January 19, 2020
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Maine needs immigrants to avert an economic crisis

Jose Luis Magana | AP
Jose Luis Magana | AP
In this Jan. 21, 2018, file photo, demonstrators rally in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) outside the Capitol Washington. An effort to protect young Dreamer immigrants from deportation never really had much chance of squeezing into the last bill Congress had to pass last year.

Today, the words “immigration” and “crisis” are rarely in the same sentence without accompanying divisive rhetoric from either side of the political aisle.

However, one immigration issue should not be controversial. The end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, would be disastrous for Maine and the nation. The Trump administration rescinded the program in 2017 — a decision since blocked by federal courts. The Supreme Court will rule on the rescission’s legality within months.

This issue should not be decided by the courts. Congress — and the Senate in particular — must act to make sure that more than 700,000 “Dreamers” with DACA status are able to stay in the U.S. permanently. If they are not, they, and the nation’s and Maine’s communities, businesses and economy, will be unnecessarily and avoidably harmed.

Maine’s unemployment rate is incredibly low — lower than the national average. “Help Wanted” ads proliferate statewide. Twelve of Maine’s counties have unemployment rates below 3 percent, with the rest at or below 3.5 percent. While that may sound like a good thing, experts say it is unsustainable. There simply are not enough workers in Maine — or nationally — to fill open jobs.

Adding to that is the fact that Maine’s workers are rapidly aging and retiring. As a whole, Maine’s workforce is considered “super-aged,” and we are not producing enough replacement workers. For years, Maine has had more deaths than births. Nationally, birth rates are at their lowest since 1972, and have been below replacement levels since 1971. The shrinking labor supply is hampering Maine businesses’ growth, and in some cases, causing contraction.

Businesses are already raising wages and offering starting bonuses and more robust benefits to attract employees. But these incentives do not work when there simply are not enough people to fill all the available jobs. Workers who move to better-compensated jobs just leave behind another open job to fill.

So, consider what would happen to Maine’s and the nation’s economies if the young men and women with DACA lose their ability to live and work here legally.

Every year, DACA recipients contribute nearly $4 million to Maine’s GDP, and more than $460 billion to the nation’s. Without permission to work and live in the United States, that money will disappear from our economy. So will the tax dollars that Dreamers contribute to all levels of government, helping fund Maine’s essential programs and services.

On a more immediate level, Maine’s businesses would lose workers they struggled to hire in the first place. Without enough employees, businesses could put plans to grow on hold. Others may even be forced to close. Small, local companies would likely bear the brunt of that pain.

Finally, our communities will lose valued citizens — familiar faces who have grown up in Maine and for whom the U.S. is truly “home.” People who are our neighbors, co-workers, who are active in every sector of Maine’s economy, from agriculture, to hospitality, manufacturing, education, health care, research, who are business owners and employers, and who are community volunteers.

These are the very real consequences Maine faces if DACA were to end. But Congress can prevent this crisis from happening.

In June, the House of Representatives passed the American Dream and Promise Act with bipartisan support. This bill would give DACA recipients, as well as those with temporary protected status and deferred enforced departure, most of whom have lived and worked in the U.S. legally for decades, a defined pathway to earn citizenship.

The Senate, however, has yet to act on this legislation. With the clock ticking down toward the Supreme Court’s DACA ruling, the Senate cannot afford to wait any longer.

In 2018, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King took the lead to find a permanent path forward for DACA recipients after the administration announced the program’s rescission. They understood that this was the right thing to do, not only from a humane perspective, but also from an economic one.

Mainers are counting on Collins and King to help us avert a humanitarian and economic catastrophe by once again leading to urge the Senate to provide a path to permanence for Dreamers, by passing legislation such as the American Dream and Promise Act.

Beth Stickney is the executive director of the Maine Business Immigration Coalition.



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