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Friday, May 18, 2007

Borjas on Immigration: A Lemon in the Senate

George Borjas on the immigration reform bill:

A Lemon in the Senate, by George Borjas, NRO: Although the details of the immigration deal are sketchy, it seems to contain a number of key provisions:

1. Amnesty for 12 million illegal immigrants.
2. A guest-worker program that will admit 400,000 workers each year.
3. Vague promises of border enforcement sometime in the future.
4. A proposed change in the legal immigration system, away from the family preferences that now dominate the system and towards a point system that rewards skills.

Any “reform” that gives amnesty to 12 million illegal immigrants without taking care of the underlying illegal -immigration problem is a lemon. After all, what guarantees that the current batch of 12 million illegal immigrants will not be replaced by another 12 million in just a few years? What guarantees that guest workers will not stay illegally in the United States after their visa expires? What guarantees that border enforcement will be taken seriously by the Bush administration in the next two years or by the Democratic administration after that?

There is one dim light at the end of this dark tunnel, however. Much of the political elite in the Senate is now on record as supporting a point system that allocates entry visas on the basis of skills — a move that I have long advocated. ...

So what should we do? No bill is better than this bill. To paraphrase Woody Allen, this bill is a travesty of a mockery of a sham.” An amnesty is an amnesty, no matter how it is packaged and spun. The guest worker program will surely enrich employers, but will exacerbate the downward trajectory in the economic status of poorer workers. And I think it is much more likely that, after reading this article, Steve Jobs will FedEx me a pre-release version of the Iphone than the Bush administration will seriously enforce border security in the time they have left.

The bill neatly summarizes the intellectual flimsiness of the Bush administration — a flimsiness that has cost us dearly in so many other areas. Perhaps they can convince themselves otherwise; that legalizing the status of illegal immigrants is not an amnesty; that the laws of supply and demand can be repealed when it comes to immigration; that we will trust them to secure our borders in the next two years when they haven’t done so in the previous six. But we all know that, in the end, their promises are a sham, a travesty, and a mockery of what immigration policy should be about.

I don't think there is a good answer to the immigration question. It helps the poor in Mexico raise their standard of living and that is certainly worth something. But although the evidence is mixed, the work Borjas has done indicates that immigrants do depress the wages of low-income workers and may also increase the cost of social services (though both the existence and size of the costs of immigration are controversial, see here  [Krugman] for the Borjas-type view of these issues, and here [Card] and here [Krueger] for opposing views).

Since Borjas has his say above, and since it's a view that is more nationalistic than my own, I'll repeat this from Alex Tabarrok:

I would argue ... that economists are too quick to take the nation as the relevant moral community. ... Why should we cut the cake in one way, excluding some from the moral community, but not in another? Indeed, geography is not the only way we can define the moral community. Why not ask whether English speakers benefit ... or Christians or left handed people? Each of these is just as valid as asking whether the collection of people called the nation benefit from free trade.

I understand individual rights and I understand counting everyone equally but I see less value in counting some in and some out based on arbitrary characteristics like which side of the border the actors fall on.

I am in the large group that benefits from immigration overall, and I think that immigration often gets the blame for things that have other root causes. But if I believed that immigrants were affecting me directly by making it harder for me or others close to me to support our families due to lower wages and benefits, I think it would be hard for me to put the poor in developing countries on an equal footing when evaluating the costs and benefits of immigration policy.

    Posted by on Friday, May 18, 2007 at 12:06 AM in Economics, Immigration, Policy, Unemployment | Permalink  TrackBack (0)  Comments (16)


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