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Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in an ongoing debate about U.S. immigration policy, featured exclusively at WND. This column by Cafe Con Leche Republicans President Bob Quasius responds to The Center for Immigration Studies’ Steven Camarota, whose latest column was “Aliens’ fiscal drain on America.”
Quasius’ previous piece, “Solution to illegals problem: More foreign workers,” was a rebuttal to the series’ initial column by Camarota, “No ‘green card lite’ for illegal aliens.”
In his latest blog in our debate, Steven Camarota rejects the notion that free-market capitalism should determine immigration levels and instead calls for more of the same progressive-era policies that fuel illegal immigration. When government policy artificially limits the supply of needed goods or services, black markets usually result. Immigration is no exception. Whenever economic demand for immigrant labor greatly exceeds quotas, historically we’ve experienced widespread illegal immigration.
Mr. Camarota justifies a 70 percent cut in legal immigration, claiming there are issues with assimilation and integration of immigrants – but there is scant evidence today’s immigrants don’t assimilate, and in fact recent studies show today’s immigrants master English faster than did 19th century immigrants. Pew Research found 96 percent of Latinos think teaching English to their children is “very important.” Just 2 percent of Latinos think teaching English to their children is not important; the same statistic for native-born Americans is 27 percent.
He presented no evidence to rebut my statistics that legal immigration levels as a percentage of population (0.35 percent) are barely half those of other developed nations (0.60 percent). If assimilation and integration are such an issue, then how are nine nations with higher per capital gross domestic product able to thrive economically while accepting 2 to 10 times as many legal immigrants?
The growing foreign-born population in developed nations reflects global economic integration and changing demographics from the availability of contraception, affluence and educational levels. Our foreign-born population (13 percent) is unremarkably in line with other developed nations (13.2 percent). All but two of nine nations with higher per capita GDP also have higher foreign-born population.
Immigrants dominate the two ends of the skills spectrum, and there are shortages, which wax and wane with the economy. In recent years of the Obama economy, net illegal immigration from Mexico shrank to zero. High-tech employers continue to report major challenges hiring the technical experts needed to remain competitive, and sadly many are relocating R&D and high-tech manufacturing facilities overseas due to lack of enough high-skilled workers. We take in many more foreign students for advanced education than we permit to remain after completing school due to low quotas, in effect educating the cream of the crop, then sending them home to help foreign companies compete with us!
Mr. Camarota blames amnesty for the increase in illegal immigration after 1986. Statistical experts tell us, however, that “correlation does not imply causation.” There’s a correlation between drowning deaths and ice cream consumption, but eating ice cream certainly doesn’t cause drowning. Illegal immigration strongly correlates with tight labor markets and low quotas. In 1996 Congress passed laws that boosted immigration enforcement and border security, and yet we saw a surge in illegal immigration in the late 1990s in response to strong economic growth and tight labor markets.
Historically, America’s experience with mass amnesty shows weak correlation between amnesty and more illegal behavior. Presidents Lincoln and Andrew Johnson both granted amnesty to millions of former confederates, recognizing the impracticality of hanging millions and the need to move forward. If amnesty causes more illegal behavior, we should have experienced many civil wars since 1865!
America’s first mass immigration amnesty came in the late 1920s. Early modern progressives imposed strict immigration quotas in 1921 and 1924, and within a few years there were several million immigrants here illegally, who were given amnesty. Under Camarota’s amnesty-magnet theory, we should have seen widespread illegal immigration afterwards, but instead American experienced net remigration during the 1930s: More immigrants returned home than immigrated here.
The lesson of 1986 is that amnesty as a temporary expedient doesn’t address root causes and won’t solve illegal immigration. Congress promised to follow up with more border security and guest worker programs. Congress did eventually bolster border security, but never addressed guest worker programs.
Work in the U.S. is the main cause of illegal immigration. Each year we admit 1.8 million guest workers and trainees, but have another 7.5 million uninvited “guest workers”; work visas are less than 20 percent of demand, but most guest worker programs are subject to strict quotas and filled each year.
Comparing the current Senate bill with 1986 is comparing apples and oranges. No one is proposing “amnesty” this time, but rather stiff fines and lengthy waits to even apply for permanent resident status. Guest worker programs are massively overhauled, border security is beefed up even more than in the past 20 years, and E-Verify is made mandatory. The 1986 bill clearly failed to address the principal root cause of the problem, ‘kicking the can down the road” rather than fighting big labor unions and population environmentalists.
Again, Mr. Camarota claims we aren’t enforcing immigration laws, but we are. Obama is set to deport his 2 millionth immigrant very soon. Recent statistics from TRAC show criminal prosecutions for immigration offenses escalated in recent decades, including a 76.2 percent surge in prosecutions for felony illegal re-entry during the Obama years.
We cannot deport our way to rational immigration policies without severe self-inflicted wounds on our economy. The Department of Agriculture reports for every on-the-farm worker, there are 3.1 workers in related industries. There are more than 1 million unauthorized immigrant farm workers; remove them through forced or self-deportations and 3.1 million other workers’ jobs are at risk.
Mobility is critical in labor markets. Just because a strawberry farmer in California needs strawberry pickers and can’t find enough doesn’t mean an American who owns a home in New York he can’t sell will abandon that home and move to California to pick strawberries for $20 an hour. Immigrants proved their mobility when they came here and usually are willing to relocate.
In states with crack-downs on unauthorized immigrants, farmers report widespread worker shortages and billions in crop losses. Apparently, not enough unemployed Americans are mobile enough and suited to very hard physical labor – no surprise since over 90 percent of native-born Americans are high school graduates accustomed to better jobs.
Lastly, Steven Camarota cites economic studies based on static scoring, which most economists agree is a deeply flawed methodology, because it doesn’t capture many economic benefits of immigration. Some huge holes in most static scoring models:
- The employers of immigrants create wealth from their employment and pay taxes on that, but static scoring doesn’t capture that.
- Immigrants start business at double the rate of native-born. Self-employment income isn’t counted in static models, nor is the wealth created or income of Americans employed by immigrants.
- The education of immigrants’ children is counted as a cost, but then their income and wealth creation aren’t counted. Heritage Foundation goes out 50 years to fully capture the expenses of elderly immigrants, but completely ignores the income and wealth created by their children and grandchildren. A 2006 study found the children of immigrants will pay $80,000 more in taxes than receive in government services over their lifetime, but Heritage completely misses that.
- If low-skilled immigrants are replaced by citizens, those citizens become eligible for the full range of government programs, and actually cost more than immigrants. Legal immigrants use government programs at low rates. For example, just 30 percent of eligible legal immigrants sign up for Medicaid; for native born it’s 57 percent.
- Heritage assumes 100 percent of newly legalized immigrants sign up for welfare as soon as they become eligible, though they had to prove their income levels were well above poverty levels in order to become permanent residents!
- Static scoring misses the labor interdependency in our economy. Our economy can’t function without workers at all skill levels.
If we applied the same analysis to family planning, anyone not already very wealthy should just stop having children! Because our system of taxation is designed to redistribute wealth, just 20 percent of Americans pay a majority of the taxes, and so 80 percent of Americans are a drain on taxpayers.
Conservatives need to reject the progressivism that created our current broken immigration system and return to immigration policies based on conservative principles including free-market capitalism.