Excerpts from recent Wisconsin editorials

June 3, 2019

The Journal Times of Racine, May 29

A points-based immigration system makes sense

President Donald Trump this month announced a broad plan to move the United States away from an immigration system that favors family sponsorship toward one that favors merit or skills-based immigration — one that would favor highly skilled, financially self-sufficient immigrants who learn English and pass a civics exam.

It landed with a thud on Capitol Hill, where Democrats immediately opposed it and Republicans who were briefed on it said they were “underwhelmed.”

That’s a mistake.

This is why: The simple fact is the United States needs more workers and new immigrants are one of the best ways — perhaps the only way — to fill those jobs. The fact is that unemployment has dropped to minimal levels and that is not going to be just a blip on the economic radar. As baby boomers age out of the workforce it poses great challenges for businesses and professions that need fresh workers.

In Wisconsin alone, the number of people in their prime working years is declining, and the state has 150,000 fewer people in the prime working years between the ages of 25 and 54 than it did just a dozen years ago, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report.

That trend isn’t going away anytime soon. Not here in Wisconsin or in the rest of the United States.

Significantly, the president’s proposal does not reduce the total number of immigrants allowed into the country — a marked change from the administration’s previous stance, and one that quickly drew the wrath of the far right.

Family sponsorship and chain migration served Wisconsin well in its 19th-century infancy, when it needed new workers and families to fill its land. The state advertised heavily in German newspapers and encouraged German families in Milwaukee to extoll the virtues of Wisconsin to their homeland relatives. Before the outbreak of World War I, Wisconsin was home to 30 percent of all German immigrants in the U.S.; even today, about 40 percent of state residents claim some German heritage.

But those days are gone. Today, a points-based immigration system based on talents, job skills, financial self-sufficiency and English knowledge to increase assimilation makes more sense. That’s not a groundbreaking idea — Canada has used one for years, and it is widely regarded as a success. Under its system, prospective immigrants are evaluated not only on their skills and qualifications, but on whether those skills match the needs of the labor market.

While sketchy, Trump’s plan also would institute a points-based system for worker visas, and would create a program to permit foreign students to obtain visas allowing them to immediately transition into the American workforce without have to obtain a worker visa after graduation.

That could square with a proposal from two years ago by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisconsin, for expanded H1-B working visas based on geography, to spread workers across states. Johnson’s proposed bill, which did not advance, would have added 500,000 three-year worker visas across the country with 5,000 such visas granted in each state.

That, too, would address the workforce shortage gnawing away at the nation.

Yes, such programs should include paths to permanent residency and citizenship. Yes, could also resolve the issue of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, aka the “Dreamers,” as well.

Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, should put away their partisan cudgels and do what is best for America. They should take Trump’s plan off the shelf and reform immigration and visa rules to recognize the demographic realities of today.

The United States was built by immigrants. It needs new immigrant workers to continue to grow. Our immigration and visa laws should be based on bringing in workers with the skills and talents that best serve the needs of our country.


Beloit Daily News, May 28

Don’t think that money will be the solution

The largest component of state government spending is for K-12 education. Expect it to be the topic of overheated rhetoric for some time to come in Madison.

For the eight years Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate held undivided sway there rarely was a civil word between the education establishment and the government. From Act 10 reforms to imposed spending restraints to rapid expansion of private-school vouchers it looked a lot like open warfare.

Now, Democrat Gov. Tony Evers wants to fulfill a pledge to boost K-12 spending by $1.4 billion (a 10% increase) and legislative Republicans are having none of it.

Undoubtedly, it’s one more reason Wisconsin may mimic Illinois and never get around to approving a budget this year. The Legislature can gut Evers’ plans and pass their own. Evers can swat that away with a veto.

In a reasonable world, that might suggest the necessity of a compromise. Let’s make a deal, however, has become a filthy phrase in partisan, polarized Wisconsin.

So citizens can prepare to sit back and watch the fight. It may be entertaining — before it becomes thoroughly exasperating.

For the time being we’ll let it end there, and reserve specific commentary until later as the two sides stake out positions.

Instead, here’s a thought: Be very wary about claims the myriad problems of public education will be fixed by showering hundreds of millions more dollars on Wisconsin districts.

The past is predictive. Every biennial state budget for as long as human memory has existed resulted in taxpayers ponying up truckloads of cash to dump into school districts. And that’s just part of the picture. Districts collect property tax payments from citizens that add up to even more truckloads of cash. Meanwhile, taxpayers often are asked to sweeten the pot through multi-million dollar referendums. Beloiters remember the $70 million raised to upgrade facilities not long ago.

So, has all that money purchased better results?

The heart of the problem is not financial; it is cultural.

Public school advocates are correct when they assert — usually during arguments about whether voucher systems are fair — their institutions can’t pick and choose, they must take in every kid who shows up on the schoolhouse steps. Those kids range from being the offspring of stable, affluent, highly-educated parents to the offspring of parents who have created a traumatized environment at home.

Valiant efforts to remediate damage caused outside classrooms swallow an enormous amount of the money allocated for public schools. It also adds to burdens for educators and distracts from what, in theory, ought to be the real mission: Teaching kids who are ready and want to learn.

While the argument in Madison is over how much more money to throw at public schools, it largely misses the point. Without progress on the cultural front, the same problems will keep producing the same results.

Question: When will governors and legislators have that discussion?


Kenosha News, May 30

State must step up to join others working to combat human trafficking

It sent a strong message. Law enforcement and elected officials standing behind U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil as he introduced his first bill, HR 2149, “Exposing the Financing of Human Trafficking Act,” at the Racine County Sheriff’s Substation.

“When we give foreign aid from the federal government to countries globally, we need to know they’re our partner in stopping illicit financing and human trafficking,” said the freshman Republican representing the 1st Congressional District. That’s what this bill does. It holds countries accountable.”

Steil, a member of the House Committee of Financial Services, is working with law enforcement in finding effective ways to slow down what has become a major concern. Human trafficking is a huge and growing issue in Kenosha County, located on the I-94 corridor between Chicago and Milwaukee.

“Over the last two years, I’ve learned how it’s riddled throughout Kenosha County,” county Sheriff David Beth said at the Racine news conference. “We know it runs rampant along the interstate.

“To hear the federal government and Congressman Steil is working at this to eliminate and curb and deal with this on a local and national level is wonderful for me and law enforcement in southeastern Wisconsin.”

HR 2149 is co-sponsored by seven Republicans and seven Democrats. It must move through the Committee of Financial Services to get to the full House.

We know Steil will work on it in Washington, just as law enforcement and the community at large has been working on this issue locally. We recently reported on a community effort to open a safe house in Kenosha County. It would be the largest house operated by Selah Freedom, a Florida-based nonprofit with a mission to end sex trafficking.

The house will be staffed 24 hours a day and provide a safe residential program for survivors. Kenosha County was chosen because of its location between the two major cities.

There were more than 300 human trafficking victims — ranging in ages 13 to 62 — identified in the last four years in Kenosha and Racine counties, according to Neal Lofy, a nationally recognized investigator with the Racine Police Department.

This problem needs everyone at the table, and it’s now time for the state to step up. As we’ve reported, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul has called for six new positions at the Department of Justice to help with human trafficking investigations.

Kaul’s personnel request is included in Gov. Tony Evers budget proposal. To date it has not come to a vote.

“There’s sex trafficking and forced labor,” Kaul told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. ”... It’s in my view an outrage that this is a crime that still exists. It’s important that we raise awareness of it.”

Kaul has said that four of the positions would join the DOJ’s digital forensics unit, which focuses on recovering evidence from electronic devices. The other two would bolster the Internal Crimes Against Children Task Force, which receives tips from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

There should be bipartisan support in Madison to add state support to the efforts being made in Kenosha County to combat human trafficking. Let’s hope this is one area of an agreement among Republicans and Democrats.

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