Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Immigration Reform and Politics

While I strongly believe there needs to be some way to give illegal immigrants legal protection and there should be a way to keep terrorists from setting up shop in the US, I'm not sure much of what passes for immigration reform these days is very helpful to the situation.

* On the one hand, I'm concerned that if we were to greatly limit immigration to this country, we would be losing out on some of the greatest risk takers and innovators to this country. I don't think the immigration rate is too high. On the contrary, I think it would be a travesty to see it cut in half.
* On the other hand, if we were to just let people in in the same numbers that we do now through some legal means, I'm afraid that it would create a huge bureaucracy and eliminate some beneficial weeding out. It is risky to come to the US now. That weeds out many people who would likely become free-riders.
* On the other hand, people lose their lives unnecessarily, a culture of lying is encouraged and people without legal status have by definition a precarious legal situation and are often taken advantage of by employers.
* The current situation is awful in many respects, but I'm honestly not sure that creating a bureaucracy capable of dealing the current numbers of immigrants would be much more effective in attracting a better mix of people to this country.

Border control used to be done culturally as tribes rejected all outsiders. However, this forced immigrant groups to congregate together in ghettos with little hope of breaking the cultural barriers and succeeding in the way that our open society allows today.

I guess my immigration ideals are
1) Maintaining high immigration numbers through legal means
2) Keeping the standards for entrance high enough to weed out the unmotivated and freeriders, while keeping them reachable by the hard working poor. Is this even possible?
3) Giving the vast majority of participants a path to citizenship.
4) Instituting real penalties for illegal behavior (e.g., if you are convicted of a crime while in the guest worker program, even once, you can never become a citizen and your allowed time in the country is greatly shortened).

Honestly, though, I don't hear politicians of either party talking about this sort of thing. Am I just spending too much time under my rock these days? Are there any serious politicians who are pro-immigration and yet want to see fundamental changes to the status quo? Surely greater minds than mine have thought about this situation from a pro-immigration perspective.

As a side note...
Some people think that it is the social policies of the GOP that cost it the last election (and will cost it future elections until it changes). I say hogwash. It was congressional corruption that cost it the Senate and House several years ago, and it was the economy that cost it the current election. Also, I think it is nativist tendencies by many in the GOP that are one of the greatest threats to its future. Immigration isn't going to slow much, no matter who is in office. Their importance in the electorate is only going to grow. Also, immigrants are some of the people most open to free-market ideas. The dream of most immigrants is to come to a land of opportunity where corruption and lack of basic infrastructure does not stand in the way of success through hard work. Immigrants also tend to be conservative socially. As I see it, it is history and tradition more than policy (outside of immigration friendliness) that ties the immigrant community to the Democrat party. For instance, McCain had much more history than Obama with Hispanic communities, and it was overall very positive, yet he lost their vote. I know of numerous Hispanics in my community that thought that was a travesty. In my experiences with immigrants (legal and illegal), they have far more in common with the free-market ideas and social values of conservatives. Personally, I think they are a much better fit in the GOP than in the Democrat party... on all fronts but immigration. The sad thing is, the congress is controlled by Dems, and I really don't see them working to help the immigrant any more than the GOP. As I see it, the immigrant friendliness is in many ways a facade for the Democrat party.

I've thrown out a lot of ideas here and was in many ways thinking out loud. I would encourage discussion, especially if you disagree.



Anonymous said...

In these times of high unemployment-- and overpopulation-- I do think it's imperative to stop immigration. Legal and illegal immigration should be reduced to zero.

MamasBoy said...


If we don't have any immigration, then who's going to pay for your social security and medicare when you retire? These programs are based on taking money from current workers and giving them to the retired/disabled. Since people who have been in this country for awhile reproduce at less than replacement levels, reducing immigration to zero would be an economic disaster. One of the biggest challenges this country faces over the next decade or two will be replacing all the baby boomer workers who retire. The US needs a vibrant labor force, and immigrants are a critical piece of that puzzle, especially in the sciences and engineering. US students are not studying those subjects in nearly the numbers required to replace all the engineers and scientists that are retiring. To reduce immigration to zero would be an total economic disaster and no knowledgeable economist would ever suggest such a thing.

Regarding unemployment, below is a quote from a Cato Institute report on immigration. The report was sponsored by more than 40 organizations and reflects a broad consensus view among those who study this issue.

"Immigrants do not cause native unemployment, even among
low-paid or minority groups. A spate of respected recent studies,
using a variety of methods, agrees that "there is no empirical
evidence documenting that the displacement effect [of natives
from jobs] is numerically important" (Borjas 1990, 92). The
explanation is that new entrants not only take jobs, they make
jobs. The jobs they create with their purchasing power, and with
the new businesses which they start, are at least as numerous as
the jobs which immigrants fill."

Regarding the opinion of economists, the Cato report offers this
"A poll of the most respected economists found a consensus that both legal and illegal immigrants are beneficial economically."

Also, overpopulation in the developed world is a myth. Numerous countries offer generous subsidies to families in order to encourage them to have more kids. I would encourage you to google "birth dearth." You might be surprised at what you learn. Also, here is a link to UN statistics that predict a decline in population in the developed world. The problem with this is that populations not only grow exponentially, they also decline exponentially.

I would encourage you to read more about the demographics and economics of immigration. Overall, even with all the faults of our current system, immigration is a positive for the US.