Texas Naturalization Ceremony
In this Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017 photo, a young woman holds on to a small American flag during a naturalization ceremony at the Texas Southmost College Arts Center in Brownsville, Texas. Nearly 200 individuals were made citizens during the event, hosted by the area's United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office. (Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

By Michael Adkins

While formulating my thoughts on the issue of immigration, I chanced upon Willie Nelson’s rendition of “Living in the Promised Land.”

Those who oppose immigration should give these lyrics a listen: “The prayer of every man is to know how freedom feels,” and for more than a century and a half, America has been the promised land sought by millions who have offered up that very prayer. The song asks, “Is there no love anymore living in the Promised Land?”

Americans overwhelmingly want immigration reform. The reason it is so difficult to achieve is that there is a divergent opinion on what constitutes such reform.

In the last bipartisan attempt, many Republicans agreed with Democrats that reform entails creating a reasonable process for gaining citizenship. Most of us are unaware just how difficult we have made the path to becoming a citizen.

Other Republicans, led by U.S. Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions, halted the effort because their definition of reform entails a severe restricting or even elimination of future immigration to the U.S.

Even with Sessions gone from Congress, Republicans find it challenging to push for real reform because a small but powerful core of GOP primary voters will punish them.

The anti-immigration mood is virulent, but it is nothing new to America. The arguments from those opposed to immigration have changed little over the past 150 years; all that has changed has been the target of their disdain.

It had been the Jews, then the Irish, followed by the Chinese and then the Italians, the Poles and the Germans. Now it is directed at Latinos, and once immigration opponents come to realize that Asians are the fastest-growing immigrant population — and is estimated to become the largest one by 2055, according to the Pew Research Center — the target will shift to them.

Immigration will ensue in the destruction of our culture was the argument with each wave of immigrants. But rather than destruction, each wave enhanced our culture. “Bring us your foreign song, and we will sing along.”

And so, our culture has changed — but in a positive manner. Critics say immigrants — especially undocumented workers — hurt the economy, don’t pay taxes and sap the welfare system. These are myths.

Immigrants create new businesses at a higher rate than native-born Americans. Hispanics, including undocumented workers, paid almost $124 billion in federal taxes and almost $67 billion in state and local taxes in 2013, according to the National Council of La Raza.

The chief actuary for the Social Security Administration announced that undocumented workers contribute $15 billion annually to social security and take out $1 billion. He also said that over the years, undocumented workers contributed up to $300 billion, or nearly 10 percent of the Social Security Trust Fund.

As for their impact on the welfare system, without legal residence, undocumented workers generally are ineligible for government assistance.

Critics who point out their use of the child tax credit fail to mention that money goes to support children born in America.

But two factors now make the jobs argument wholly irrelevant. Even with technology’s elimination of jobs, our declining birth rate and the aging of our population means there will not be enough labor to handle American jobs in the coming decades without a sizable immigrant population.

The vast majority of Americans who want immigration reform will fail to see it until Americans deal with these misconceptions and unwarranted fears. We won’t have such reform until we deal with the underlying racial and ethnic bias that is a part of the opposition; we won’t have reform until we can all agree there is “room for everyone living in the Promised Land.”

Michael Adkins is the former chair of the Hancock County Democratic Party. He lives in Greenfield. Send comments to dr-editorial@greenfieldreporter.com.