Why the Immigration Debate Matters

This article first appeared in Taiwan’s Do Post.

Dominating the US news for the last three weeks has been the government shutdown and fight over funding for the border wall. Democrats refuse to fund the wall, President Trump insists on it. Stalemate ensues, and the United States is stuck in the longest government shutdown in history.

The United States fiscal year 2019 budget is 4.407 trillion dollars. The estimated cost of the border wall is 5.7 billion dollars. In essence, Democrats have forced a government shutdown in protest of what would be .1% of the federal budget.

Looked at another way, say your monthly household income is $5,000. You want to buy a sandwich for $6.50. Your spouse would rather not spend the money. Instead of reaching an agreement on whether or not to buy the sandwich, you both decide to quit spending any money. No electrical bills will be paid. No water bills will be paid. No gasoline will be purchased for your car, and no clothing for your kids. In the meantime, you accrue $20 in late fees from the electrical company, who’s still waiting for you to pay your bill. All because you can’t agree on a $6.50 sandwich. This is what Democrats have done to the United States government, and this is what most of the media fails to point out.

While the current conflict facing the United States is purely focused on whether or not to build a border wall, the underlying issue is the immigration system as a whole. Building the border wall is not an anti-immigration policy - it is an anti-illegal immigration policy.

When the United States was founded, it was a country that was different. The United States is not defined by ethnicity or family line. The United States is built on a set of ideals - democracy, freedom and independence. Taiwan has these same values, and its immigration policy should reflect that.

While Taiwan does not face all of the same issues as the United States when it comes to immigration - as an island nation there are no borders for immigrants to walk across - it has its own host of policy challenges.

There is the practical nature of keeping track of who is coming and going. If a sovereign country does not have an enforced border, it is not sovereign. US Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen said “To me, it’s very simple. Border security is national security.” This is especially important when dealing with China, but sovereignty within a country is dependent on a knowledge of who is coming and going.

Equally important, with a population growth of less than 1%, and brain drain from Taiwan to China and other countries around the world, Taiwan’s immigration system should be tailored to attract the kind of workers needed to fill out its workforce. In the United States, this is a two-fold challenge, attracting high-skilled workers for science and technological jobs, and attracting workers for jobs in agriculture and other more labor-intensive industries.

Above all, a country’s immigration system says a great deal about the country’s identity. Taiwan stands in the region as an example of democratic and free-market values put to work. These values are shared with the United States, and they give both countries the challenge of creating a safe and secure immigration system, but espouses the values both countries hold so dear.

With the presidential election coming just next year, this issue is front and center in US political debate. One can agree or disagree on the issues that have brought the topic to the forefront of national debate, but it is good for our country to have our people engaged in the debate rather than leaving it to specialists and special interests in Washington.

Despite the economic, security and humanitarian interests, the need for reform, and an upcoming presidential contest, Taiwan’s debate on immigration is much lower profile.

Immigration policy may be one of the under-appreciated tools by which Taiwan can identify more in line with the interests and values of modern democracies and define an identity distinct from the ethnic focus of China. As an added benefit, it could sustain Taiwan’s workforce needs, social safety net, and national security.