George Borjas with his advice for the incoming administration:
Some Advice for President Obama, by George Borjas: Immigration, both legal and illegal, was the silent issue in the presidential campaign--despite the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions. I suspect that the worsening labor market will force President Obama to wrestle with the immigration issue sooner rather than later. It'll be hard to justify a system that lets in nearly 1.5 million new immigrants each year at a time when millions of Americans are losing their jobs.
The editors at the New York Post asked me if I had any constructive advice to give our new president about how one could approach the problem. Here is an excerpt:
Our economic woes also create an opportunity - for they will encourage many illegals to return home, potentially removing a red flag that has made rational policymaking politically impossible.
The failure of the Bush "comprehensive immigration reform" shows us that many Americans are unwilling to provide amnesty (under any name) to 12 million illegals, especially when the border remains porous and we would simply have to consider yet another amnesty a few years down the road. A real solution is one that resolves the issue for the long term - several decades, at the least.
How does the downturn make it easier to address this issue? Simply put, illegal immigration is highly responsive to economic conditions - when times are bad, fewer come (and more return home).
President Obama can take a very simple step to complement this "natural" reduction: speed up the widespread adoption of the E-Verify program. This program lets employers compare the records of their new hires with more than 500 million records held by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.
A simple scan - no more complex than scanning your bank card at the grocery store - would quickly tell employers if their new hire is authorized to work.
Many employers will object - especially those who prefer to hide behind claims that they don't know if any given worker is illegal. Nor does expanding E-Verify provide the "showy" symbol that some politicians prefer - like building a taller and stronger fence on the Mexican border. But any fence, no matter how tall and strong, is bound to be ineffective. Around 40 percent of illegal immigrants don't enter through that border.
Instead, E-Verify detects illegal immigrants at the place where such detection is costliest to them - as they try to get a job. It also makes employers more accountable for their actions. It should greatly slow down the number of illegals entering the country.
With those tensions reduced, Americans would be much more willing to revisit the issue of what to do with the illegals already here. And a little patience and benign neglect can have a large payoff in this matter.
A widespread amnesty may not be needed in just a few years. The deep recession and stricter enforcement will encourage many illegal immigrants to return.
Meanwhile, millions of those who remain will sprout deep roots by marrying and having children (who will be US citizens by birth). These family ties will make many illegal immigrants eligible for legal status within existing law.
And in a world with greatly reduced illegal immigration, it would be easier to enact minor changes in current law to speed up the granting of permanent visas to relatives of citizens.
The economy also presents a unique opportunity for reforming legal immigration. Most of the legal immigrants enter the country without regard to how their skills match our labor-market needs. The lack of any skill filters - combined with the high volume of low-skill illegal immigration - aggravates the economic hardships faced by disadvantaged Americans.
We can both improve the status of our low-skill workforce and substantially increase the economic benefits to the nation from immigration by adopting a system that encourages the entry of high-skill immigrants. Surely, in time of economic duress, it's wise to fashion immigration policy in a way that is most beneficial to the country.
One little-noticed provision in the failed Bush proposal was the introduction of what is called a "point system" - which awards points to applicants with particular skills, and grants visas only to those who exceed a threshold level of points...Used wisely, immigration policy can be a tool that can help Americans even during difficult times. The new president has a historic opportunity to set the system right.