It’s an unfortunate fact in Maine that even if every native-born son and daughter became a lifelong resident, the state would still not have enough people for its future workforce.

That makes the immigration reform so necessary for the future of the country even moreso for Maine, one of the oldest states in the nation, and one of only two with more deaths than births from 2011-14.

To grow its economy, Maine absolutely needs more foreign-born workers, and to get them, Maine absolutely needs help from Washington, where unfortunately the immigration debate is mired in a swamp of fear and partisanship.

Even in that morass, foreign-born workers are here in Maine and contributing greatly to the economy, providing a low-scale preview of what the state could look like under a sane immigration system.

According to a report by the Partnership for a New American Economy, Maine immigrants earned $1.3 billion in 2014 and paid $360 million in local, state and federal taxes.

Maine immigrants were 53 percent more likely to hold a graduate degree than other Maine residents, and 4,107 foreign-born residents were self-employed. Those immigrant-owned businesses generated $61 million in 2014 and employed more than 14,500 Mainers.


Immigrants also made up significant portions of some of the state’s most vital sectors: 40 percent of all computer system analysts, 19 percent of physicians and surgeons, and 10 percent of traveler accomodation workers. They made up around half of all farm workers as well.

Immigration, here and throughout the country, is a net positive, not an out-of-control invasion. The latter view, however stubborn and loudly stated, is nonetheless incorrect.

Immigration from Mexico, for instance, has fallen heavily since 2004 and is now outnumbered by India and China. Illegal immigration is likely at its lowest point in at least two decades, the result of better border security and increased deportations.

The workers who are here, undocumented and otherwise, do vital jobs that prop up industries from food to technology, and they pay taxes, whether or not they are here legally.

That’s why 59 percent of Americans now say immigrants “strengthen the country,” while 33 percent say they are a burden, a reversal from 1994. Seventy-five percent say undocument workers should be allowed to stay in the United States if they meet certain requirements.

In a perfect world, policy would follow public sentiment. Congress, however, has refused to act. President Barack Obama, in the face of that inaction, attempted to allow 5 million undocumented workers to live here without fear of deportation, but the effort was blocked in the courts.

The country’s 11 million undocumented workers, so fully entwined with the U.S. economy, need a sensible path to citizenship, just as the visa system needs changes that make it easier for companies to match workers to jobs, and for foreign entrepreneurs to come to the U.S. to start businesses.

Those improvements would ensure that workers are not exploited and jobs are not left unfilled, and they would give Maine a fighting chance against its own demographics.

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