Want to Reopen Nebraska? It Takes Immigrants.

Want to Reopen Nebraska? It Takes Immigrants.

The announcement of a presidential executive order to “temporarily” suspend immigration is inconsistent with calls to return to the life Americans and Nebraskans knew before COVID-19.

While nobody really knows what the tweet-announced policy even means at this point, the premise that the COVID-19 recession has prompted a special need for American citizens to have their job opportunities protected from immigrants is wrong and should be rejected by Nebraskans who hold free markets and limited government as important principles.

While government has a legitimate role in addressing national security and public health matters that may arise from immigration, as the country begins to flatten the curve and when the state of emergency is lifted, the issue of immigration will once again become primarily an economic issue.

And from an economic standpoint, the proper role of government is to sustain a competitive marketplace where people can freely work and start businesses, not to put up barriers to innovation based on where people are born.

The White House is also setting the wrong example for states with this announcement, giving credibility to the idea that state policies, such as job licensing laws, should be used to keep honest people out of the labor force because they are from elsewhere.

As it is, many lobbying groups that seek to limit competition and consumer choices at the State Capitol don’t even want people from other U.S. states entering their territory.

It’s worth remembering that many people who are lawfully allowed to live and work in the United States are not citizens, and that states that are outperforming Nebraska in economic growth often have much larger non-citizen populations.

But nonetheless, before COVID-19, immigrants in Nebraska were doing more than their part to address the state’s serious labor shortage and make life better for themselves and their fellow Nebraskans.

A Department of Health and Human Services report states that the Hispanic/Latino population of Nebraska alone grew 352% from 1990 to 2010, from about 37,000 to more than 167,000.

And the immigrant population in Nebraska is not only from Latin America. The same DHHS report said in 2010 that, in rounded terms, 25% of Nebraska’s foreign born population was from Asia, 10% from Europe, and 9% from Africa.

Even under the current state of public health emergency, while travel and the entry of refugees in the United States is restricted, immigrants from all over the world are already here sustaining the American way of life through hard work and entrepreneurship, in every part of this crisis.

Immigrants are packing our food and working in our health care system. They’re stocking toilet paper on store shelves, and they’re running a lot of the businesses and services that everyone is wishing could be running again.

Some critics might say a post like this is just a way to virtue signal to progressive-leaning people over what they may see as the social or cultural issue of whether immigrants are tolerated or celebrated. But it is unfortunate that so many conservative-leaning Americans don’t appreciate that the virtues at stake in the immigration discussion are actually much closer to the fundamental economic freedoms that some worry are being lost in the lockdown.

Conservatives are often quick to recognize demagogic political attacks on the wealthy and businesses, where questionable government interventions are mostly justified on popular resentment of these groups. But the same people often fail to recognize when these techniques are deployed against less powerful and influential people.

Economic freedom is sold short when it’s treated as something that should only be for people who already have significant economic means or community connections.

The President’s suggestion of using executive authority to restrict people entering the country on an economic basis is the same instrument governors are using to close small businesses and designate some workers and sales as non-essential.

There are always going to be emotionally compelling reasons for government actions and interventions, and people who care about limited government need to be able to distinguish when the motivations behind an idea are truly based on policy, or are mired in politics.

The public health effort for COVID-19 was necessary to prevent a more widespread tragedy, but it has required economic pain and uncertainty for everyone. Allowing policymakers to interfere even more with arbitrary restrictions on whom should live and work in the United States will prolong that pain and slow our country’s efforts to restore freedom and prosperity.

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