigration approaching 50%, which Joel Prakken, Co-Founder of Macroeconomic Advisers, estimates would reduce the rate of U.S. economic growth by about 12.5% from currently projected levels. As David Bier and Stuart Anderson of the Cato Institute have pointed out, this problem worsens as the U.S. population ages and we need more immigrants in the U.S. labor force to maintain our economic growth.


In the face of these realities, Trump persists in seeking to cut legal immigration even more. He wants to end the Diversity Visa Program, which allows 50,000 permanent resident visas each year to people from countries that are underrepresented in the U.S. More significantly, he seeks to prevent citizens and lawful permanent residents from sponsoring their parents and siblings for immigration consideration.


The protection, education and support of American workers and their families has historically been, and always should be, one of our nation’s highest priorities, but we should not view the future as a zero sum game. Since the earliest days of our country, immigrants have benefitted our nation with their work ethic, their skills, their cultural diversity, their ambition, and their dedication to the idea of America and the principles and values it has always embodied. We can, and should, in the nation’s interest as well as our own, make room for people from other countries who aspire to and cherish the American dream and who bring to our shores a constant flow of new ideas, new perspectives and new energy.


For a change, why don’t we approach the issues, challenges and opportunities of immigration policy with open minds and hearts, common sense, informed self-interest, and an abiding appreciation for the value of facts. Who knows what we might come up with?

op-ed vol1:1

Saving the Planet Without the Help of Our President

Illustration by Stephen Rockwood


December 12, 2015 was a momentous day in the history of the world, politically, diplomatically and socially, because, on that day, 194 nations plus the European Union signed the Paris Climate Agreement dealing with the global mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. It was a stunning and unprecedented achievement of international accord in a world rife with competing national interests. The accord represents a world-wide recognition both of the dire threats that global warming and climate disruption pose to our planet, and of mankind’s responsibility to do something about it.


Citing his “America First” slogan, but lacking any facts to support his decision, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the agreement, calling it a “draconian” international deal that threatened the U.S. economy and undermined our national sovereignty. Thankfully, without exception,  the other signatories to the agreement reaffirmed their commitment to it.


Immediately following the president’s announcement, the governors of California, New York and Washington announced that, notwithstanding the President’s decision, their states would remain fully committed to the goals of the agreement and to meeting or exceeding the targets of the federal Clean Power Plan initiated by President Obama. To date, ten other states and Puerto Rico have joined them, giving the now 14 members of the “U.S. Climate Alliance” an aggregate population of over 107 million with a GDP of over $7 trillion.


In addition, the day after Trump’s announcement, thirty U.S. cities, more than 80 university presidents, and over 100 major U.S. companies announced their formation of a coalition to uphold the international accord, saying in their press release: “Americans will honor and fulfill the Paris Agreement by leading from the bottom up—and there isn’t anything Washington can do to stop us.”


Uninformed and ill-advised as it was, President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, is, unfortunately, only part of his administration’s broad-based effort to undermine protection of the national and global environment. His proposed 2018 budget  calls for a 31% cut in EPA’s budget, including massive cuts in scientific research, personnel, and a wide range of environmental programs designed to protect our air and water. He has signed executive orders to increase commercial mining, drilling and natural gas extraction on public lands and increase offshore oil exploration and drilling; revoked a rule that prevented coal companies from dumping debris into local streams; cancelled a requirement for reporting methane emissions; rolled back limits on toxic discharge from power plants into public water ways; and approved the Dakota and Keystone XL pipelines, to cite only a few examples.


He has also called for an unprecedented review and possible modification of 27 National Monument designations by former presidents from 1996 to 2016. On August 24th, following his six-month review of the designated monuments, Interior Secretary Zinke submitted his recommendations to the White House, but those recommendations and the president’s reaction to them have not yet been made public. Our public lands are treasures of inestimable historic, scientific and cultural value that belong to the people of America, past, present and future. We must continue to protect and preserve them as the irreplaceable legacies they are to us all.


Given the Trump administration’s assault on environmental protection, the question is, what can state and local governments and we as individuals do to protect our public lands and offshore waters,  to say nothing of the water we drink and the air we breathe?


We can start by paying attention to the concerted efforts of this administration to erode and dismantle the bi-partisan environmental policies and protections of the last fifty years, and by realizing that what we say and do about it matters. Protection of our precious and amazing planet is not a liberal or conservative issue, it’s a universal human issue. Clean air and clean water are not political issues, they are the essential elements of life for all living things on earth.


Here are some of the things we, as individuals, can do, irrespective of the actions and policies of this administration: reduce our carbon footprints by buying locally whenever we can, thereby reducing the enormous carbon costs of transportation; eat a more plant rich diet and reduce our prodigious waste of food; drive fuel-efficient vehicles and carpool and use public transportation when we can; properly insulate our homes and businesses, adjust our thermostats and use energy-efficient appliances; reduce junk mail by removing our names from direct mail and catalog lists; unplug our chargers and other gadgets when we’re not using them, and use energy-efficient light bulbs in our houses. One of the most important things we can do is elect people to state, local and federal offices who care about these issues and are informed about them.


Paul Hawken, the renowned author, entrepreneur and environmentalist, wrote a   fascinating book entitled, “Drawdown – The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming,” in which he describes the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming, all based on sound, peer-reviewed science. The book vividly demonstrates that we can solve the climate crisis if we simply act together in sensible, determined ways. Many of the solutions – wind turbines, solar farms and roof-top solar, regenerative and conservation agriculture, afforestation, geothermal energy, managed grazing – are already widely and successfully employed and ripe for massive expansion. Others such as controlling world population by increasing awareness of family planning and by educating women and girls throughout the world generally– are less obvious but hugely important.


Edmund Burke once said, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.” It’s good advice for us all, especially now, faced as we are with the dangerous, misguided attitudes and policies of this administration.