There was an interesting juxtaposition of national and local stories last week.
In Washington, President Trump announced a proposal to cut legal immigration in half and institute a merit based system, which would be the biggest overhaul in more than 50 years. Foreign applicants would receive a higher score if they “speak English,” can financially support themselves and have skills that “can contribute to our economy,” the president said.
And in Fort Wayne, Third District U.S. Rep. Jim Banks participated in a job fair at IPFW and noted the job-filling needs of area companies: “More and more businesses I've spoken to are relying on immigrant labor to fill jobs that they can't fill otherwise. That is one reason why we need to address the gap where we can make legal immigration more available and at the same time address illegal immigration issues.”
Trump's intention to cut legal immigration in half might sound cruel, but it makes sense. Demographers at one point determined that the U.S. could handle about a million immigrants a year — the current average — without assimilation being a problem. But that assessment is in a vacuum. It doesn't account for the millions of illegal immigrants who have flooded over the border to the absolute indifference of most public officials.
And merit-based immigration is long overdue. It was one of Trump's top campaign themes, and it's a system widely used around the world — administration officials frequently mention Australia and Canada, but there are lots of other examples. Immigrants are admitted not just because they want to come and have a sponsor (our system now) but because they can meet a specific need in the host country. That's not selfishness; it's enlightened self-interest.
As Rep. Banks alluded to, such a change in policy could help many American companies. Unemployment in this area is blessedly low — below 3 percent throughout most of Indiana's Third District, including 2.9 percent in Allen County — but companies are having trouble finding qualified candidates for job openings.
Immigration won't solve that labor shortage or even be the main component. The main thrust still needs to be better training and placement help for Americans. But it's one part of the puzzle, and it would be stupid to ignore it.