Hunter Baker, an associate professor of political science at Tennessee’s Union University, is concerned about the future of the American economy, specifically as it relates to immigration. As one of 13 Republican candidates who competed to replace Congressman Stephen Fincher in Tennessee’s 8th district, he sees that “People are buying into the idea that immigration is a major driving force behind our economic and social problems,” which, he says, “is a misdiagnosis.” Instead, he thinks immigration reform would directly bolster the economy of western Tennessee.
Originally from Decatur, Alabama, Baker moved to Jackson seven years ago to work at Union University, which is a private, Evangelical Christian liberal arts university. He had always wanted to live in the Volunteer State. “My father’s side of the family goes back in Tennessee for about 200 years,” he says.
The countries that build walls are repressive; they do it both to keep people in and other people out.
After serving as the university’s associate dean and associate provost, he landed a faculty position teaching politics and religion. “I’m trying to teach my students in such a way that they will contribute to their communities in terms of their jobs and their civic lives when they get out,” says Baker, who has written several books and articles about religious liberty. But Baker is also concerned that America’s economic liberty—especially the importance of free trade—is under threat. To him, this economic issue is directly tied to immigration.
“When you think about the United States, you do not think about a country that builds a wall—that is fundamentally at odds with who we are,” says Baker. “The countries that build walls are repressive; they do it both to keep people in and other people out. That’s a sign of failure and dysfunction.”
During his campaign, Baker’s platform capitalized on the North American Free Trade Act, commonly known as NAFTA, designed to promote economic growth and prosperity for the United States, Canada, and Mexico. “That’s important when you think about beating competition with other free trade zones around the world, such as the European Union,” says Baker, whose plan revolved around using that existing framework to implement a guest worker program that would allow citizens from those three countries to work in each other’s economies once they’ve secured the appropriate paperwork. While in the United States, these guest workers would receive identification, pay taxes, and comply with the same laws that apply to American workers. This type of reform, Baker believes, would leave little incentive for immigrants to arrive undocumented because it would allow them to work while pursuing the traditional path to citizenship.
“I think a lot of the time when people are terribly worried about immigration, the concerns come from certain people being undocumented,” says Baker. “This would do away with the negative consequences of that.”
Baker predicts his program would benefit a number of west Tennessee’s industries, including the agriculture and factory jobs that are prominent in the region, because it would make it easier for employers to find the laborers they desperately need. “The nature of the controversy [around the proposed wall between Mexico and the United States] makes it feel like it’s Us against Them,” he says. “What I proposed would take the temperature on this issue way down and focus on doing something constructive.”