And yet I’m looking around at my state and noticing something. The biggest and most booming industries bringing jobs to citizens are Korean owned and managed. The best restaurants are run by immigrants, of course. Mexicans and Latinos from all over the Americas pave the streets, build the houses, keep the gardens, and do what seems to be most of the work.
And yet, people and politicians still give these people a flogging for supposedly bringing us down. Who is right? Is my intuition that immigration is a boon for America correct? Or is immigration destroying the nation?
If you are undecided on these issues, consider Jason L. Riley’s very insightful Let Them In: The Case For Open Borders. He provides a perspective you won’t hear elsewhere. It turns out that most of what believe believe about immigration is not only wrong but completely backwards.
What about politics? It’s true that if there is one reason Mitt Romney was thumped on election night it was immigration. He didn’t bother with them, apparently forgetting that George W. Bush received 44 percent of the Latino vote in 2004. The Right Wing Industrial Complex continuously churned out protect-the-borders nonsense and state legislative actions (Arizona and Alabama) that have clearly been anti-immigration.
Political personalities like Glenn Beck make their considerable livings whipping up nationalist frenzy describing Mexican illegals as “terrorists” or saying they “can’t make a living in their own dirtbag country.” As Michael Medved says, “You can light up the phone lines instantly with immigrant-bashing.”
Conclusion: so long as Republicans continue with the jingoistic vitriol, the Democrats can do nothing, and win elections.
Regarding economics, Riley points out immigrants don’t steal jobs; they create jobs that never existed and they do jobs that Americans don’t want to do. For instance, when’s the last time you had a native born cab driver?
On my latest three city trip, my cab driver in Baltimore was Russian, my driver was Italian in Las Vegas, and in Salt Lake City a very friendly Ethiopian drove us from the airport. One would swear taxi companies all over the country are discriminating against native born applicants. But of course that isn’t the case.
Riley, who is a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, cuts through all the political rhetoric and makes the observation that legal immigration–what everyone says they are in favor of–responds slowly to economic conditions. The government gives out a fixed number of green cards no matter what’s happening in the economy. “The bureaucratic calendar, rather than market demand, determines the flow of foreign workers,” Riley explains.
Meanwhile illegals tend to come when there are jobs available and the economy is expanding. They also migrate to wherever the jobs are because they are not tied down to a specific employer. Even temporary legal immigrants aren’t as mobile as illegals. They can only change jobs with permission from their employer.
Americans fall in the semi-skilled labor or professional category. Immigrants mostly come in two types–low-skilled laborer or high-skilled professional–so these workers are complements not substitutes.
Foreign workers are much more likely to save and start new businesses than natives. Last week in Las Vegas, we enjoyed reflexology services provided by Chinese women who spoke little English. It was as wonderful and relaxing as when we had foot massages in China. These women did not steal anyone’s job and instead have brought a service the U.S. that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
A study by the National Foundation for American Policy found that a quarter of all U.S. public companies started with venture capital between 1991 and 2006 were started by immigrants.
And when it comes to school achievement, foreign students set the pace, especially dominating the hard sciences. If the U.S. had closed its borders, “we would have wiped out two-thirds of the top future scientists and mathematicians in the United States because we would have barred their parents from ever entering America,” Stuart Anderson told the Wall Street Journal.
Probably the most surprising part of Riley’s book is the linking arms of the right and the environmental left on the immigration issue. Environmentalists see people as pollution. Overpopulation is near the top of the green agenda, so keeping people out of the country is the next best thing to stopping people from procreating worldwide.
While everyone has heard of Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan, the mastermind of the anti-immigration movement is John Tanton. Tanton lives in a small town in Michigan, is a retired ophthalmologist, and a devotee of Paul Ehrlich who wrote The Population Bomb. Tanton has formed, led, or is otherwise associated with a dozen anti-immigration groups.
Eugenics and sterilization are also a part of the keep ‘em out crowd’s philosophy. America blessed sterilization for many years well into the 1960s and in mental hospitals until the 1970s. “In the end more than sixty-five thousand people in thirty-three states underwent forced sterilizations,” writes Riley.
But while the Sierra Club, Al Gore, and John Tanton do all they can to spread Malthusian overpopulation doom and gloom, global output continues to outpace population growth and “the relative prices of virtually all primary commodities have fallen over the the course of the 20th century, and many of them, quite substantially.”
Riley also debunks the common wisdom that illegal immigrants are criminals just by being here. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a criminal act to be in the country illegally. It’s against the law, but it’s the equivalent of a traffic citation.
As it is, the federal government spends billions on policing the borders, far in excess of whatever supposed costs illegal immigrants impose. But the anti-immigration crowd says it’s not enough. If they had their way, trillions would be spent, building a towering wall on the border and tracking down and kicking out 12 million mostly hard-working, god-fearing people.
Whether you’re for or against open borders (or on the fence), Let Them In is a fast and clear read that covers all of the arguments. Immigration is not an easy issue. It’s not just the left and the right who are split on the question. Libertarians are polarized by border issues as well. The trouble is that most of the debaters don’t deal with the facts on the ground. So long as the debate is about theory and prejudice, we aren’t going to get very far. That’s why Let Them In is an important book.