Saturday, September 6, 2008

The (Lack of a) Case Against Immigration

Fueled by Lou Dobbs and his army, the issue of illegal immigration has become a hot topic in American political discourse. Yet, the objective evidence does not give those who blame all the ills of the U.S. (like Global Warming and high oil prices) on illegal immigrants a leg to stand on.

First, despite what is often said, illegal immigrants have a negligible effect on U.S. wages. In most cases, these immigrants are not directly competing with American workers. The only group of workers that would see a “significant” (3-8%) wage increase from decreased immigration would be low-skill high school dropouts. If immigrants completely stopped competing with this demographic, dropouts would see an extra $25 per week.

As well, illegal immigrants have an insignificant effect on unemployment rates. The number of jobs that are taken by illegals in favor of Americans are balanced out by the jobs created by the immigrants’ demand. This leads to a net impact of near zero.

Add on to this the fact that almost all immigrants speak English very well and their descendants speak English as their primary language, marriage rates are higher and divorce rates lower among immigrants, and the descendants of immigrants are closing the educational and income gap with whites, and it appears as if Mexicans do quite a good job of assimilating to America.

In addition, the Mexican immigration rate is actually lower than the immigration rate of ethnic groups in the past (i.e. Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s, German immigrants in the mid to late-1800s).

And just to deliver the final blows to the anti-immigration crowd, areas seeing the heaviest rate of immigration are actually seeing a decrease in violence.

In summary, immigrants don’t lower American wages, don’t lead to more unemployment, they share American values of the English language, family, and hard work, they are coming here at a lower rate than past ethnic immigrants, and they commit fewer crimes than natives. So, why was it that we don’t want to allow more immigration?


Zachary Piso said...

I'm not well equiped to approach this topic since it is outside my realm of studies, but I'm interested on how we can resolve the behavior of anti-immigrationists with the economics principle that "all individuals behave rationally".

Granted, the steadfast adoption of neoclassical fundamentals has fallen out of flavor. When considering how many individuals are anti-immigrant, then subtracting those who are clearly irrational (bigots, etc.) and those who do stand to gain $25 a week, I still think there is a significant sum of advocates.

And yes, we will have to assume that perfect information does not occur in order to attribute some rationality to otherwise hollow arguments.

Josh Knox said...

On violence, the article you cite states, "Sampson’s analysis also revealed that first-generation immigrants were 45 percent less likely to commit violence than third-generation Americans."

Another way of saying this is that third generation immigrants commit more violent acts than first generation immigrants. But third generation immigrants only result from the actions of first and second generation immigrants. If third generation immigrants commit more violent acts than the native population, couldn't immigration still be the cause of greater violence in America? Also, what amount of violence goes unreported in areas where people are afraid of being deported? It didn't appear that Sampson's study tried to incorporate that, is it possible to do so?

Tim Moreland said...

Can you clarify one of your questions? Are you implying that crime committed BY illegal immigrants will go unreported because of fear of deportation? Wouldn't crimes AGAINST illegal immigrants be the ones going unreported, which means that the native crime rate should actually be higher?

I may have interpreted that question wrong, or that may have been the point you were trying to make.

Tim Moreland said...

Also, I just did a quick look through the study and found that when comparing 3rd generation whites to 3rd generation Mexican-Americans, Mexican-Americans have a slightly higher propensity to commit crimes. However, whites are the least likely demographic in the U.S. to commit crimes, so 3rd generation Mexican-Americans could be (and probably are) less likely than the overall native population to commit crimes.

Pete Abbate said...

I went reading about a few of the anti-immigration groups and racism honestly seems to be the biggest part of the anti-immigration dialogue.

Largely underlying the racism, in my opinion, is fear. I think many people have a fear that immigrants will take their jobs, or because immigrants are often willing to work for less money that American wages will fall as a result. I don't think I need to explain the benefits of specialization and trade; on wages, I will add that they are inextricably linked to productivity, and as long as Americans are more productive than other workers they will continue to have higher wages.

This site seems to be a non-racist argument against illegal immigration. It allegedly focuses on the environmental effects of illegal immigration, though they seem to suggest that stopping illegal immigration is the same as global population control. Still, I am curious - does illegal immigration contribute to greater environmental damage? i.e. Do more people living in the United States use resources like cars, consume more beef, or otherwise live a higher-carbon-emissions lifestyle than they otherwise would, and is this a valid argument against illegal immigration?

Tim Moreland said...

Pete, your links aren't working for me, but is your second link to the Center for Immigration Studies?

I think that, yes, immigration probably does have a negative effect on the environment. One of the primary purposes of immigration is for people of poorer countries to move to richer countries. The typical person living in the U.S. likely leaves a larger "footprint" on the environment than if he lived in Mexico. Therefore, this population shift would lead to greater environmental harm.

Unfortunately, the solution to preventing this environmental damage seems to be "force the impoverished people to stay impoverished."

This brings us to a debate between "economic development" and "environmental harm." China's development has led to the improved standard of living for millions of people, but this has come at a cost to the environment. Was (is) it right to allow China to develop? Or, is it right to force people to remain stuck in poverty?

Another moral difficulty arises when you realize that well-to-do Americans who have reaped the benefits of their own country's environmentally harmful path to wealth are the ones saying "no" to poor immigrants who want a chance at a better life.

Zachary Piso said...

Just want to raise a point since I'm the current "environmental expert"...

Tim, your second point, that our gains through the use of cheap fossil fuels creates an ethical dilemma when legislating to the rest of the world. However, much of the world has learned from our success (allowing a relatively unrestrained free market) so they should be encouraged to learn from our mistakes.

The first point, on the other hand, is a bit of a false dichotomy. The choices of "economic development" and "environmental responsibility" are not mutually exclusive. You brought up the idea earlier that pollution is an inferior "bad" that is eventually diminished as consumers shift toward the superior good that are environmentally-friendly. However, several more friendly processes can (and should) be priced competitively with the unfriendly processes, especially if the unfriendly processes don't externalize the damages.

Pete Abbate said...

My fault for messing up the html code. My second link was to NumbersUSA. My first link was just a list of some anti-immigration groups.

As far as your dialogue goes, I threw something along these lines into an earlier comment realm. Essentially, I believe the US has no right to try to prevent the rest of the world from developing, even if they use fossil fuels and environmentally unfriendly processes to do so. Rather, the US has a responsibility to do everything it can to develop renewable energy technologies and make them cheaply available. Essentially, we would be subsidizing R&D on technologies, and perhaps subsidizing early production to encourage the developing world to adopt our technologies.

The subsidy would be necessary because as the US implemented renewable technologies, we would cause the price of oil to fall, making it even cheaper for Asia to rely heavily on petroleum. I'm not convinced this is a perfect solution, but morally I can't think of any better way to help the world shrink its carbon footprint and bear some responsibility for our environmentally-unconscious past.

Josh Knox said...

Unreported crimes in immigrant neighborhoods might be by natives against illegal immigrants, or by immigrants against other immigrants. Though not directly affecting the native population, immigrant on immigrant crime would have the undesirable effect of making certain areas unsafe at night. I was just wondering to what extent this type of violence could appear in a study like Sampson's.

Josh Knox said...

Also, here is a non-racist case against open immigration that is slightly more direct than environmental responsibility.

Tim Moreland said...

Sowell seems to be arguing that immigrants working in agriculture are the problem with the agricultural subsidy system in America. That is an odd logic. It seems to me that the problem with the massive amounts of taxpayer money spent on subsidies would be THE MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF TAXPAYER MONEY SPENT ON SUBSIDIES. Yes, the Farm Bill is a problem, so let’s fix that and not attach it to the immigration argument. If the government stops doling out money to farmers and immigration were much more of a free flow, then what would be the equilibrium point for immigrants? That should be the real question.

He also does not even mention the fact that jobs being supplied could potentially outgrow our aging population. This means that we will need immigrants to come to America just to ensure the Labor Supply can meet the Labor Demand.

Sowell says, “Tolerating illegality means that the immigrants determine what kinds of people enter our country and become part of the U.S. population, whether or not their skills, attitudes or behavior are wanted by Americans.” True, so then what’s the argument for making immigration legal? Also, doesn’t the marketplace determine what skills are wanted? Aren’t behaviors defined by our laws? Should the U.S. be able to deport American citizens whose skills, attitudes, or behaviors aren’t wanted by other Americans? I know this guy with a bad attitude, my government didn’t choose for him to be here, so we should probably send him to Mexico, right?

Sowell also envisions that if we just “fling the doors open” there will be some sort of “unchecked influx from around the world.” Actually, immigrants come to America in search of a job that they cannot find in their own country. So long as the American marketplace is willing to take on another member of the workforce, then it is a good thing economically for the country. However, eventually the Labor Supply would reach the point that it would not be willing to take on any additional workers. Open jobs would be scarce and immigrants would not have the incentive to come. In other words, it is not as if opening the borders would lead to a drastic overhaul of the U.S.’s racial profile.

Sowell then makes the bizarre claim that, “people not only produce, they consume -- and some consume more than they produce, courtesy of the American taxpayers.” Is he trying to imply that consumption is bad, even though that too would be a way of benefiting the U.S. economy? Or, maybe he thinks that that immigrants don't pay taxes?

“Nor are our schools or our neighborhoods improved by becoming a tower of babel or scenes of clashing standards of behavior, noise, or violence. We need to count all costs, not just money costs.” At this point in the article it gets… well, you can call it either racist or ethnocentric or just plain old ignorant. He seems to ignore the fact that immigrants are assimilating extremely well.

So, Sowell attempts to make a case against illegal immigration, but presents an argument full of economic fallacies, non sequiturs, and a hint of ethnocentrism and scare tactics.