Editor’s note: This is the third installment in an ongoing debate about U.S. immigration policy, featured exclusively at WND. This column responds to Cafe Con Leche Republicans President Bob Quasius’ piece, “Solution to illegals problem: More foreign workers,” which was a rebuttal to the series’ initial column by The Center for Immigration Studies’ Steven Camarota, “No ‘green card lite’ for illegal aliens.” Be watching WND for Quasius’ subsequent response to this column.
Five issue areas require examination to understand how Bob Quasius misapprehends immigration in his reply to my first column. First, immigration policy should not only reflect what the business community wants, but should also take into account our ability to assimilate and integrate immigrants. Second, amnesty and increased immigration have been tried before, and it did not solve the problem. Third, there is no evidence of a labor shortage. Fourth, immigration scarcely impacts the aging of society. Lastly, immigration creates very minimal economic gains for natives, while generating significant fiscal costs.
Let’s start with the facts in regard to current immigration. In 2010 there were 40 million immigrants (about one-fourth illegal) in the country, accounting for one in eight U.S. residents compared to one in 20 residents in 1970. With the notable exception of the period 1860 to 1920, the immigrant portion of our population is higher now than at any time in our history. Each year 1 million immigrants receive “green cards” – permanent residence. In addition, about 700,000 long-term visitors enter annually, primarily guest workers, foreign students and their families.
Amazingly, Bob actually wants to substantially increase these numbers. The Senate Gang of Eight bill roughly doubles both legal permanent immigration and guest workers. Bob, like the authors of the Gang of Eight bill, gives no thought to the impact on schools, infrastructure, the health-care system or American workers. Furthermore, unlike the last great wave of immigration a century ago, multi-culturalism and grievous-based politics are unfortunately now permanent features of our political system. Given this reality, doubling legal immigration seems grossly irresponsible.
Moreover, we’ve tried the increase-immigration-and-amnesty approach before. We amnestied 2.7 million illegal immigrants in 1986 and changed immigration laws in 1990; as a result, legal immigration is double today what it was in the 1980s. It didn’t solve the problem of illegal immigration, and it made the problems created by legal immigration worse.
Part of the reason the last amnesty and increase in legal immigration did not solve the problem is that we never actually enforced our laws. Also, by increasing legal immigration we stimulated even more illegal immigration by creating more social networks of friends and family who tell perspective illegal immigrants in the home countries about conditions here and provide jobs, housing and entry to America.
Research shows that having a legal relative in the country provides one of the best predictors of whether an individual will migrate illegally to the United States. Of Mexican households with a family member living in the United States legally, nearly half also have a member living in the United States illegally. The top sending countries for illegal immigration are also the top sending countries for legal immigration. If we do as Bob wants, we will repeat the mistakes of the past. Reducing immigration levels by enforcing the law and lowering legal immigration would be good for the poorest American workers, taxpayers and help with assimilation.
As I indicated in my column that started things off here at WND, all the evidence shows no labor shortage in the United States. A near consensus exists among economist that real wages have declined or stagnated for about three decades, as immigration has grown. If workers were in short supply, the price of labor, which is wages, should be rising quickly. In addition 57 million working-age Americans are not working, and the share of Americans holding a job has been in decline for a long time. Testimonials from employers who want access to more foreign workers provide the only piece of evidence that we need more workers.
Bob Quasius also embraces the mistaken notion that immigration will make America much younger. Demographers, the people who study human populations, have known this is not the case for a long time. In an important article published 21 years ago in Demography, the leading journal in the field, Carl Schmertmann explained mathematically why immigration does not significantly rejuvenate aging societies. In a paper presented at the annual meeting of demographers last year, my co-authors and I made the same point. As a Census Bureau report published in 2000 pointed out, immigration is a “highly inefficient” means of increasing the percentage that is of working age in the long run.
Remember, although immigrants arrive relatively young, they age just like everyone else. In 2010 the average age of all immigrants was 43, compared to 37 for natives. In terms of the birth rate, women living in America have two children. When immigrants are excluded, the figure is 1.9 children – an increase of just 0.1 births per woman, or 5 percent. Yes, America is aging but immigration will not fix the problem.
Consideration must also be given to the economic and fiscal impact of immigration. There is no question immigration makes the U.S. economy (GDP) larger – about 11 percent larger ($1.6 trillion), according to George Borjas of Harvard, the nation’s leading immigration economist. But, Borjas cautions, “This contribution to the aggregate economy, however, does not measure the net benefit to the native-born population.” This is because 98 percent of the increase in GDP goes to the immigrants themselves in the form of wages and benefits.
Borjas’ calculations also show that immigration redistributes about $400 billion annually from workers in competition with immigrants – mostly at the bottom of labor market – to business owners and those workers not in competition with immigrants. The fact that employers lobby so hard for high immigration indicates that a large share of the benefit likely goes to them. The same analysis shows that there is a tiny net gain for natives from this large redistribution equal to $35 billion or 0.2 percent of GDP in the United States. Immigrants also gain by coming to America, but this comes at the expense of the native-born working poor.
Bob also ignores the fiscal impact – taxes paid by immigrants minus services used. A Heritage Foundation study published earlier this year found that the average illegal immigrant household created a net fiscal drain (taxes paid minus services used) of about $14,000 a year, and the average legal immigrant household created a net drain of about $4,000 annually.
Most immigrants hold jobs, but as the Heritage study makes clear, the fiscal drain is caused by the large share who arrive as adults with relatively little schooling. This results in lower average incomes, lower average tax payments and higher use of welfare programs. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 1997 estimated a net fiscal drain from immigrant household at $11 to $20 billion dollars a year. At the time, the NAS estimated that the fiscal drain created by immigrant households (legal and illegal) was larger than the economic benefit. This is almost certainly still true today.
We have tried the mass immigration route espoused by Quasius for the last four decades. American workers have not fared well, and the impact on schools, the health-care system and taxpayers has made a difficult situation worse. What we need is to actually enforce our laws and reduce the overall level of immigration, putting the interest of the American people, including legal immigrants already here, ahead of ethnic pressure groups or businesses in search of cheap labor.
Concerned about the impact of illegal aliens on the United States? Don’t miss Tom Tancredo’s book, “In Mortal Danger: The Battle for America’s Border and Security” — and with your purchase get a free copy of “Minutemen: The Battle to Secure America’s Borders”!