Louisiana has an immigration problem.
Unfortunately, legislators and Gov. Bobby Jindal addressed the immigration problem that does not exist.
That is the anti-immigrant innuendo, now engraved in legislation, that foreigners are sneaking across the borders to take away jobs Americans want.
Would that were the problem in our state, that would mean people are clamoring to get here to participate in our booming economy.
Louisiana’s immigration problem is that we have too few immigrants, not too many.
In about a decade, Louisiana gained about 33,000 immigrants from other countries. That number pales compared with those going to states such as California or Texas. And only Mississippi gained fewer immigrants, according to a study by LSU demographer Troy Blanchard.
“Immigrants, like everyone else, go where the jobs are,” LSU economist Robert Newman said.
Unhappily, we’re not that big a draw, even if there was an uptick in the number of laborers coming into the state to work on reconstruction projects after the hurricane years of 2005 and 2008.
Legal immigrants are an important part of Louisiana’s economic future: “With the work-force shortage in America and the impending retirement of skilled workers in the next few years, legal immigrants are certainly a part of the labor pool we need to train into skilled craftsmen to meet the construction demands of the future,” said Alvin Bargas, of the Baton Rouge chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors.
So what issue did the Louisiana Legislature address this year? Illegal immigration. Which, if the economic forces driving legal immigrants are any indication, is really not that much of a problem.
In states where immigration is a political hot-button issue, harsher anti-immigration laws were pushed by states, modeled on Arizona’s 2010 law. More modestly, Louisiana’s new law requires employers to check the citizenship status of their workers, based on the national eVerify system.
That system has been shown to have some problems, and it is another paperwork burden for small businesses. Yet the larger problem with the new state law is that it addresses a problem that does not exist - the wave of illegal immigration that we don’t have.
Because of slow growth in the past decade, Louisiana lost a seat in Congress. We went down from seven members of the House to six. We were among the worst-performing states in the country in population growth, and by far the outlier among states in the South.
We’ve added a layer of paperwork on small businesses for what? Mainly, to appease a political agitation against illegal immigration, stoked by national media accounts that have little or nothing to do with the make-up of Louisiana’s workforce. Even an influx of legal immigrants from Latin America or elsewhere has provoked nativist agitation in other parts of the South - the prosperous states, the growing states, not Louisiana.
Let’s hope, for the sake of the state’s economic prospects, that we one day have an immigration problem.