Gov's Immigration Reform Isn't Bold Enough

Shouldn't be limited to Detroit and STEM degrees

Forbes magazine’s May 5 edition contains an interesting quote from Gov. Rick Snyder taken from a March 27 speech at the “Reinventing America” summit in Chicago:

How can we bring people to our state? Don’t give Detroit a bailout. Give us 50,000 green cards for people with STEM degrees. Let them come here and work.

It is hard not to agree with him. Detroit should not get a bailout. Granted, he was talking about a federal bailout, but if it applies at the federal level, it should apply at the state level. His ideas for immigration reform are solid, too, but should be expanded.

Gov. Snyder has long wanted to help fix Detroit by giving 50,000 work visas to immigrants with high levels of academic training and skill, particularly in the “STEM” fields of science, technology, engineering and math. He needs the federal government’s approval for this program, though, since states cannot issue work visas on their own.

Welcoming new immigrants is a great idea, but the plan should be extended to include the entire state and to more than highly skilled immigrants. Immigrants frequently bring talent and energy to the places they move and on net balance reflect a nation’s willingness to peacefully associate with others. 

Gov. Snyder’s desire to lure new, bright immigrants to a bankrupt city seems odd because it may be an additional burden for new arrivals to use visas contingent upon working in a city that has chased so many people away.

It is also harmful to Michigan’s interests to stand at our border and — to paraphrase The New York Times — say “We’ll take you, you and you — but not you.” The American mosaic was not created with such selectiveness but a willingness to take wide swaths of immigrant populations — and we have been rewarded for it. America is rich with “child of poor immigrant family makes good” stories.

The Cato Institute has recently weighed in on this idea with its report, “State-Based visas: A Federalist Approach to Reforming U.S. Immigration Policy.” The authors argue that by creating a state-based visa program each state could better manage a system that was “adaptable to their local economic conditions…” The Center in March hosted an Issues & Ideas forum on free-market approaches to immigration, which you can watch here.

The governor is right to embrace more immigration, but he should neither stop with Detroit nor limit his plan to just those with the education backgrounds he deems appropriate.