We Need More Immigration, Not Less

Thanks to Donald Trump, many at the right-wing fringe of the Republican party peddle fear about immigration. To hear them tell it, we are in jeopardy of being overrun by benefit-stealing, swarthy criminals from south of the border. But this is a false narrative designed only to reap political advantage among an older, conservative political base. Scratch the surface of this anti-immigration narrative and you will find racism.

Fortunately, this nativism is not broadly shared in America —  surveys by the Pew Research Center found that 59% of Americans believe that immigrants make our country stronger. And the pro-immigration sentiment is even higher in communities where immigrants live. To understand why we need only consider the facts. Immigration is not only helpful to the nation in the short run, it will be essential for our economic future. We need more immigration.

Today, the U.S. population is roughly 330 million, although the rate of increase has declined. New data from the Census Bureau show that our population has basically flatlined, growing only .12% in the year ending July 1, 2021. Eighteen states showed actual population losses during the same period. West Virginia has either tread water or lost population for decades running. The U.S. has been below the replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman since 1970.

Our population is growing older. Among six age groups — 0 to 4, 5 to 19, 20 to 34, 35 to 49, 50 to 64, and 65 and older — the 65+ group was the fastest growing between 2010 and 2021 with its population increasing 38%. The 0 to 4 age group declined the most, dropping 6.7% between 2010 and 2021.

The harm from these population trends is real. As older workers age out of the workforce, there will be too few younger workers to replace them. This will disrupt the labor market, reduce economic activity and wealth in general, and reduce income tax revenues. And here is a dirty secret about social security. Your benefits aren’t paid for by your own contributions, they are paid for by the contributions of workers who come after you. If there are fewer of them, the insolvency date for the social security system looms closer.

So maybe we should stop being afraid of immigration and begin seeing it as a tool to solve some of our problems. Adding immigrants can quickly improve the ratio of working to nonworking people. Immigration also helps with fertility rates. Foreign born people make up 13% of the U.S. population, but account for 23% of the births. The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts that without immigration and births to foreign-born mothers, the U.S. population would decline about 6 million between 2014 and 2060. With them it is forecast to grow by 98 million.

Increasing immigration doesn’t mean opening the borders to undocumented multitudes. We have an immigration system and it needs to be reformed so that it advances all our goals — border security as well as greater immigration of the right kind.

Trump’s absurd policy sought to reduce immigration of all kinds, even lawful immigration by highly skilled people. This runs counter to the approach of the smarter developed countries like Canada and New Zealand, whose policies promote immigration of skilled workers and will allow them to compete economically for decades to come.

But even the immigration of unskilled workers can help us. Despite increased automation, our farm economy needs farm workers. And unskilled immigrants fill positions throughout the economy that native workers can’t or won’t.

As for all these people lined up at our southern border? They want to work. Finding a fair way to accommodate that would not snatch jobs from native Americans or reduce wages. We are at full employment of native workers as it is. Ask any business owner how difficult it is to find people willing to work these days.

Recently a comprehensive bill addressing immigration was introduced in the House of Representatives by a bi-partisan group. The bill offers a solution for the asylum crisis at the southern border, funding several U.S. asylum campuses where hundreds of new asylum officers would rule on applications within a short time. Those whose applications are denied would be removed from the country.

The bill also involves increased funding for border security and the creation of regional processing centers in key Latin American countries to deal with asylum seekers and economic migrants before they arrive at our border.

But significantly, the bill addresses our need for additional workers. It creates “dignity status”  for undocumented people already in the U.S. with no criminal record, allowing them to work anywhere and have a path to citizenship after ten years. It would also create a renewable legal status for undocumented farm workers and increase the visas available for skilled workers. The bill is called The Dignity Act of 2023. I encourage you to read the summary online. There is a lot to like.

Falstaff Runs for Senate

Jim Justice reminds us of Sir John Falstaff. Falstaff, you will recall, made appearances in several of Shakespeare’s plays. He was a comic character — fat, buffoonish and untrustworthy. In The Merry Wives of Windsor, for example, Falstaff spends most of his time blustering, drinking with petty criminals and being foolish with local women. But there was always something likable about Falstaff.

West Virginia’s own Falstaff has announced he is running for the U.S. Senate. This presents season ticket-holders for the theater of West Virginia politics with a hard choice: is this comedy or tragedy?


Call me old-fashioned, but I still hope the personal character of candidates for office matters to voters. Here are some aspects of character. Doing what you say you will do, without making excuses later about why you didn’t. Having some guiding moral and ethical principles, not just personal gain. Telling the truth, even when to do so is costly. Treating other people with respect, especially those less fortunate than you.

Justice switched political parties from Democrat to Republican at a Trump rally in 2017. A number of Democratic politicians have switched parties recently, especially in heavily red states. This suggests that the move is driven by a desire to be re-elected rather than a true philosophical conversion.

But the timing of Justice’s switch was remarkable. He had just been elected Governor as a Democrat, gladly accepting campaign contributions from supporters who were promised he would actually be a Democrat. A candidate with character would have made the switch in time for voters to assess what it meant for them.

Much has been written about the failure of Justice’s business ventures to pay their bills. In 2019, Forbes magazine called him “the deadbeat billionaire.” This disrespect is totally justified. Justice-owned companies have left a trail of unpaid workmen and contractors, mine reclamation obligations, mine safety fines and tax obligations. A federal judge has just found three companies controlled by the Justice family liable for six years of UMWA pension premiums.

Sure, there are other family members involved in the management of these companies. But a promise is a promise. If Big Jim wanted these promises to be kept, they would have been. That’s what happened when four Eastern Kentucky counties had to sue Justice companies for $2.4 million in back taxes — the bad publicity forced Justice to pay up.

Falstaff as Governor

In a stroke of campaign brilliance during his run for Governor in 2015, Justice’s billboards asked West Virginians this question: “Tired of Being 50th?” This referred to West Virginia’s perpetual dead last rating on measures of social well-being. Hell yes we’re tired of it, and lots of people voted for Justice for that very reason.

Sadly, West Virginia hasn’t changed much since Justice became Governor. Here are our rankings in 2023 on some important metrics: labor force participation (50th), drug overdose mortality rate (50th), average teacher pay (50th), obesity rate (50th), life expectancy at birth (50th), per capita income (49th), infant mortality (47th), availability of broadband internet (44th), teen pregnancy (42nd).

Justice doesn’t get all the blame. While he has been Governor the Republican Party has held a super-majority in the Legislature. They have no political excuse for failing to address these shameful numbers. Instead, they are more interested in protecting gun rights, launching school choice boondoggles that sap public school resources, and telling women what they can’t do with their own bodies.

The U.S. Senate

It is hard to have a more important job in this country than U.S. Senator. Issues of huge importance are decided in the Senate. It is presumed to be the legislative body possessing the mature judgment of the nation. Sometimes, but rarely, it has been the home of buffoons and grifters.

One colorful member of of both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the early republicJim Justice hoists dog's derrière in cheeky response to ... was John Randolph of Roanoke. He was regarded as one of the more brilliant and formidable legislators of his time. Randolph was often accompanied on the House floor by a pack of hunting dogs.

If West Virginia and the nation have an ounce of good fortune left, Jim Justice will not have the opportunity to bring Baby Dog onto the floor of the United States Senate.

Earth to Bill Ridenour . . . Come in Please!

When the curtain rose on the most recent legislative redistricting map in 2021, a new District 100 had been created for the House of Delegates here in the Eastern Panhandle. Many were surprised to find that reliably liberal Shepherdstown had been joined to reliably conservative Shannondale. I wouldn’t want to guess which neighborhood is less comfortable with this shotgun marriage.

In the 2022 election for delegate from the new District 100, the Republicans ran Bill Ridenour and the Democrats ran Susan Benzinger. Neither had ever served in elective office before. In his campaign flyer, Ridenour made the remarkable claim that “our rights are God given not derived from any government.” Our Founding Fathers and the countless state representatives who voted to ratify our Bill of Rights would be dumbstruck to hear this.

Regrettably the Founding Fathers couldn’t vote in our 2022 election, which is perhaps why Ridenour won out over Benzinger. Less than half of Jefferson County’s eligible voters actually cast ballots. The predictable left/right pattern of precincts played out. Benzinger beat Ridenour 347 to 46 in Shepherdstown at Trinity Church —  precinct 33, while Ridenour beat Benzinger 520 to 249 in Blue Ridge Acres — precinct 17. This balance in District 100 is key to my point, so hold the thought.

Ridenour has turned out to be the most extreme right-wing legislator any county sent to Charleston. It’s not even close. For example, he sponsored a bill to remove the requirement that children be vaccinated before attending public schools and another to eliminate all inspections of motor vehicles. Most outrageous of all Ridenour sponsored legislation that would have declared some of the knuckleheads who invaded our national Capitol on January 6, 2021 to be “political prisoners.” He couldn’t get a single other Republican to join with him in sponsoring that bill. If Ridenour thinks any of these proposed bills would be supported by a majority of voters in District 100, he does not have his feet planted firmly on this planet.

How can Ridenour justify behaving this way, particularly as a delegate from a balanced District 100? There are a number of theories for how an elected representative should function. One, the “delegate” model, holds that an elected representative should act as the agent of his constituency, voting as if under instruction to do or not do certain things. Another is the “trustee” model, which holds that voters elect a representative to use his best judgment on what is good for them, regardless of whether they would agree with him on that particular matter. An example would be voting for a President’s budget for the overall good of the country, even though it involves the closure of a military base in the representative’s home district.

But even more basically, wouldn’t Ridenour have to demonstrate that District 100 voters chose him because he intended to propose the legislation and vote as he has? A candidate can and should be specific as to what he will try to do, what problems he intends to fix, and what advances he hopes to make. Then if the candidate wins a substantial majority of the votes uniformly in his district, he can comfortably say that voters gave him a mandate to do those things. Ridenour’s campaign materials don’t give us a clue that he intended to occupy the fringe of policy, even within the Republican party, and he made very few public appearances during the campaign.

When a delegate doesn’t have a mandate from the voters — either because he wasn’t clear what he would do on the issues of the day, or because he didn’t receive a large percentage of the votes throughout the district — then he isn’t functioning either as a delegate or a trustee. He is rogue.

Ridenour should stop behaving as if the legislature is a private playground to act out his fantasies about libertarian policy and governance. Yes, elections have consequences and he won the election, but behaving as if “winner takes all” in disregard of at least 45% of the voters is frankly what is wrong with our politics today. A little more humility and appreciation of views that don’t align with his own is called for. It would be great if voters in District 100 could feel they have a delegate who represents all of them. Sadly, that is not the case.