Lucky Us: The Benefits of Immigration

Michael Giberson

Alex Tabarrok is circulating an open letter to the President and Members of Congress reflecting the consensus opinion of economists on the costs and overall net benefits of immigration. In conjunction with the Independent Institute, Alex is seeking as many signatures as possible from economists and other social scientists.

For me, immigration has not been about costs and benefits, and how those costs and benefits may add up, and which way the balance might tip from the point of view of the people already “here.”

Our problem with “illegal aliens” or “undocumented workers” or _______ (fill in the blank with your choice of expression), seems to be like our problem with “illegitimate children” of a few years back. Up until maybe thirty or forty years ago, there was a social stigma associated with being an illegitimate child. Attitudes changed over time, and people increasingly understood that the child of unmarried parents was no less a child than any other. Whatever stigma should be attached to parents having children out of wedlock – and views here remain more divided – the consensus view has shifted to not blaming the child (who, obviously, was not responsible for the choices that brought about the issue).

In the case of migration we are primarily concerned with adults who should be seen as morally responsible for their choices. But these migrants cannot be held responsible for the social, political, and economic conditions of the nation of which they happened to be born a citizen, nor for the relative freedom and opportunity to achieve their personal and family goals that attracted them across political borders. I have crossed political borders in pursuit of personal and family goals, and now live and work thousands of miles from my birthplace. Lucky for me, I haven’t had to cross national political boundaries. But the place of my birth, and being born a U.S. citizen, was no more my doing than my parents’ marital status at the time of my birth.

I grant, however, that not everyone approaches the issue from the same moral perspective as I do. We are talking about formation of public policy for a polity holding diverse moral views, and to make policy decisions for a diverse population it can help to point to the best evidence concerning the likely consequences of decisions. If you need evidence, then after reading Alex’s post at Marginal Revolution, click through to the letter at the Independent Institute site which has a list of references.

We should find a policy solution that readily accomodates the personal pursuit of freedom and opportunity, and which does not restricts the ability of persons to pursue freedom and opportunity based upon where on this planet they happened to have been born. Lucky for me, the consensus view of economists is that what I think of as the right thing to do for moral reasons is also likely to be, on net, a benefit to society overall. Actually, lucky for us that the right thing to do is the good thing. Lucky for all of us.

One thought on “Lucky Us: The Benefits of Immigration

  1. Historically, immigrants assimilated into the “American” culture, learned the language, and became “us”. We have benefited greatly from this process, as have they.

    Many perceive a very significant difference in the current illegal Mexican invasion of the US. The now popular “We Are America” slogan is symbolic of the problem. The concepts of “Republica del Norte” and “Mexifornia” leave me cold and angry.

    I am also infuriated by selective law enforcement. We have laws on the books regarding immigration. They can and should be changed, if we are not satisfied with their provisions. However, they should not be ignored while they are still “on the books”.

    Those here in violation of our laws should be sent home. Their children, born in this country, should not be entitled to citizenship. Those carrying forged papers should be imprisoned and then sent home. State employees who issue drivers licenses to holders of forged papers should be disciplined and ultimately fired. Those who supply the forged documents should be hunted down and prosecuted. Bi-lingual education should be stopped dead in its tracks. Bi-lingual ballots should be illegal.

    There is an outcry to punish businesses which employ illegals, thus transferring responsibility for immigration enforcement from the federal government to the private sector. The federal government also would have businesses take on this responsibility “with half their brains tied behind their backs, just to make it fair”. Great way to “beat up” on the private sector, but a poor approach to law enforcement.

    The documents used to identify persons as being in the US legally all have numbers associated with them. Give potential employers the opportunity to use the internet to validate the numbers with the federal government instantaneously, rather than trying to determine whether the documents are forged based on physical evaluation of the documents and gut instinct. Then, hold them responsible for checking validity; and, for not hiring those with forged documents.

    With regard to “day labor”, many cities have actually built shelters to protect day laborers from the weather while they are waiting to be picked up and transported to job sites. All other cities of any size have known “pick up” locations. (If the potential employers know where they are every day, the police could and should as well.) Municipal governments could perform a real service by checking papers at these locations, so the “guy in the truck” didn’t have to use a PCMCIA cell phone card in his laptop to run the document checks.

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