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The Editorial Board: Follow Canada's lead on immigration to fill jobs, bolster the economy

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Immigrants become U.S. citizens at a 2018 ceremony in Buffalo. Western New York would benefit if the United States followed Canada's lead on expanded immigration.

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Canada has the right idea and Buffalo should already be on board.

Canadians have long been comfortable with immigration, especially as compared to the United States, a country of immigrants that is nonetheless skeptical – sometimes resentful – of them. Now, our neighbors are turning to it to help solve an economically threatening employment problem.

Canada this week announced a plan to welcome a record-breaking 1.45 million immigrants over the coming three years. Its aim is to help the country meet a labor shortage that, as of today, is reflected in nearly 1 million job openings. Without action, the nation’s low birthrate and the expectation of a tsunami of retirements, will exact a painfully high cost, said Sean Fraser, Canada’s immigration minister.

“If we don’t do something to correct this demographic trend, the conversation we’re going to have 10 or 15 years from now won’t be about labor shortages,” he said. “It’s going to be about whether we have the economic capacity to continue to fund schools and hospitals and public services that I think we, too often, take for granted.”

That happens here, too.

And, while Fraser didn’t mention it, increased immigration will also help to bolster Canada’s safety net programs, including health care, social insurance and others. It could do all the same things in this country – filling crucial jobs, improving the economy, supporting programs like Medicare and Social Security.

Buffalo and Erie County have benefited significantly from immigration in recent years, especially from the welcome influx of refugees. Immigration powered the population growth that the 2020 census revealed for Buffalo – the city’s first increase since the 1950 census of 70 years earlier, when Harry Truman was president. Erie County’s population rose in the just completed census, as well.

As if to counter wrongheaded and sometimes racist views of immigrants that prevail in parts of the country, Buffalo has found immigrants to be net contributors to the community. They work jobs, start businesses, fill vacant houses, pay taxes. They become Americans, just as immigrants to this country have done for centuries. Their children are Americans.

Yet, immigration – legal, beneficial immigration – has become a bugaboo to many Americans, especially on the political right. Under former President Donald Trump, immigration was throttled, sliced by half as his term neared its end. Under his administration, legal immigration was projected to fall to 601,660 from its 2016 figure of nearly 1.2 million.

But, like Canada, Buffalo and the rest of the country have jobs that go begging. We have services we don’t want to give up and a safety net – Social Security and Medicare, in particular – that Republican congressional candidates are now talking about cutting. Immigration is a solution – a much better solution.

The National Foundation for American Policy understood the risks. “Average annual labor force growth, a key component of the nation’s economic growth, will be approximately 59% lower as a result of the administration’s immigration policies, if the policies continue,” it wrote of Trump’s policy. “Economic growth is crucial to improving the standard of living, which means lower levels of legal immigration carry significant consequences for Americans.”

That includes Western New Yorkers, whose state and federal representatives should be pushing to increase immigration to this country and region. Consider that to be proportionate to Canada’s new goals, this country should be looking to welcome about 36.5 million immigrants over the next three years – about 20 times the rate as the final year of the Trump administration.

We have lots of room to do better.

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