Immigration

Talking Points Memo has a very good interview with Harvard Economist George Borjas by John Judis. Borjas, himself an immigrant from Cuba, has studied immigration for years. The interview predictably aroused the ire of TPM's liberal readership, mainly because Borjas has concluded that immigration is by no means an unmixed blessing. He even has some (rather faint) praise for Trump's wall, as a "useful symbol" but points out that most illegal immigrants come by legal visas and simply overstay.

Some other useful points: most immigrants are low-skill and low-education, those who benefit are the employers who can hire them for wages Americans don't want to work for, those who are hurt by immigration are low-skilled Americans. A particular target is the family preference system which can allow the cousin of the spouse of son of a legal immigrant to themselves become legal immigrants.

Judis:

But Democrats and liberals would be wise not to dismiss as nativism the concern that many voters have with the huge influx of illegal immigrants and of unskilled legal immigrants into the the country over the last 50 years. There is a real question about whether our immigration policy has has contributed to wage stagnation and inequality. Democrats’ failure to address this question – except to insist that everyone benefits – has contributed to the party’s isolation from voters who used to be part of their majority.

Borjas:

Since 1965, we have admitted a lot of low-skilled immigrants, and one way to view that policy is that we were running basically the largest anti-poverty program in the world. That is actually not a bad thing at all. Except someone is going to have to pay the cost for that.

This is the question that most progressives don’t want to face up to. They really want to believe that immigrants are manna from heaven. That everybody is really better off and that everybody is happy forever after. What they refuse to confront is the reality that nothing in the world is like manna from heaven. In any policy change, some people benefit a lot and some people don’t. And this point also applies to immigration, which has created the dynamics of where we are now.

I found the interview interesting throughout. Most TPM commenters were outraged, but their anger, in my opinion, was not matched by coherent argument, facts, and logic.

Borjas points out that there is a humanitarian argument for low-skilled immigration, but also invites the question of how humanitarian can a program be that is mainly at the expense of the poorest Americans?

Borjas also demolishes the argument immigrants just take jobs that Americans don't do:

Borjas: You hear that argument all the time. This summer, the newspapers were reporting that in Cape Cod, because of a shortage of immigrants, employers had to go out and offer higher wages. This real-world response is worth thinking about. The argument isn’t that natives won’t take jobs that immigrants will. The argument is really that there are jobs that natives won’t take at the going wage. That’s a very different argument. In the absence of immigrants, employers will respond. And the usual response is to make a more attractive job offer. If you and I go to Cape Cod and demand a hamburger, believe me, somebody will provide it.

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