Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Immigration Post

It appears that all bloggers are required to comment on the President's immigration proposal last night. Very well.

Illegal immigration is not the greatest problem in the world.

Most illegal immigrants come to the United States because they can earn more here than at home. That's the reason that remittances from workers in the US are (perhaps) the largest segment of Mexico's economy. Do illegal laborers drive down wages for American workers? Undoubtedly. It only makes sense that they compete with workers whose skills and abilities most resemble their own. But all labor drives down wages for all other labor. Labor is a commodity like anything else; if there is more of it, it is cheaper. At the same time, it's an input into everything we buy. So all consumers benefit from lower prices on commodities that depend on labor. This is not a zero-sum game, and every factor affects every other. If we get rid of illegal immigrant labor, will wages for low-skilled Americans go up? Sure. And if gas goes to $7.00 per gallon, we'll find alternatives. In neither case is it necessarily desirable. So I don't see a rational economic argument to get worried about illegal immigrant labor.

And as for the latest strawman in this argument - that the departure of strong young workers from Mexico harms that country, please don't cry crocodile tears. If you had the choice of staying in Morelia or Jalisco or Tabasco, or coming to the US to work - you would choose the latter. Yes of course, Mexico would be better off if its best workers chose to remain there. And so would the former Soviet Union have, and so would Ireland have in the late 1900s. The point is that life in those countries was (and is) terrible, for a variety of reasons. People chose to leave. It's not compassionate to force them to live in a place that offers little economic opportunity. Preventing them from (yes) breaking our laws to seek better lives might force change more quickly at home, but the change might not be pretty, and the process might not be to our liking (think Hugo Chavez).

To me, the greatest concern with illegal immigration is the degree to which it contributes to multiculturalism and to a rejection of the traditional goal of assimilation. I would love to see the President and other elected officials turn more to that goal. In particular, it's an area where partisan Democratic demagoguery will make it harder to make progress. And maybe assimilation has become so dicey, so questionable, that we must consider drastic measures to reduce illegal immigration. Certainly the May 1 protests make me more worried than ever.

As to measures for dealing with illegal immigration, I'm skeptical of any approach that does not rely on changing the economic incentives. I see no reason to spend billions of taxpayer dollars squeezing a balloon. When we spent more on border protection in the cities, we forced illegal crossings into the deserts. If we build a wall, we may just see people enter by boat, or fly to Canada and cross the northern border. So I remain unconvinced about THE WALL. Rather, we need to make employer sanctions work. That doesn't just mean more money for enforcement; it may mean a national ID card. I know that when I last worked closely on this issue, a big problem was that documents were faulty, but employers were liable to lawsuits if they questioned them. So a national ID card, or identity verification hotline is probably in order.

The other issue that concerns me is security. Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups can cross our borders too easily. But that requires work on the Canadian border as well. However, I fear that an undocumented population of 11 or 12 million is much too large a haystack to find the few Al Qaeda needles. I have not seen a good assessment of the question, but I have to imagine it would be easier for law enforcement to track down legitimate threats if there were not so many 'ordinary illegals' trying to avoid the authorities. Therefore, if in a few years we have not curbed the economic incentives such that illegal immigrants have begun to return home, I think we need to look more seriously at an amnesty.

All-in-all, I think I agree with this approach from Andrew McCarthy.

Have I made as many enemies as President Bush yet?

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm fairly certain that Canada is less of a problem, after all they have mutliple law enforcement agencies that are all highly competent.