President Barack Obama has a message for those nearing retirement: Embrace more immigrants.
Speaking Tuesday in Nashville, Tennessee, Obama explained the only reason the U.S. workforce is younger than in many other countries is because of immigrants.
“Native-born Americans, our birthrates are as low as Europeans, but we replenish ourselves, and that’s good,” Obama said. “People who are about my age right now, and who are going to be looking to draw on Social Security, when you’re 70, the way Social Security works is the current work force pays for the retiring work force. You have a stake in these folks working and paying taxes, these young people, to support your retirement. So this is good the economy as well as for society.”
Obama spoke in Nashville at Casa Azafran, a community center and home to a number of immigrant-related nonprofits. Obama’s did a question-and-answer session with immigrants and immigration activists in the Nashville area.
Last month, the president announced sweeping executive actions that would shield 5 million illegal immigrants from deportation.
Obama said he does not believe another president will roll back the unilateral actions that he took.
“It’s true that a future administration might try to reverse some of our policies. But I’ll be honest with you, I think the American people basically have a good hear and want to treat people fairly,” Obama said. “Every survey shows that if in fact, someone has come out, subjected themselves to a background check, registered, paid their taxes, that the American people support allowing them to stay. So, I think any administration that tried to punish people for doing the right thing would not have the support of the American people.”
Obama explained that in the past immigration was never “neat and orderly”:
Unless you’re a member of a Native American tribe, you came here from someplace else or your people did. I know sometimes folks talk about, ‘We came here the right way rather than wrong way.’ It’s true that previous generations came through Ellis Island or they came through Angel Island. There are other ways of arriving here. I think sometimes we overstate the degree to which that was some really elaborate, bureaucratic process. There’s a reason, for example, these days a lot of people named Smith used to be named Smithowsky or Smitharia.
He said that often there was little paper work at Ellis Island and people slipped through under “anglicized” names.
In response to a question about civility, Obama said it must work both ways:
I’ve been at the receiving end of people really angry at me about not just these executive actions, but have been ginned up by some of the conservative talk shows to think that I’m usurping my authority, despite the fact that every previous president has exercised this authority, or that I’m favoring immigrants over red-blooded Americans, so that’s a lot of the criticism that’s directed at me. What’s also true is that sometimes advocates of immigrants have suggested that anybody who is concerned about the impact of immigration or asks questions about comprehensive immigration reform, that they must be racist or they must be anti-immigrant. That’s not true either.
He went on to say, “The good book says don’t throw stones at glass houses, or make sure we’re looking at the log in our eye before we are pointing out the mote in other folks eyes.”
Obama went on to leave out some information on the forecast for wages, if the Senate immigration bill had passed.
“There are good people who believe in immigration but are concerned new immigrants will depress wages, particularly in low wage sectors of the economy,” Obama said. “Those are legitimate questions and we have to be just as civil in addressing those questions as we expect people to be when we are talking to them. I think the facts are on our side. I think studies have shown that over time immigrants aren’t lowering wages but in fact improving the economy and over time boosting wages and jobs for everyone.”
The key phrase would be “over time,” which he used twice. The Congressional Budget Office reported last year that under the Obama-backed Senate immigration reform bill, which provided a pathway to citizenship, an influx of newly legalized immigrants would depress wages for about a decade and lead to a short term increase in unemployment.
“As noted, the additional people who would become residents under the legislation would earn lower wages, on average, than other residents, which would pull down the average wage and per capita GNP,” the CBO report states, but said wages would begin to increase after 2025. Further, the same CBO report said the passage of the 2013 legislation would “slightly raise the unemployment rate through 2020.”
The CBO report however did say the Senate bill, if enacted, would boost the economy long term and reduce the federal deficit.