Creighton’s 2040 Initiative 2/21/14 02/21/14 9:34:48 AM
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Professor David Weber is leading the 2040 Initiative to plan for the challenges of America’s shifting demographics.
Creighton’s 2040 Initiative Taking
Long-Range Look at Immigration
By Jack Martin
The Daily Record
As with budget matters and the national debt ceiling, Congress has been kicking the can labeled “immigration reform” down the road for some time. But if and when that ever comes to a stop, with some sort of legalization for undocumented immigrants and other measures, what happens then?
That’s just one of the questions that a Creighton University team of lawyers and others is trying to answer with a project that takes a long look down the road, spurred by data that has been given little notice in the debate over immigration reform: That data from the U.S. Census Bureau suggested that as early as the year 2040 non-Hispanic whites will become a minority in America.
Shifting demographics raise a number of questions, said David P. Weber, J.D., an associate professor of law at Creighton and a co-founder of the 2040 Initiative, which was named for that census finding. Among the questions:
• How will recent immigrants mesh with more established groups?
• How will current internal inequities – racial, ethnic and others – be affected.
• What will be the effect of having an older, whiter voting cohort compared to a younger, less-white population?
• What political and legal processes offer promise for helping with this transformation in national identity, and how do these fit with current democratic and civic structures?
“Everyone agrees that the immigration issue is going to be addressed, so we think it is valuable to gather all the ideas and viewpoints we can so the best courses of action can be formulated,” Weber said.
The ambitious Initiative 2040 project started in a low-key and informal manner.
“I was having lunch with Palma Strand and we got to talking about demographics and began brainstorming ideas on how to deal with the country’s demographic shifts,” Weber said.
Strand, J.D., LL.M. is a professor of law at Creighton. Other principals in the Initiative 2040 effort are Creighton colleagues Sue Crawford, PhD, professor of Political Science and International Relations, and Rebecca Murray, PhD, chair of the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Social Work.
The different fields represented reflect what the university said when it established the Initiative: “Faculty from a range of disciplines will offer their expertise and critical analysis on this phenomenon” of shifting demographics.
“We taught the first class on 2040 last fall and half of those attending were undergraduates and the other half were law students,” Weber said. “We covered topics like concerns of the elderly, the rural-to-urban shift of population, political gerrymandering and criminal law violations.
“Now is the time for furthering the discussion. We plan to hold a seminar in the fall, with a prominent expert in demographics as speaker. Eventually, we want to develop outreach efforts in the various Omaha communities, from north and south Omaha to the western part. The aim is to start dialogues between those communities.”
In regard to the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S., often the subject of heated debate, Weber said their presence is an undeniable reality carrying real – and potential – benefits.
“You can talk about it until you’re blue in the face but, practically speaking, it would be cost-prohibitive to deport those who are here now – working, paying taxes, buying homes and operating businesses,” he said.
There appears to be growing recognition of that reality on Capitol Hill. Recently, Republican House leaders announced a set of draft principles that call for legalization of undocumented immigrants, but no special path to citizenship.
The economic factor looms extremely large in the shifting demographic picture, Weber said.
“In terms of pure economics, it doesn’t matter what their status is, documented or undocumented, or whether they are highly skilled or not. They work, many pay taxes and all consume goods and services.”
And the largest component of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product, he noted, “is easily personal consumption expenditures, which represent slightly over two-thirds of the GDP.”
“All this should be kept in mind for a country currently debating immigration reform while nursing its economy back to health.”
Whatever reforms are adopted by Congress, the changed status of undocumented immigrants will provide much of the new legal work for lawyers, Weber said.
“Labor lawyers in particular will be affected because of all the undocumented people who are now unable to avail themselves of various remedies available to American workers, such as in cases of wrongful termination; with reform, those remedies will become available to them.
“The undocumented who are operating businesses will be able to openly seek financing for expansion, for example, which in turn could lead to adding more jobs.”
Strand said one “pretty dramatic” demographic shift has already taken place, with more minority babies being born in the U.S. in 2012 than white babies.
“In addition, minorities are already in the majority in Texas and several other states,” she noted. “This has caused tension in some places, while others appear to be handling it pretty well. A lot of people are uneasy about this transition because it represents an unknown, so one thing we can do is help to demystify the situation, and the more we do that the better off we will be.
“We want to prepare our students for the changes because they will be the ones on the front lines as legal and political issues arise. But we also want to communicate with people from business and the public at large.”
Weber said the project has obtained one financial grant and will seek others; the initial grant came from Creighton’s President’s Faculty Research Fund established by Dr. George F. Haddix, a Creighton graduate.
You can read Weber’s Blog on the subject at https://www.creighton.edu/law/academics/twentyforty/blog