During this presidential election, we should be talking about the cancer slowly eating away at our national prosperity and freedom – a relentlessly expanding government that serves self and special interests, slowly strangles our economy with ever increasing taxation and regulation, and has become the greatest abuser of the very freedoms it was constituted to protect. Instead, the issue of illegal immigration has become front and center in the Republican presidential nomination contest. So if immigration is to be a major topic of political debate, let’s at least have the right discussion. Rather than inflammatory rhetoric simplistically blaming America’s ills on illegal immigration, we should instead ask a constructive question, “What immigration policy would best serve our country?”
Setting aside the more complex question of citizenship, let’s instead only consider immigrants coming to work in our country. Most would agree that sensible immigration policy would secure the border, discourage illegal immigration, and promote economic growth. If that is the case, then our immigration laws fall very short. There are an estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in our country even with an immigration enforcement budget of $18 billion, an appropriation that exceeds the combined budgets of all other federal criminal enforcement. Immigration violations account for 50% of federal arrests – 3 times the number of federal drug arrests. Despite commitment of significant resources, clearly current policy has neither secured the border nor discouraged illegal immigration.
Do our restrictive immigration policies help our economy? In fact, freer movement of labor across our borders would add significant production to our economy. There are 2 distinct populations of immigrant labor – high skilled and low skilled. Every year, US universities turn out thousands of foreign students with advanced degrees in technology and engineering. The great majority take these US acquired skills abroad, not being able to obtain work visas to stay and produce in America. The CBO has estimated that tax revenues alone from these highly skilled persons would approach $100 billion over 10 years. The downstream economic benefits of their productivity would be many times greater, including that these highly skilled immigrants are 30% more likely than American citizens to start new businesses – a crucial component for economic and employment growth.
Freer movement of legal low skilled labor across our border would also grow the economy. The CBO has estimated that tax revenues from the work being done by undocumented immigrants would amount to $48 billion over 10 years. The downstream economic productivity of their work too would be many times greater. If not for low skilled immigrant labor, many sectors of the agriculture economy would have significantly lower output. If the fruit isn’t picked, then drivers and their trucks don’t ship the fruit, stores don’t stock and sell the fruit, and consumers pay more for the fruit than they would have otherwise, leaving less money for them to spend elsewhere in the economy. On the other side of the equation, the workers who pick the fruit in turn buy goods and services thus growing those sectors of the economy. Work begets work. Production begets production.
What if those immigrants displace citizens from jobs because the immigrants will work for less? It is true that those displaced workers can now only get jobs that pay lower, inarguably a disadvantage to them, albeit temporary. However, as a result, consumers get the product for less, leaving them more money to spend on goods and services, thus creating jobs elsewhere in the economy. As labor and other resources are more efficiently allocated across the economy by such free market competition, the prices of all goods and services fall making us all richer in being able to buy more for less – the productivity miracle.
We live in a global economy and economic analysis indicates that ending government interference of free movement of labor across this economy would result in a doubling of global GDP. There could be no quicker path to ending poverty worldwide.
Workers from other countries are drawn to the US because of higher earnings potential. It is not so much that American businesses pay higher wages, but rather that our human and physical capital infrastructure allows them to be more productive and thereby earn more than they could in their own countries. As an example, the average low skilled Mexican worker is 3.8 times more productive working in the US. Coming from Haiti, the infrastructure premium is a factor of 23.
We must appreciate that people coming into our country wanting to work are not a burden but an asset. Their work and production makes them and us wealthier. Many Americans legitimately worry that more immigration will hurt our country by further burdening our welfare state. Well the problem is not the immigrants; it’s the flawed welfare state. Yet if the great obstacle to allowing freer immigration is a concern of increased welfare spending, then the most humane and productive policy we could implement is to deny non-citizens access to those programs – but let them in to work and produce, a mutual benefit. The alternative is to condemn them to the poverty of their native countries.
Finally, allowing freer legal immigration of workers across our border would eliminate the great majority of illegal immigration. Immigration enforcement efforts could then be primarily and appropriately focused on stopping criminals and terrorists from entering our country.
There was a time not so long ago that as a nation we believed and understood freedom was a blessing that made our country more prosperous and more just, and that welcoming immigrants to share in that blessing added to that prosperity and justice.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Please join the campaign for liberty so that our nation might once again know the blessing of freedom. Our future freedom and prosperity depend on it.