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Commentary: America’s farms thrive on immigration

America was and is unique among the nations. In 1774, before we won our independence, we paid between 1 and 2 percent of our incomes in taxes. At the time, Britons in London were paying 20 percent. Low taxes made us different and continue to make us different from European nations.

But low taxes weren’t, and aren’t, all that set us apart. Immigration was another unique strength of our new nation. We welcomed people from around the world. In our Declaration of Independence, one of our reasons for going to war was that the King of England hampered immigration to the 13 colonies. Jefferson wrote:

The king had “… endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.”

Low taxes and an immigrant-friendly policy drove American growth from colony to the strongest economy in the world. Our taxes are lower than those of other nations, and our immigration policy is more pro-growth than many. But we can do much better. We should reduce taxes and enact immigration reform that strengthens America and builds our economy.

The contribution immigrants made and make to our economic vitality is still clear 239 years later. America is one of the great agricultural powers of the world. Agriculture adds $374 billion per year to the GDP, and agricultural exports total $144 billion. The United States is the second largest milk producer in the world

Not only do immigrants help uphold the agricultural industry, they support other industries and help to make the state better off. Politicians in Washington do average Americans a disservice by shutting the door on more workers, preventing agriculture from growing to its full potential. What is needed is a guest worker program like the successful Bracero Program of the 1960s (a program so successful that the unions shut it down out of fear they would lose political clout; more on that below).

Unfortunately, America has been drifting in the wrong direction. Over the last century, roughly three million migrant and seasonal farmworkers have been in our country at any one time. However, as of 2012, the number has dropped to 1.06 million. A proven alternative, the Bracero program was an agreement between the American and Mexican governments, starting in August 1942, governing the status of temporary farm workers.

One success of the program can be observed in its drastic effects on illegal immigration: a massive drop in illegal immigrants caught and deported compared to the modest upticks in legal migrant workers. The best way to meet the needs of American agriculture and to reduce illegal border crossings is to establish a robust guest worker program.

Americans deserve an immigration system better than King George’s. The economy is not a fixed pie to be divided among the masses by a central authority; rather, Americans prosper when a job is done, or effort is put towards productive ends. Voters should demand a real solution to the immigration mess from their representatives in Congress.

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform and chairman of the Washington, D.C.–based “Wednesday Meeting,” a weekly gathering of more than 150 elected officials, political activists, and grassroots leaders. He is the creator and organizer of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, a public written commitment to oppose any and all tax hikes, signed by a majority of the U.S. Congress. A version of this column originally appeared in Idaho Business Review, sister publication to The Daily Record.

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