More Immigrants, Please

The AP is reporting that the Obama administration will stop deporting youths who are DREAM Act eligible. This is unambiguously good news unless you’re upset that a key Democratic voting bloc (Latinos) might be more prone to support the President going into the 2012 election.

I’m enthusiastically supporting this policy, first of all, because it is less overtly cruel than the policy it’s replacing. Deporting teenagers and young adults whose only fault in life was being brought to America before they were able to decide for themselves is a bad scene any way you slice it. A lot of these kids are exceptionally bright and industrious. If no one was aware that they were undocumented, just about everyone would be thrilled to have them here.

Even disregarding any moral implications–(how messed up is it that “even disregarding any moral implications” seems like a reasonable thing to say during a discussion about policy?)–anyway, disregarding any moral implications, this announcement represents a shift towards a much more reasonable, economically sound immigration policy. Here are a few points to that effect, framed as Objections and Rebuttals:

Objection: Won’t amnesty incentivize more illegal immigration?

Rebuttal: Maybe. The problem with this question is that it presupposes that more immigration (legal or otherwise) would be a bad thing. As I’ll explain, it wouldn’t be.

More importantly, though, its important to realize that even if the rewards of illegal immigration are increased, the costs are in most cases still extremely high. Crossing the U.S./Mexico border isn’t like strolling through a golf course. The risks are such that, typically, someone needs to be in really dire straights to risk the crossing. Coyotes (the name for human traffickers) are notorious for extorting their customers, and there is a non-negligible chance that you might die while attempting the journey. Point being, its not as if the choice to immigrate illegally is going to be made incredibly more desirable because limited amnesty is being offered. A grueling, dangerous life-option might be, at best, a little bit less horrific.

Objection: They’re stealing our jobs!

Rebuttal: No they’re not. First, this is a flat-out silly thing to say from a macro-economic standpoint. Jobs aren’t a zero-sum game. That is, my having a job doesn’t necessarily prevent someone else from being gainfully employed. At one moment in time, of course, only one person can work any given job. But this misses a much bigger picture. When someone pays me to do something, I then have money to spend, and I can go out any buy things that I wouldn’t be able to purchase otherwise. Someone, of course, needs to work in order for my new stuff to be supplied, and in some cases that someone might be a new hire. Economic activity breeds more economic activity in what is essentially a positive feedback loop. (This, by the way, is why it’s a horrible idea to slash government spending during a recession. The economy is also governed by negative feedback loops.)

More concretely, though, low-wage immigrant workers typically fill jobs that only they are willing to fill. There are very few (if any) Americans clammering to pick tomatoes or work landscaping for poverty wages.

Objection: They’re leaching public benefits without paying into them (e.g. public schools or emergency room care).

Rebuttal: That’s true. Undocumented citizens are unable to contribute to a number of the tax bases that support public services. But the cost/benefit analysis for illegal immigration isn’t nearly that simple. Undocumented citizens pay sales and property taxes. Additionally, since they work for a pittance, a lot of the prices of things that most people buy are artificially low. Tomatoes and lettuce, for example. There is really no way of knowing whether the presence of undocumented citizens is a net positive or negative for our economy and public institutions.

My feeling is that we shouldn’t be outraged if undocumented workers are taking more than they pay into our public institutions. All that means is, essentially, that we’re subsidizing their poverty wages by providing some public services. If anyone deserves to have their labor subsidized, it is undocumented workers. As mentioned, they work for wages almost all American citizens would balk at. Also, undocumented workers are much more likely than citizens to be victims of wage theft since they have no legal recourse.

Objection: Mass amounts of new immigration will throw our economic equilibrium out of place.

Rebuttal: Good. That’s sort of the entire point of a global capitalist economic system. Resources are supposed to flow freely so that everyone can benefit from market efficiencies. We do a decent job with this as it relates to capital; it’s relatively easy to purchase stock in foreign companies or the debt of any of the world’s sovereign nations.

Not so much with labor. It’s a whole lot harder to move 1,000 American workers to Mexico than it is to move the physical infrastructure of your factory. As it turns out, some barriers to the free flow of labor can’t be removed through policy. Most people aren’t too keen to move to a different state, let alone a foreign country. And even if they did, the costs of travel are prohibitive.

In many cases, though, there are no shortage of laborers chomping at the bit to migrate. Plenty of highly skilled non-Americans, for example, would love to move here–people like doctors or engineers. An influx of doctors would be especially helpful with combating our absurd healthcare costs, which would benefit everyone.

Except, of course, doctors. Doctors’ compensation would be less. And they’d throw a fit about it. That’s called “rent-seeking behavior.” When a person or groups of people seeks to restrict a market in such a way as to guard themselves from fair competition, they are acting in their own self-interest to the detriment of the well-being of everyone in general. This sort of thing is a pretty good example of people being hypocrites. Businessmen will proclaim the absolute necessity for free-markets and competition until the very first moment they have a significant market share. Then they’ll do everything in their ability to prevent anyone from competing with them.

That’s the essence of our extremely restrictive immigration policy. It serves as a mechanism to protect special labor interests. If the people who ran the world actually valued global, free-market capitalism as much as they claim, then there’d be absolutely no reason to put any restrictions at all on immigration. Socio-economic equilibria would change. That would be the point.


Obama’s shift in policy, then, is a move in the right direction. In addition to being considerably more humane, It’s a step towards greater economic fairness and efficiency. My only objection is that it doesn’t go nearly far enough.

Here’s to hoping for some sane policy-making in the near future. Hopeful, pessimistic hoping.


One comment

  1. Pingback: State of Formation - More Immigrants, Please

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