Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Immigration Wars: Open or Closed Borders for America?

A comprehensive discussion of US immigration and border policy hosted by The Independent Institute, a non-partisan public policy think tank, entitled:

Immigration Wars: Open or Closed Borders for America?

is a must read for anyone interested in progressive immigration reform. Featuring Peter Laufer former NBC News correspondent and author of "Wetback Nation: The Case for Opening the Mexican-American Border ", along with economist Benjamin Powell, Director of the Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation, The Independent Institute, the presentation covered numerous topics relating to border reform.

From Mr. Laufer:

Some (people) are proponents of open migration. Others want the border secured in various ways. But everybody agrees that the status quo is no good.

The next step that I come up with is that pretty much any(one) who wants to come north, comes north. That’s the status of affairs currently. That’s one of the reasons why the border is out of control. …

Then the third part of this thing is we want them to come north. Whether we admit it or not, we want them to come north. That’s why they’re coming north. And this is (what) we’ll be (discussing) here in a minute.

… since everybody’s coming anyway that wants to come, since we want them to come, since we all agree the status quo doesn’t work, why don’t we try something radically different. And what could that be? Well, we just regularize what’s going on anyway.

Because we’ve got ancillary problems on the border.

There are people we don’t want to have come up here... Drug traffickers maybe, crazed terrorists, rapists, murderers, robbers. And we can’t stop these people, because it is so chaotic currently on the border that those that we would like to keep out just are in the shadows of those that we’re embracing…


But the way I see it, people come through the border. The reason they’re not coming through the border now is because we’re not letting them in. So if they have some thing like national driver’s license …(some) kind of a card, a passport, whatever it is, and they come walking in and they wave it, and our guys say yeah, yeah, yeah at all these different checkpoints we have. We’ve got dozens of them along the southern border…

And so, they’re no longer running across the desert. They’re no longer dying in the desert. … They are coming through in some kind of an organized manner, and they’re having to show something. So the really bad guys are the ones that are still out in the desert, and they’re no longer in the shadow of this hoard of people that’s coming up.

Mr. Powell covers the topic from a more conventional perspective, arguing that an open border policy would eventually force the Mexican government to enact reforms that would cut down and eliminate the root causes of the mass migration of Mexican citizens to the United States:
more below the fold

… an open immigration policy where we allow all workers in who don’t have demonstrated criminal records or are a known terrorist threat would be beneficial compared to the status quo.


Why do they come here? They obviously come here because the job opportunities and the wages they can get here are better than what they can get at Mexico--even though they currently face a Border Patrol that’s pushing them through the deserts, risking their lives with dangerous “coyotes,” the name of the people who are transporting them across the border, and having to stay for a long time in the U.S. because they can’t freely cross back to visit their family. With all these hardships factored in, and admittedly not getting so many benefits along with their job, they’re still willing to come for these wages because it’s better than their next best alternative: staying in Mexico.


Well, that problem is not fundamentally one of American immigration policy. That’s one of bad policies in Mexico. Mexico taxes too much, spends too much, regulates too much, inflates too much, and is too corrupt. All of these things have to end to have better opportunities in Mexico.

So, why do I bring this up? In part, I think the open-border policy would contribute to making Mexico’s policies better in the long run, hopefully. There’s a well-known model of competition between governments, the Tiebout model in economics, where basically jurisdictions are concerned with their citizens leaving when they’re free to migrate to other areas because they lose their tax base, they lose workers, they lose potential defenders of their country. Well, look at what happened in eastern Europe: you had a whole bunch of bad policies there. They literally built walls to keep their people in. Mexico hasn’t built a wall, to keep people in, with bad policy; we built it for them. Let’s take it down so as they move there’s more pressure on the Mexican government to have to reform in order for it to keep its people there.

Then as they do reform … people tend to move back as they do better. Look at Ireland, a country that for years had net out-mitration. They had a fiscal crisis, they had to reform in the 1990s and 1980s. When they did, all of the sudden since the mid-1990s they’ve had net immigrant inflows into their country, something unheard of in Ireland. It could happen in Mexico, too.

Powell then goes on to dispel many of the common arguments and misconceptions about the economic effects of immigration:

…immigrants have no net social costs over the course of their lifetime. When they first come they might be a little more like that than later, or it might depend more on individual cases, but on net they find they don’t suck up the social services.


—estimates that about $22 billion in net gain to current United States people, not to the immigrants themselves coming here—a $22 billion net gain from current levels of immigration. Now, that gain can be bigger if more people are coming in in the future


“Despite the popular belief that immigrants have a large adverse impact on wages and employment opportunities on the native-born population, the literature on this question does not provide much support for this conclusion.”


A report just came out for this fall’s crop estimated in the Central Valley that between 70,000 and 80,000 workers short of what we need to harvest the crop. That means about $1 billion in projected losses. This isn’t trivial and it isn’t crazy speculation, because something similar happened in Arizona last year. In Arizona last year the winter lettuce crop—they only enough labor to harvest 30 percent of it. They only harvested about 30 percent of it and they lost about $1 billion there too. Now of course, your response might be, sure there might be more American workers if the work was easy and the pay was better, but the fact of the matter is, the farming in parts of the United States often doesn’t justify paying the workers more and giving them more benefits to attract them there. It would mean the loss of farming if we don’t have the labor willing to work under those conditions, and that’s what was happening here when they lost the crops. It simply was even going to be less profitable to go ahead and hire people for higher wages to get the work done. So we need them here for the crops

The transcript contains far more information than can be covered here, including question and answer segments between the audience and both experts. This was an excellent lecture, and should be read by anyone interested in progressive immigration reform.

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