Monday, June 25, 2007

On Immigration: Why I Favor Amnesty

The immigration debate contains so many issues that it's taken me a while to figure out where I stand. At present, I'm in favor of amnesty for all illegal immigrants currently in the country who are not convicted felons, gang members, or likely terrorists. Going forward, I think we need to get rid of unrealistic immigration laws.

Because the debate is multifaceted, I'm going to attempt to address each aspect of the debate individually.

Economic

There appear to be two main economic arguments made against amnesty and for stronger border enforcement:

1) Illegal immigrants are a net drain on the economy. I believe this claim is simply false. A poll of economists conducted by the Wall Street Journal found that:
On balance, nearly all of the economists – 44 of the 46 who answered the question – believe that illegal immigration has been beneficial to the economy. Most believe the benefits to business of being able to fill jobs at wages many American workers won't accept outweigh the costs.


2) Illegal immigrants are bad for lower-class American workers. This appears to be true, but not very significant:
Nearly 80% of economists who responded to questions about immigration in the latest WSJ.com forecasting survey said they believe undocumented workers have an impact on the bottom rung of the wage ladder. Twenty percent believe the impact is significant, while 59% characterize the effect as slight. The remaining 22% said there is no impact.

It also occurs to me that we don't oppose computers or robots despite the fact that they take jobs away from people, because we think the trade-off will be worth it. Workers who lose those jobs will be able to secure different jobs created in large part by the extra wealth provided by the increased productivity. I don't see why immigration would be any different.

One final point. Those who argue that illegal immigrants are bad for the economy don't seem to factor into their calculation the cost of preventing illegal immigration, which would involve construction of the largest fences/walls in the world as well as the deployment of many soldiers along the border. They also don't take into account that native-born Americans are not reproducing at greater than replacement rates, which in the absence of immigrants would make it harder to support retired Americans.

Justice

It is my impression that this is the underlying motive of normal Americans opposed to amnesty or anything resembling it. Illegal immigrants are here illegally, by definition, so we shouldn't reward them for it. Humans have strong innate negative feelings towards cheaters and, in my opinion, often overreact to them even when it goes against their own self-interest. While I agree that it's generally bad to reward illegal behavior, I think that when a law is so flagrantly and massively violated, it's because the law was impractical to begin with. (Other examples: prohibition and a speed limit of 55 mph.) At some point we have to recognize that even if in an ideal world where everybody followed the law it would be a good law, in reality an unenforceable law simply erodes respect for the rule of law and harms the exceptionally law-abiding.

Some may argue that it's not that the law is unenforceable but that we have chosen not to enforce this. They will point to polls that suggest a majority of Americans would prefer better enforcement against illegal immigration. However, I believe that if and when the public realized what would be involved in seriously enforcing the law (mass deportation, tons of spending, harm to the economy) support would quickly dissipate.

Security

Some claim that the porous borders are a grave national security threat. I do not believe that this is true, or if it is true, that we can effectively do much about it. All of the 9/11 hijackers entered the country legally. There are between 2 and 10 million Muslims already living in the U.S. We have no shortage of homegrown criminals or gangs. While it is true that Mexican gangs are a problem in some areas and that terrorists might sneak across our borders, locking down the entire border strikes me as a ridiculously inefficient way to deal with the threats. Furthermore, terrorists attempting to enter the country would undoubtedly have vastly more resources than the average poor Mexican immigrant, so enforcement would have to be incredibly severe.

The essential truth of the matter is this: life is not safe. The government can do only so much to protect us. They are happy to, however, make enormous promises about security in order to get votes and money. Take one look at the woefully ineffective war on drugs or the inanity of post-9/11 airline security, though, and it's clear that many of their promises are just wishful thinking. Security would be more effectively increased with intelligence and police work than by erecting the Great Wall of America.

Culture

Finally, there are those who argue that Hispanic immigrants are not assimilating well enough or quickly enough, that they aren't learning English, and that they don't fit into the American way of life. I think this is mainly untrue. By the second generation, virtually all immigrant families are fluent in English and the U.S. hasn't had a mono-culture in decades, if indeed it ever did. Even if immigrants have, on average, more problems than native-born citizens, it's not of enormous significance and, again, not worth the costs of keeping them all out. America has long been successful in large part due to immigrants who come here for a better chance at life, who are willing to work their asses off chasing the American dream. Every previous wave of immigration had similar opponents, yet in the long run, all have proved to be a net plus to our country. I think the Latin immigrants, legal and not, will do the same.

10 comments:

Ezzie said...

I'm going to start with agreeing with most of the points and arguments made, but disagreeing on the conclusion, primarily due to the few differences.

Culture - I agree that this isn't a reason. I do think that people should adjust more quickly; one of the strengths of this "land of immigrants" was that all the different groups learned to work together to build the country. Not learning English and a general inability to communicate hurts everyone involved. (A simple example is health care.)

Security - I'll agree that it's impractical to erect a Great Wall. I really like Guiliani's notion to make everyone have a national ID card (he gets ripped by the right for being "lax" on immigration, btw) and I *do* think that it is extremely important that whatever laws we do have be enforced. Inducement to immigrants to come through a standard border and get this identifiable biometric ID card in exchange for the ability to work in the country seems like a wise combination to me that would help mitigate security concerns while allowing us (as Guiliani put it) to "know who is in our country".

Economy - First part agreed. Second part I think it's a pretty big slap to the low end, and the obvious - and large - difference between computers and the like include but are not limited to: 1) The computers are not doing anything illegal, the immigrants are. 2) It hurts more to lose your job to a non-English speaking immigrant than a clearly efficient machine. 3) One is progress, the other is simply saving costs. 4) If we don't develop it, someone else will, and the guy would still lose his job... and we lose out more.

Justice - This is the biggest reason. I don't think it's an overreaction, even as someone who hated rules that hurt more than helped over the years. I don't think that this is similar to prohibition or the speed limit, though I'll agree that it can be improved upon (see my suggestion, which is really a combo of Guiliani and others above)... but banning illegal immigrants is not bad or stupid law - it's just extremely hard to enforce. Making it easier to enforce by drawing the "good" immigrants to show themselves would make it *worthwhile* to enforce and lessen your other points.

It is terrible precedent to allow law-breaking to go unpunished and encourages people to do the same in gray situations, then argue that the benefit outweighs the crime committed.

Abe said...

in reality an unenforceable law simply erodes respect for the rule of law and harms the exceptionally law-abiding.

You're right that our laws should be more reasonable and/or enforceable. But as much as rule of law can be harmed by passing laws that are not mostly enforceable, not even trying to enforce those laws does even more damage.

From a justice standpoint, a good combination would be changing the law to make it more viable while still making some sort of (token?) punishment for breaking the law in the past. That's one reason that I support the Bush immigration reform bill in its original form.

asher said...

Wouldn't it more practicle to simply do away with nations and citizens as ideas? Everyone should be able to go anywhere and live anywhere without alliegence to to any plot of land or arbitrarily drawn borders.

At the end of the "Le Grand Illusion" (1939), some refugees are trying to cross a border and some guards see them in the distance. One is about to shoot them and the other says "Enough. Let them pass. Man made borders"

Juggling Mother said...

I'm not as much in favour of a full amnesty (which does kind of reward illegality and sets a precedent that will cost just as much of a fortune as the wall in future court cases) as a change in the rules for how to apply for citizenship. Those who can prove they already have a home and a job etc should be able to apply regardless of their mode of entry, and those that arrive in the future should not have to be scared about announcing their arrival to the autorities.

Although, as a foreigner, I wouldn't be adverse to building a bloody great wall around the USA and letting no-one in or out;-)



um, that last pargraph was a joke btw.

Jack's Shack said...

I live in Los Angeles where there are now swaths of neighborhoods in which the primary language being spoken is Spanish.

One of the major issues in many of the public schools is how to best approach the vast numbers of students who come from homes in which English is a second language.

The point is that many people are not making the effort to learn English because they are able to get along quite nicely without it.

This is not going to help us. If they do not learn the language they do not assimilate.

I want to see a solution to the illegal immigration problem for many reasons not the least of which is that it will help to cut down on the exploitation of people.

But I am not in favor of general amnesty. It is not going to prevent future illegal immigrants from wanting to come her. It is only going to encourage them.

Even if immigrants have, on average, more problems than native-born citizens, it's not of enormous significance

JA,

You usually are very good about coming up with specifics but you dropped the ball with that last comment.

"Rich Perkins" said...

I just wanted to comment on the assimilation issue regarding language . . .

I don't know what other countries do, but when you move to Israel they have set classes (called Ulpan) to teach new immigrants hebrew.

Wouldn't we all benefit if the US set up ESL classes for the immigrants here?

goodperson said...

This has abosolutely nothing at all to do with your latest entry, and for that I apologize. I stumbled upon your blog after having a bit of an argument with my Catholic boyfriend about my atheism. Lets just say it makes him "sad." He mentioned to me that it would be dishonest to have a rabbi at our wedding (not that we're engaged- he thinks long term) and I was wondering if you've ever heard of a rabbi performing a ceremony for an atheist. I wouldn't want to lie, but I love the Jewish culture and it would be important to me and my family that a rabbi represented "our side." I feel foolish to even be worried about that now, but it's late at night, and hey- why not. Thanks for any help you have!

Half Sigma said...

"early all of the economists – 44 of the 46 who answered the question – believe that illegal immigration has been beneficial to the economy."

Congratulations! You just proved that God exists. Because 100% of politicians say they believe in God. Majority MUST be right!

Jewish Atheist said...

HS:

Although economics is a soft science, economists are the closest thing we have to experts on the issue. I wasn't aware that politicians were especially qualified to answer theological questions. I'd argue that physicists and biologists, for example, are both more qualified to answer that question.

tommy said...

First of all, the WSJ is the same paper that recently claimed Americans were overwhelmingly backing the shamnesty. Given the WSJ's long and dubious track-record of honesty on immigration, I would take everything they say with a grain of salt. Actually, make that a huge chunk of rock salt.

Time and again, we've seen mainstream economists cite things like Andrew Card's flawed study as proof that immigrants are economically advantageous. Time and again, we've seen pro-immigration economists (and the likes of Tamar Jacoby) misrepresenting the conclusions of studies to make illegal immigrants sound like an economic boon when they are not. I almost guarantee that if you were to ask the economists how they came to their conclusions, we would see them uncritically citing the same studies.

You see, it is unlikely that many of the economists the WSJ dredged up have actually done any work on the economics of immigration. If you want an expert in that field, then George Borjas is your man. Since the WSJ is in the habit of cherry-picking people and facts to bolster support for open borders, I highly doubt Borjas was asked to provide his opinion on immigration in spite being one of the leading economists in this area.

Most believe the benefits to business of being able to fill jobs at wages many American workers won't accept outweigh the costs.

There are no jobs that Americans won't do. We've covered this territory a million times: many economists may wish the law of supply and demand didn't apply to immigrant labor, but it does. Illegal immigrants depress wages for native-born workers creating those "jobs Americans won't do." Get rid of the illegal immigrants, wages will rise, and Americans will do those jobs. Wherever I go in this country, landscaping and yard work still gets done, illegals or no illegals.

Illegal immigrants are bad for lower-class American workers. This appears to be true, but not very significant:

Unfortunately, we aren't provided with any quantitative measure as to what 'significant' means in this case. For example, a 15-20% reduction in wages for low pay workers may not seem significant to a high-paid economist. To a minimum wage worker living paycheck to paycheck, it may be more substantial.

It also occurs to me that we don't oppose computers or robots despite the fact that they take jobs away from people, because we think the trade-off will be worth it.

Computers and robots don't sponge off welfare, the don't require a K-12 education, they don't commit crimes, they don't have 50% rates of illegitimacy, they don't need Spanish translators to communicate with people, they don't drive under the influence, etc.

Some claim that the porous borders are a grave national security threat. I do not believe that this is true, or if it is true, that we can effectively do much about it. All of the 9/11 hijackers entered the country legally.

But, of course, we could have prevented Muslims from entering the country on student visas. Unfortunately, liberal-minded PC has prevented us from simply saying 'no' to Muslim (and other Third World) immigrants and temporary residents.

We have no shortage of homegrown criminals or gangs.

Yeah, and those homegrown gangbangers are overwhelmingly white, right?

The essential truth of the matter is this: life is not safe.

The essential truth is that life is a lot less safe in many Third World countries and in First World minority neighborhoods.

The government can do only so much to protect us.

So, let us increase the level of danger and decrease the government's ability to protect us. You just got through telling us that walling off our southern border is horribly inefficient, and now, instead of offering your proposal, you instead offer us this bromide? In the words of John Stossel, "Give me a break!"

Finally, there are those who argue that Hispanic immigrants are not assimilating well enough or quickly enough, that they aren't learning English, and that they don't fit into the American way of life.

If by 'assimilating,' you mean learning English, then Hispanics will almost certainly assimilate given sufficient time. If speaking English is all it takes to become an American, then many millions of people all over the world who have never set foot in the United States, who may even hate America, are already Americans.

If by 'assimilating,' you mean becoming a part of the middle class in roughly the same proportion as previous waves of white immigrants, we already know Mexicans aren't.

By the second generation, virtually all immigrant families are fluent in English and the U.S. hasn't had a mono-culture in decades, if indeed it ever did.

In other words, America's population hasn't ever been absolutely homogeneous (though it certainly has been a lot less accepting of today's multicultural nonsense), so increasing the amount of heterogeneity is entirely harmless.

Even if immigrants have, on average, more problems than native-born citizens, it's not of enormous significance and, again, not worth the costs of keeping them all out.

You haven't made this case at all. We aren't just dealing with immigrants but with their children, grandchildren, etc. If the descendants of today's immigrants are failures each generation (compared to the white middle class) and they reduce the quality of life in the United States, then their immigrant forebears cannot possibly have benefited our nation enough, economically or otherwise.

Every previous wave of immigration had similar opponents, yet in the long run, all have proved to be a net plus to our country. I think the Latin immigrants, legal and not, will do the same.

Every one of those major waves of immigrants came from countries with a national IQ of around 100 or greater. The British, Germans, Italians, the Irish, Scandinavians, Jews, the Japanese etc. can all, in the 21st century, look toward nations outside of America and see their ancestral groups managing successful First World countries. The only exceptions are nations like Poland and China which have suffered under Communist rule in recent decades. Mexico doesn't have a mean IQ of 100 and they don't have Communism as an excuse.

Anyway, I could make about a hundred other points about your flawed thinking on immigration, but I've gone on long enough.