Saturday, February 16, 2008
Let Them Come
Julie recently put up a post that highlighted how various Bible characters would be treated by our government if they tried to immigrate to the United States today. In the comments I suggested that we should perhaps return to the days of open immigration and let anyone who wants to come to America. While at the time I was just sort of thinking out loud, the more I think about it, the more sense it makes, especially after reading this recent article in the Economist.

According to the article (and I've heard many other globalization experts say the same thing) immigration is actually a good thing economically, both for the sending and the receiving countries. In fact, immigration is one of the factors that has kept the economy in both America and Europe strong over the past few decades, despite declining birthrates. So why keep people out at all? Why not have an open immigration policy and let anyone who wants to come to the United States come?

The benefits of open immigration are manifold in my opinion. Besides the boost to our economy through the presence of more workers (and therefore more consumers), we would also benefit from the following:

1) We could more effectively prevent employers from taking advantage of low-wage migrant workers, and thereby protect American jobs by eliminating the cheap illegal labor that undercuts wages, while at the same time ensuring that immigrants are afforded the same labor protections that any other American citizen receives.

2) The current drain on public resources by illegal immigrants would be offset once millions of currently illegal immigrants start paying taxes into the system.

3) We will be able to keep tighter security over our ports and borders from potential terrorists since there would no longer be any reason for honest, law-abiding immigrants to enter illegally. Fewer people trying to come here illegally makes it easier to catch the ones who are, and makes it more likely that those who do are coming for more nefarious purposes than simple employment.

And besides all of this, the most important reason for open immigration is simply the fact that we would be able to help hundreds of thousands of people living in desperation and poverty achieve a better life for themselves and their families by sharing with them some of the wealth and opportunities of this nation. We'd be able to live up to the words of the poem found at the base of the Statue of Liberty:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The article also pointed out that number of illegal immigrants is already far less than the number who do come here legally each year. America let's in around 1 million legal immigrants every year, and according to best estimates, another 500,000 enter illegally. That's only 50% more. And even if total immigration doubled under an open policy, we're still only talking about 2 million people a year: two million more tax-payers, two million more consumers, two million more workers to help grow our economy.

So why not? If it's good for them and it's good for us, then why not let them come? Instead of obsessing over how to keep illegal immigrants out and what to do about the ones that are already here, why not simply get rid of the concept of "illegal" immigration altogether?


posted by Mike Clawson at 3:12 PM | Permalink |


At 2/16/2008 05:48:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous

I agree fully. Another plus would be the ability to do better disease screening at borders, limiting the effect of pandemic disease. And most importantly, I've never been a fan of trying to force people to stay on one side or the other of some imaginary line. The only possible justification for such a behavior would be that the people born on one side are somehow inherently superior, which is utter nonsense.


At 2/18/2008 08:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Mike, I don't know much about the current restrictions on immigration. What are they? As you point out, the US lets in a whole lot of people legally every year, so it seems like the restrictions can't be all that draconian - even if they have harsh results in some individual cases. Is it strictly a numbers-based thing? As in, we'll only allow a certain number per year?

I know there are restrictions based on whether someone has a violent criminal past or possible ties to organizations that support terrorism. But that can't be applicable to the vast majority of illegals. What is the particular policy that makes them unable to immigrate legally?

I guess this policy suggestion would ideally apply in all directions. So, once everyone moved to the US who wants to be here, if several million Americans decided they wanted to move to the south coast of France, the French would have to allow it?


At 2/18/2008 04:52:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I don't know the details Karl, but I'm sure you can find them online. AFAIK there is a limit both in total number and in the kinds of people that will be let in. I think there is strong preference given to people who already have family members here, as well as to skilled workers (e.g. doctors, engineers, etc.) which contributes to "brain drain" in developing countries.


At 2/19/2008 09:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

It looks like the base of the current policy is a system letting in a set number of immigrants per year from the Eastern and Western hemispheres, a ceiling of 20,000 per year from any single Western Hemisphere country, with exceptions for family unification and employment visas, which don't count against the numbers. Other laws provide penalties for those who knowingly hire illegal immmigrants, etc. Here's a decent summary, still largely accurate although it's a bit dated:

Author and New York Times Foreign Affairs columnist Thomas Friedman offers his thoughts on immigration in the article below. He favors an expansion of current policy (allow more immigration) but isn't in favor of completely opening the borders.


"We also need to control the influx of immigrants because one byproduct of the flattening of the world is that many decent low- end factory jobs previously open to someone with only a high school degree or less are now disappearing. As Dan Pink notes in his book, "A Whole New Mind," many of those jobs can now be done by a computer faster or by a Chinese worker cheaper. Therefore, we can't just endlessly expand our pool of manual labor, without condemning people at that low end, particularly black men, to a future of declining wages or unemployment. That will have terrible social consequences."


At 2/19/2008 10:02:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

Here's another try with linking Friedman's article: