Build a big, tall wall or open up our southern borders completely? There is a more sensible middle ground on the issue of immigration.
As the nation’s elected leaders yet again debate another hot topical issue (immigration), they have made the perpetual mistake of organizing themselves into two distinct factions, based on the erroneous assumption that they are mutually exclusive—if you are not on my side, then you cannot be right. No one faction is looking for the middle ground or taking the best ideas from both camps.
The immigration issue is most relevant in the United States compared to any other country because, on an annual basis, more people immigrate here than all other countries combined.[i] As of 2010, the American Community Survey estimates the number of foreign born in the USA to be nearly 40 million, or 13% of the total population.[ii] Other characteristics of immigrants taken from the same survey and other sources are as follows:
- Latin America was the largest region-of-birth group accounting for 53% of all foreign born.
- Over half of the foreign born lived in four States: California, New York, Texas and Florida (Over 1 in 4 and 1 in 5, respectively, of residents in CA and NY were foreign-born.
- About two-thirds of the foreign born came to live in the USA in 1990 or later; one-third entered in 2000 or later.
- Immigrants tend to be younger (15 to 34 years of age), married, and move to areas populated by people with similar backgrounds.
- The leading countries of origin of immigrants to the US were Mexico, India, the Philippines, and China.[iii]
- Family reunification accounts for approximately two-thirds of legal immigration to the US every year.[iv]
- As of 2010, one-fourth of the people in the USA under the age of 18 are either immigrants or the children of immigrants.[v]
- Estimates suggest there are between 7 and 20 million illegal immigrants in the USA; the majority of these immigrants are from Mexico.
Most people resign themselves to the fact that it is a country which should have the right to decide who walks into and who walks out of their territory. But, I challenge that assumption. If the entire world were privately owned, then it would be the particular whim of the property owners that decided who is allowed entry. The world is not, and never will be, privately owned, but shouldn’t ultimate determination be given to people, thereby resembling a more free society? This way, they are able to “vote with their feet” and travel to the most advantageous locale possible. Hence, having a massive influx of people would be considered a good thing, recognizing the fact that a nation’s policies are attractive enough to lure the most talented, gifted and hard-working individuals. Should there be screening process? In my view, of course there should be, because no wants to receive a large number troublemakers who break the rules and steal from others. In this way, John Doe moving from Belize to Texas would equate to John Doe moving from Oklahoma to New York. Taken from a global standpoint, having open borders and promoting the free flow of people ignores the imposed quotas and regulations of countries and gives individuals the freedom to seek out opportunities as they arise. In short: open all borders.
Having trouble finding work in New Jersey? Singapore has plenty of options. Is there an oversaturated market of lawyers in Manhattan? Kenya crying out for some. Can’t find a qualified biochemist in Prague? New Zealand has dozens of eager applicants.
Bryan Caplan in the Winter 2012, Issue of Cato Journal described research that suggested open borders “would roughly double world GDP, enough to virtually eliminate global poverty,” concluding that the “harm that immigration restrictions prevent has to be at least comparable” to the harm they cause.
Having borders which are completely open may sound scary to some people since progressive regionalization has been touted as a stepping-stone toward the formation of a one-world government. On the contrary, I am a strong proponent of national sovereignty and favor progressive decentralization; consequently, instead of having hundreds of countries around the world, there would be thousands, with each independent nation having its own unique set of laws, fine-tuned to the ever-expanding pools of like-minded people. Any person would be free to travel amongst all the principalities with little or no resistance, and of course they would be required to adhere to the rules of the land wherever they go.
Take for instance, Guatemala Joe who has worked in the construction industry as a low-skilled laborer. In his home country, let’s say he can make $10 a month killing himself doing backbreaking work. If he moves to Nevada he can make $100 a day. If you were Guatemala Joe what would you do? Even if the average wage of an American worker is $200 dollars a day, Joe is used to $10, so of course he would gladly accept the lower wage. Wouldn’t you? Joe’s move would benefit himself, his family, and the construction company owner who hires him. Also, since the owner would pay less for labor, he can then pass along his savings all of his customers, driving down prices over time. The loser is the low-skilled American worker since someone else is willing to work for a lower wage. In this example three parties benefit (Joe, owner, the consumer) at the expense of one. If viewed only through the lens of the American worker, this scenario looks overwhelmingly negative from an economic standpoint, but the great Henry Hazlitt taught us all in Economics in One Lesson that economics consists of looking at effects on all parties not only now but in the long term. In this case, Guatemala Joe never “stole” or took away a job from anyone; he simply followed the rules of capitalism and met the demand for labor with his supply.
What if Joe one day falls off a ladder and breaks his neck? What will he do then? Well, what would Texas Johnny do if in the same predicament? What if Joe gets struck by lighting? Impaled by a unicorn? If you take a chance in life, you always assume risk to reap a reward and earn dividends. The price which Joe (or even Johnny) pays for the prospect of a better life is not guaranteed and the risk of failure is always present; that is not being harsh, that is just how the world works. If Texas Johnny enrolled in the police academy, he involves himself in a dangerous line of work, so if he took a bullet one day (of course, let us hope not) that is a risk assumed by him in choosing that profession.
Now let us consider this fact: the “waiting line” for those who have applied to immigrate legally contains 4.5 million people and is 19 years long. As usual, the bureaucratic process has slowed down the lives of honest, hard-working people. Do you think this phenomenon would incentivize some people to immigrate illegally or not?
Some may raise the objection that illegal immigration is wrong simply because it is against the (our) law. OK, but up until the year 2000, Alabama kept a law on the books that declared inter-racial marriages to be illegal. At one point in the USA, the law also prevented women from voting with no legitimate legal basis whatsoever.
In light of all these points, there should be absolutely no “handouts” or “gifts” for immigrants who cross the border illegally. This means that all those who want to eat should work, and if you don’t want to work, then you don’t eat. It is completely ludicrous for an illegal immigrant to be eligible for any form of state or federal assistance if they do not also contribute to the system. I can’t walk into IHOP and demand free pancakes, nor can I stroll the isle of a grocery store and take what I want without paying. In a 2004 study by the Center for Immigration Studies, The High Cost of Cheap Labor—Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget researchers found, “based on Census Bureau Data, households headed by illegal aliens used $10 billion more in government services than they paid in taxes in 2002. These figures are only for the federal government; costs at the state and local level are also significant.” This study also notes that if illegal aliens were given amnesty, the fiscal deficit at “the federal level would grow by nearly $29 billion.” A non-partisan report in 2007 from the Congressional Budget Office concluded that most estimates show that illegal immigrants impose a net cost to state and local governments.[vi]
Immigrants are younger and thus tend to be healthier, but current proposals in Congress for an immigration overhaul would add billions to the already overpriced Obamacare program set to take full effect in January 2014. Under one of the current immigration reform proposals by the “Gang of Eight”, the number of legal immigrants entering each year would be allowed to double (to approximately 1 million), and about 80% would be immediately eligible for a taxpayer subsidized Obamacare stipend, adding $100 billion in costs over the next decade (yes, 1/10th of a trillion dollars). A bad idea with a topping of a frosting still tastes horrible.
Consider these facts as well: immigrants are highly mobile, and thus able to satisfy employment needs as they arise in different geographic areas. They are great for women since their ability to fulfill domestic care needs (child-care, adult-care, home maintenance) frees native women to enter the workforce and contribute. Furthermore, low-skilled immigrants also create jobs since they fulfill many positions (i.e. housekeeping, construction, landscaping); if the native-born people are thus spending less money on these immigrant-fueled services they can spend more elsewhere, and create employment.
A society built on individual freedom that encourages creativity, productivity, civility, and innovation is complemented by the idea that the world is full of individuals willing to thrive and work in such an environment. We are all potentially missing out on all the gifted and talented (especially the high-tech, highly-skilled) if we choose to close our doors and restrict others from moving freely. Besides, America was built on a foundation made by those fleeing from persecution and a restrictive regime that inhibited their personal liberty and ability to express themselves. By incentivizing the self-starters and removing programs of dependency, any society will be able to select seamlessly select for all those who can create and generate. Instead of implementing overly expensive and invasive ways to “build a fence” or “secure our borders”, why not let in all who want to come and immediately exclude those with a propensity for violence and a criminal history? In fact, in regards to safety, the more open and the more successful a society is, the less and less likely it is that anyone would commit an act of terror, since they would be damning themselves and preventing enjoyment of society’s bounty. Moreover, if select individuals choose to migrate to another country and do commit crimes, why should the taxpayers of that nation fit the bill for incarceration of the criminal? I do not discipline someone else’s children—I leave that up to their parents in the confines of their own household.
In the end, I have engineered this post in the context of immigrants but if we have a system that incentivizes production universally and does not reward consumption, this will naturally sift through the foreign-born and the native-born populations. After all, there is a name for holding select groups accountable to different standards while the majority maintains the status quo: democracy.
Dr. C.H.E. Sadaphal
[i] ” Nancy Foner, George M. Fredrickson, Not Just Black and White: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives on Immigration, Race, and Ethnicity in the United States (2005) p.120.
[ii] US Census Bureau: The Foreign Born Population in the United States. American Community Survey Reports; (10) May 2012.
[iii] Naturalizations in the United States: 2008. Office of Immigration Statistics Annual Flow Report.
[iv] Ramah McKay. Family Reunification. Migration Policy Institute.
[v] Global Migration: A World Ever More on the Move. (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/27/weekinreview/27deparle. html?ref=world) The New York Times. June 25, 2010.
[vi] The Impact of Unauthorized Immigrants on the Budgets of State and Local Governments (December 2007) (http://www.cbo.gov/ ftpdocs/87xx/doc8711/12-6-Immigration.pdf/)”. /Congress of the United States Congressional Budget Office (http://www.cbo.gov)