Bryan Caplan  

Half Million Rally Against Anti-Foreign Bias

Everything You Ever Wanted to ... My take on anti-foreign bias...

It's not often that economic literacy has half a million people march on its behalf. From the AP:

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Thousands of immigration advocates marched through downtown Los Angeles in one of the largest demonstrations for any cause in recent U.S. history.

More than 500,000 protesters - demanding that Congress abandon attempts to make illegal immigration a felony and to build more walls along the border - surprised police who estimated the crowd size using aerial photographs and other techniques, police Cmdr. Louis Gray Jr. said.

I am one of those people who thinks that stereotypes are usually accurate statistical generalizations. But whenever I visit my parents in L.A., I am struck by the contrast between the popular stereotype of the lazy Hispanic and the stark reality that Hispanics are doing 80% of all the hard work. The protestors are as tired of this as I am:

"We construct your schools. We cook your food," rapper Jorge Ruiz said after performing at a Dallas rally that drew 1,500. "We are the motor of this nation, but people don't see us. Blacks and whites, they had their revolution. They had their Martin Luther King. Now it is time for us."

Many protesters said lawmakers were unfairly targeting immigrants who provide a major labor pool for America's economy.

"Enough is enough of the xenophobic movement," said Norman Martinez, 63, who immigrated from Honduras as a child and marched in Los Angeles. "They are picking on the weakest link in society, which has built this country."

And in a longer version of the article:

Elsa Rodriguez, 30, a trained pilot who came to Colorado in 1999 from Mexico to look for work, said she just wants to be considered equal.

"We're like the ancestors who started this country, they came from other countries without documents, too," the Arvada resident. "They call us lazy and dirty, but we just want to come to work. If you see, we have families, too."

Of course, no attack on the common sense of economics is complete without a politician's crocodile tears. Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis...

...defended the legislation, saying he's trying to stop people from exploiting illegal immigrants for cheap labor, drug trafficking and prostitution.

"Those who do that are 21st-century slave masters, just like the 19th-century slave masters that we fought a civil war to get rid of," Sensenbrenner said at the meeting. "Unless we do something about illegal immigration, we're consigning illegal immigrants to be a permanent underclass, and I don't think that's moral."

Right, the moral thing is to boot them back to their home countries, which are, apparently, earthly paradises that immigrants leave for no reason at all in order to work cheap, deal drugs, and sell their bodies.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (43 to date)
Grzegorz writes:

"We construct your schools. We cook your food," rapper Jorge Ruiz said after performing at a Dallas rally that drew 1,500. "We are the motor of this nation, but people don't see us. Blacks and whites, they had their revolution. They had their Martin Luther King. Now it is time for us."

This demographic is the motor of our nation? Please...

It is these types of comments that fan the flames of racial prejudice.

Bryan you have to quit looking at this through your economic kaleidoscope; enforce the existing laws. Modify the immigration laws if need demands such action; crack down on businesses that violate laws.

A porous border means trouble; trouble for social services, trouble for education, and trouble for local, state, and national security.

JohnJ writes:

We need to take the "illegal" out of illegal immigration first by preventing further illegal immigration and then by tracking down everyone in this country illegally and adding them to the roster of those waiting to come into the country legally. This will protect the human rights of those already here as well as prevent further drain on our social programs. The United States cannot afford to feed, shelter, and provide free health care for the entire world.

Grzegorz, JohnJ -- I agree. Just look at South Africa. You can't have poor blacks free to go wherever they wish. What if they try to go to school? Or apply for welfare? Or take lawn care jobs from poor white folk?

They should've put up fences around the homelands and boosted the border patrol, not given them the right to vote! And they should've cracked down on those businesses willing to hire blacks "under the table". Work cards and random audits for everyone! Cause if there's one thing citizens need (think of the terrorists!), it's more surveillance.

And it will be the same in the U.S. if we relax our borders and let Mexicans in willy-nilly -- post-apartheid South Africa and 9/11 all rolled into one. I'm not a racist, these are just the facts.

JohnJ writes:

Dude, are you on crack? I have no idea how you managed to get from South African apartheid to the illegal immigration problem here in America, but it would help if you didn't resort to using overly-emotional rhetoric and instead just explained yourself, like Thomas Sowell did:

This is not rocket science. It is elementary supply and demand. Yet we continue to hear about the "need" for immigrants to do jobs that Americans will not do -- even though these are all jobs that Americans have done for generations before mass illegal immigration became a way of life.
There is more to this issue than economics. The same mindless substitution of rhetoric for thinking that prevails on economic issues also prevails on other aspects of immigration.
Bombings in London, Madrid and the 9/11 terrorist attacks here are all part of the high price being paid today for decades of importing human time bombs from the Arab world. That in turn has been the fruit of an unwillingness to filter out people according to the countries they come from.

I highly suggest reading the entire thing.

JohnJ --

Where you happen to have been born is just as arbitrary a characteristic as your skin color. And just as I think that discriminating against someone on the basis of their race is illegitimate, so I reject discriminating against someone on the basis of their country of origin.

The ethical and political principle of equality of all individuals of the human species is now acknowledged by nearly all. It is almost universally accepted that any discrimination between human individuals based on an arbitrary criterion is unjust and must be abolished.

Since the end of interracial apartheid in South Africa, no longer any state in the world openly practices discrimination between humans based on the arbitrary criterion of skin colour. Today, however, another equally arbitrary criterion is still accepted and applied by virtually every state in the world. For a human individual to have been born in some a particular place, from parents of some particular nationality, and thus to possess emself some particular nationality, is a matter of chance, and cannot be taken as a non-arbitrary criterion of discrimination.

Manifesto for the Abolition of International Apartheid

I have read Sowell's essay. The arguments that he and other nativists make in support of immigration restrictions are the same arguments that South African separatists made in support of apartheid -- that blacks would overwhelm the social services, that they would take jobs from poor whites, that they would commit crime.

Sowell complains that immigrants keep the wages for certain jobs down. While this may be true, is this a bad thing?

Suppose a small town hardware store has to lower prices because another hardware store moves in.

Would the first hardware store owner prefer to block the competition?


But why should we privilege the hardware store owner's desire to charge high prices over the freedom of his customers to choose where to shop? Likewise, why should we privilege high wages for native laborers over the freedom of their customers to purchase low wage Mexican labor?

Sowell points out that immigrants from certain countries are more likely to commit crimes or become terrorists. So what? Black men commit crimes at several times the rate that white women do. Should we pre-emptively restrict the movement of black men based solely on their race and gender?

It is a commonly accepted principle of law that people be punished based on the crimes that they commit, not based on the crimes that someone else commits.

Nativists argue that we should pre-emptively restrict immigrants based on the statistical properties of the groups to which they belong.

Thus, out of fear of a few bad apples, the nativists would restrict the freedom of association and movement of all immigrants, the vast majority of whom are just as peaceful as you or I.

Just like South African white separatists did to the blacks.

Sowell, who is normally a defender of individual freedom and methodological individualism, should be ashamed of himself.

I highly suggest reading the Manifesto for the Abolition of International Apartheid.

Jackson writes:


whatever you may think of people with brown-skin and a different culture, they have just as much right to walk across un-homesteaded land as you or I. The government's supposed "ownership" of the border is as bogus as their supposed ownership of a share of your yearly income. Peaceful mexicans cross the border everyday to work in the U.S., and not you nor any person has the right to stop them.

Other people are not your property, even if their skin color is different from yours. :)

MQ writes:

The desire to limit illegal immigration is a perfectly reasonable concern about domestic wage levels and quality of life. It's ridiculous to call it "economic illiteracy". In fact, the usual argument that "we need immigrants to do work Americans won't do" is a lot closer to economic illiteracy.

The crackpot libertarian idea that national sovereignty is meaningless and a form of oppression could be called "political and sociological illiteracy".

JohnJ writes:

So you're actually suggesting that the American Constitution should apply to everyone in the world? That's an awesome idea! Obviously, if the Constitution doesn't apply to everyone, it's discriminatory, so therefore we should immediately begin rectifying that grave error using whatever force necessary!
Bye, bye, Freedom! Hello, Equality!

What are you going to do when the 3 billion people in China use their newfound American vote to elect our next president?

Where did this idea that I'ma racist come from? (Notice that the same would apply to Thomas Sowell, a black man that I happen to think is far smarter than I am.) I don't recall suggesting anywhere that skin color should be a determining factor in any consideration. Or race. Or ethnicity.
However, country of origin should.
There's also the slight problem that Americans are vastly outnumbered. We make up, like, 5 percent of the world's population. Quite simply, there is no way we could assimilate everyone else in the world that wants to be an American over any short time span.
How would you suggest allowing immigration? Only to those people who come to America's geographic location? Should we allow any and all people who cross our geographic borders the full protections and benefits of American citizenship? I anxiously await hearing your suggestions for fixing immigration.

JohnJ writes:

You nearly took out the real discussion, which is that illigal immigrants crossed into the country illegally. There is such a thing as legal immigration. This involves proceeding through governmental checks to ensure that one is not merely a criminal fleeing from his or her country of origin. Illegal aliens skipped that check. My suggestion is to find them and add them to the waiting list of those currently waiting to enter the country legally while cutting off the ability of others to circumvent the immigration process.
I tell you what, if you're bothered by America's immigration policy, why not work on other country's immigration first? America is not the only country that checks on those who want to enter. In fact, I doubt that there is any country that does not differentiate between citizens and visitors. Especially those visitors that entered the country illegally.
How about we start this idea at your house? After all, you have no right to bar someone from entering your house, since they have just as much of a right to be there as someone who may have been born there.
Go ahead, publish your address so we can see how well this works. According to your own argument, you have absolutely no right to stop anyone from coming into your house.

PJens writes:

A brief interjection...Keep going George Mason!

Ok, I am not defending him, but to try and explain Rep Sensenbrenner's point of view, here in WI illegal immegrants are often taken advantage of. Caplan is correct in saying Mexican transients are very good workers and defy the stereotype. A good part of our military is of Mexican decent, with many non citizens serving.

I am constantly perplexed by the "one size fits all" approach to solving a national problem.

Let me throw this idea out ... I say let each state decide how to deal with THE CURRENT POPULATION OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS in such jurisdiction. Feds ought to decide how to deal with future migration and citizen issues. States are much better set up to handle the current human counting, and benifits/liabilities of the situation. Possibly even on a case by case basis.

TGGP writes:

Like Milton Friedman, I wouldn't have any problem with immigration if there was no welfare state. But there is one. As things are those crossing the southern border are taking out more in government spending than they are putting in through taxes (if they weren't payed under the table more might go in, but then they'd also be less attractive to employers and it still wouldn't balance out).

Some the wackier of my fellow libertarians are enthused by the idea of the system collapsing under the weight of demographic changes, but I don't find it plausible that voters will react to the crisis rationally, especially when a larger proportion of them come from an area whose political culture is often used as a synonym for corruption and failure (sure, not the worst in the world, but that isn't saying much) and is distinctly lacking the classical liberal traditions of the anglosphere.

Furthermore, the overwhelming predominance of one country (Mexico) and to a slightly larger extent region (Latin America) makes assimilation less likely than in the old melting-pot days, especially when our public schools are serving nearly the opposite purpose (celebrating diversity, mulitculturalism and teaching classes in other languages) than in the past when the whole reason they were made mandatory was because of anti-immigrant (more specifically, anti-Catholicism and opposition to the continued use of the German language) sentiment.

Finally, this wave of immigration is further unlike previous ones in that it shows no sign of abating (as the German one did after political issues were sorted out) and they aren't returning to their country after making a bit of money (as half of the Italian immigrants did). On the contrary, the remmitances they send only prop up the continued corruption of Mexico's government and our family re-unification policies seem oriented toward encouraging more.

PJGoober writes:

Immigration taboos
Aug 16, 2005
by Thomas Sowell

Immigration has joined the long list of subjects on which it is taboo to talk sense in plain English. At the heart of much confusion about immigration is the notion that we "need" immigrants -- legal or illegal -- to do work that Americans won't do.
Read more from

Let me emphasize this paragraph of Sowell's:
[If 85 percent of group A are fine people and 95 percent of group B are fine people, that means you are going to be importing three times as many undesirables when you let in people from Group A.]

Think of this in the context of hispanic vs asian immigration.

Here are some excerpts from Heather Macdonald's, The Hispanic Immigrant Gang Plague
[ California: in 1970, Hispanics were 12 percent of the state’s population and 16 percent of new prison admits; by 1998, they were 30 percent of the California population, and 42 percent of new admits.]

[The trends in teen parenthood—the marker of underclass behavior—will almost certainly affect the crime and gang rate. Hispanics now outrank blacks for teen births; Mexican teens have higher birthrates than Puerto Ricans, previously the most “ghettoized” Hispanic subgroup in terms of welfare use and out-of-wedlock child-rearing. In 2002, there were 83.4 births per 1,000 Hispanic females between ages 15 and 19, compared with 66.6 among blacks, 28.5 among non-Hispanic whites, and 18.3 among Asians. Perhaps these young Hispanic mothers are giving birth as wives? Unlikely. In California, where Latina teens have the highest birthrate of teens in any state, 79 percent of teen births to U.S.-born Latinas in 1999 were to unmarried girls.]

[...Many cops and youth workers blame the increase in gang appeal on the disintegration of the Hispanic family. The trends are worsening, especially for U.S.-born Hispanics. In California, 67 percent of children of U.S.-born Hispanic parents lived in an intact family in 1990; by 1999, that number had dropped to 56 percent. The percentage of Hispanic children living with a single mother in California rose from 18 percent in 1990 to 29 percent in 1999. Nationally, single-parent households constituted 25 percent of all Hispanic households with minor children in 1980; by 2000, the proportion had jumped to 34 percent.]

I am makeing a very rational decision that the negative externalities of latin american immigration outweigh the positive ones.

[Note to PJGoober from the EconLog Editor: Your comment has been edited to remove most of Sowell's article, which you pasted in full, and most of MacDonald's article, from which you quoted too many paragraphs. These articles are both under copyright. Please limit your quotes to fair use--only a few paragraphs from any given source. Please focus your EconLog comments on providing your own thoughts, words, explanations, and original writing, which are all welcome here. Also: Please email us at to retain your posting privileges on EconLog. Your email address is required.--EconLog Editor]

JohnJ -- I fully support private property rights. There's a difference between saying that would-be immigrants should be able to peacably travel to the U.S., and saying that they should be able to enter any house they please. If you want to ban all brown people from your property, more power to you. But I don't think you should have the right to decide for me who I associate with. If I want to hire a Mexican or rent an apartment to him, it's none of your damn business.

You and Sowell are the equivalent of racists because you think that an arbitrary characteristic (national origin) should be an important factor in how the law treats people. Unlike you, I think people should be judged on the content of their character, not their country of origin.

The Constitution is just a piece of paper. What's important are the principles behind the Consitution. Yes, a small number of immigrants are allowed in legally. But the process takes years and costs thousands of dollars. In the meantime, many would-be immigrants must live in poverty under authoritarian regimes.

At one time, the Constitution allowed slavery. Should slaves have meekly obeyed the law until the landowners decided slavery was a bad idea after all? I don't think so, and I don't think would-be immigrants should either.

As for the 3 billion Chinese immigrants overwhelming our electoral process (Note: there are only about 1 billion Chinese in China), I favor the following:

1. Eliminate all welfare programs for immigrants--Social Security, government schools, AFDIC, Medicare/Medicaid. This would eliminate any incentives to immigrate just to take advantage of our welfare programs.

2. As a transition measure, I would favor selling citizenship to the U.S. for a fixed fee, equivalent to the median income tax paid for the last three years. The income from the fee would go to the states in proportion to the number of immigrants they house. See the Becker-Posner blog for more details:

3. I would favor a formal mechanism for secession. I think the U.S. has become unmanageably large, and we would all be a lot happier if the country were broken up into smaller countries. That way, all the nativists could move to say, Texas, and the opern borders folk could move to say, California.

4. Governments "services" suck because their customers face such high barriers to exit. Therefore, I favor the development of seasteading technology, which will for the first time, give citizens the means to choose their nation almost as easily as they choose their home:

There are other things I would favor, such as sortition based election schemes (1), and social policy bonds (2), but this post is already quite long.


Ann R. writes:

I know the issue of immigration is tricky, and apparently it is a heated argument for some, but without immigration the economy would be unbalanced. Many argue that immigrants are sucking up resources that could be used by honest Americans, but those immigrants who are here legally are more likely to pay more in taxes then they use in welfare. As for jobs, they are filling jobs that must be done, but are undesirable to locals. For instance, picking grapes is a very low-paying, unstable job that requires a lot of work. Many Americans are unwilling to work with such lousy conditions. In order to boost the supply of American grape pickers, wages must increase. This increase of wages raises the price of grapes. The average American, unwilling to pay more for a bunch of grapes will decrease the demand for grapes. In order to restore equilibrium, the price of grapes will have to drop which in turn would drop labor costs. Those willing to work at for the lower wages are immigrant workers. Since Americans are unwilling to pay higher prices the need for immigrant workers exists. I recommend reading “The No-Nonsense Guide to International Migration” by Peter Stalker, where many of these issues of immigration are clarified with valid arguments from both sides.

Bryan, others -- How do you balance your cheerleading for illegal immigrants with your respect for the preferences of your countrymates? Last I looked (and depending on the poll), 60-80% of current Americans think immigration is out of control and would like to see it restricted more than it currently is. Do you suggest ... I dunno, ignoring this fact? But doesn't that represent a kind of bigotry against your fellow Americans? Or perhaps you consider caring about your country, being attached to it, and respecting the prefs of your countrymates to be awful things?

JohnJ writes:

"You and Sowell are the equivalent of racists because you think that an arbitrary characteristic (national origin) should be an important factor in how the law treats people. Unlike you, I think people should be judged on the content of their character, not their country of origin."

You wanna call me a racist? I'll call you a stupid, ignorant, worthless moron.
These are just words, though. What's important is the spirit behind them.
You use an arbitrary characteristic to determine how you will treat people as well. Every one of your suggestions is based on the same arbitrary characteristic that we're discussing (national origin). I mean, how do you rationalize this? That's the most moronic thing I've ever heard! I'm racist because I want illegal immigrants to go through our immigration process, but you're not because you want to eliminate welfare for immigrants (after saying over and over that that's just an arbitrary distinction), and then SELL them citizenship! How hypocritical! And that can only be done if they actually go through the immigration process!
We can judge the content of an illegal immigrant already based on the fact that they decided to commit the crime of entering the country illegally. No significant country in the world does not distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants. Unlike your claim that I'm racist, my claim that you're stupid, ignorant, worthless, moronic and hypocritical is actually backed by evidence.
The fact that you want to break up the United States clearly indicates that you're just insane. I'll make you a deal. You can go help the communist countries settle their problems with what you apparently think of as your incredibly visionary wisdom, since they're far more in need of someone to help them with their problems than the United States is.

Misha writes:

Hi! I am from Russia. I am interesting about privatization, but i cant find RSS link anythere =(

[Misha: You can find the RSS feed in the left-hand column of this article's permanent link. You can find some articles on privatization in the Concise Encyclopedia of Economics: Privatization, by Madsen Pirie and by searching Econlib books..--EconLog Editor]

superdestroyer writes:

Am I the only one who notice that an economics professor living in a county of Virginia that has almost no native born blue collar workers and whose standard of living is subsidized by the lowering of blue collar wages is arguing for eliminating the US border so that the whole country can be like Fairfax County?

If you have unlimited immigration to the US then where are native born blue collar Americans suppose to immigrant since there will be no place for them in the US anymore?

JohnDewey writes:

Michael Blowhard,

Polls can be used to make a case for just about anything. The real preferences of Americans will be shown if their representatives vote for the many billions in higher taxes necessary to eliminate illegal immigration. Just consider what would be required:

1. a 2,000 mile unpenetrable Mexican border;
2. a 3,800 mile unpenetrable Canadian border;
3. 24 hour tracking of all visitors to this country;
4. thorough inspection of every vehicle and rail car that crosses our borders.

Will Americans support these expenses? I doubt it.

Adam writes:

Don't be ridiculous. You can be anti-illegal immigration without being anti-foreign.

Acting as though the hardworking hispanics of this country are mostly illegals is both unsupportable and laughable. As the son of legal hispanic immigrants, I find it reprehensible that illegals are banding together and making demands from a country they have, by definition, already broken the laws of and do not vote in.

JohnDewey writes:


Are you sure that Mexican immigrants are using more in social services than they are paying in taxes? I've seen several recent studies showing that Mexican immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in government benefits. They pay property taxes passed on by landlords through rents. They pay the same sales taxes we all pay. They pay the same gasoline taxes we all pay. Millions of them pay payroll taxes by using someone else's name and social security numbers, often the number of a dead person or of a non-citizen who left the country.

JohnJ -- If it were up to me, I would open the borders, and eliminate all welfare programs, for citizens and non-citizens alike.

However, eliminating them for immigrants is politically feasible right now, eliminating them for everyone isn't. And eliminating welfare for immigrants would eliminate one of a large class of objections to open borders.

Likewise, as I wrote, selling citizenship is a transitional measure. The constituency for open borders is too small right now. Selling citizenship would create a larger constituency for immigration, as well as being more fair than our current system. I would support gradually lowering the price to zero, thus giving people time to get used to a substantially increased immigrant population.

So yes, a couple of my proposals do include recognition of national origin as a criteria, at least initially. But they are means, not ends. The end I seek is the elimination of all discrimination based on national origin.

JohnDewey writes:

Mr. Rasch,

You are referring to illegal immigrants in your last post, right?

Do you really feel that closing public schools to children of immigrants benefits our nation? Society cannot be better off if we increase its portion that is illiterate.

As I pointed out above, illegal immigrants do pay for most public services through their sales taxes, property taxes (included in rents), and, in many cases, payroll taxes. If we deny them those services they paid for, would they be entitled to a refund on the taxes they paid? That's only fair, isn't it?

Isn't providing public health beneficial to all of us? Wouldn't all the population suffer more disease if an underclass were denied medical treatment? For that matter, wouldn't we grow tired of seeing immigrants crippled and sick because our public facilities were closed to them? My guess is that we'd see more private, non-profit health clinics. I hope that doesn't happen, for I believe that illegal immigrants are paying their way, and are deserving of quality health care.

JohnDewey -- I think ending government controlled, tax-subsidized schools would benefit everyone, not just immigrants.

Yes, I think literacy benefits everyone, but I think government schools do a terrible job of teaching basic literacy.

Likewise, I think we would have better healthcare if we paid for it ourselves. I think we would see the return of immigrant mutual aid societies, which provided healthcare to the indigent before government controlled programs drove them out of existence.

And eliminating tax-subsidized schools and healthcare would make moot the objections from nativists that immigrants are moving simply to take advantage of our welfare system. If your concern is for the poor and illiterate, I think the ability to move freely back and forth across borders would be of much more benefit to immigrants than tax-subsidized healthcare.

JohnDewey writes:

Mr. Rasch:

"I think government schools do a terrible job of teaching basic literacy."

We disagree on this point. I think your statement is too broad. My small business has hired dozens of very literate kids who were the products of public schools. Certainly many inner city school districts are doing a poor job, and a little private sector competition might work wonders.

"If your concern is for the poor and illiterate, I think the ability to move freely back and forth across borders would be of much more benefit to immigrants than tax-subsidized healthcare."

My concern is mainly for the strength of our economy, not for the suffering of the poor. I believe immigrants provide huge economic benefits to our nation. I would prefer controlled but generous immigration. However, I'm not willing to pay the many billions that totally controlled immigration will require.

I do care about the children of the poor who live in this country. I would want them to receive medical treatment even if their parents refuse to pay for it or cannot afford it. I'm not sure how to do that most fairly and most efficiently.

JohnJ writes:

Chris, nice dream. Best of luck with that one.
For those of us in reality, the issue of illegal immigration, as differentiated from legal immigration, is a serious issue that must be dealt with, since different nations have different laws for their citizens. Until one government rules the world, all countries will have to deal with immigration by monitoring travel and prohibiting unaithorized immigration.

TGGP writes:

I may not be a public choice expert, but I'd never confuse politicians actions with "revealed preference".

I'd like to end the welfare state, immigration or no immigration. However, that seems less likely a possibility than the border being closed (the public supports it by large margins). The more immigration we have, the less likely the end of the welfare state seems to me.

For stats on the taxes vs. expenditures of immigrants see here:

Mr. Econotarian writes:

"Yiddish was the language of the more than two million Jewish immigrants who came to the U.S. from Eastern Europe at the turn of the twentieth century...In New York alone, 23 stations broadcast dramas, variety programs, man-on-the street interviews, music, commercials, even editorials in rhyme."

"From 1905 until World War 1, An average of more than 1,000,000 immigrants a year came to the United States." (at a time the US population was under 100 million)

How did we survive??? Oh yeah, that whole market thing must have worked.

JM writes:

I suggest the MinuteMen go to the international airports and garland everyone who disembarks from a flight originating from Mexico and gets his/her passport stamped by the immigration officer. This should clear up whether they are racist or merely 'legalist'. Then they should call for a wall or deportation of all criminal illegals or whatever.

To those who are in favor of abolishing all national borders - are you serious? Would you allow all scruffy, poor strangers into your house and agree to care for them in perpetuity, feed and school their children in return for housekeeping services? Would your teenager like it if the pocket money she would get from doing these tasks be stopped and given to the newcomers?

Mr. Econotarian writes:

"For stats on the taxes vs. expenditures of immigrants see here:"

This analysis only takes into account the current taxes and expeditures of immigrants, not their long-term cost/benefit, nor including the cost/benefit of their children. Research shows that even first generation immigrants have significant income rises over time spent in the U.S.

It also does not take into account the current value add of their labor minus wages to their employers (and thus the economy).

So yes, it might cost THE GOVERNMENT less to throw them out now, but it might cost THE PEOPLE more as the labor pool goes away.

(I have a recent immigrant painting my house right now, which allows me to go to work instead...right there, value added).

Mr. Econotarian writes:

"Would you allow all scruffy, poor strangers into your house and agree to care for them in perpetuity, feed and school their children in return for housekeeping services?"

I know plenty of people with live-in immigrant domestic help, sometimes with the kids in tow as well. Usually their kids grow up and get better jobs, then the mom retires and takes care of the grandchildren. In one case, the immigrant maid started her own chain of restaurants.

Amazing what that market thing can do...

JohnDewey writes:


You cited the Steven Camarota study that shows an ilegal alien household consumes $2,736 more in federal government sevices than it pays in federal taxes. The big problem with that study is the $3,115 allocation of miscellaneous federal government expenses to all U.S. households. That allocation includes highway infrastructure costs, subsidies to businesses, small business loans, FDA inspections, and much more that have nothing to do with illegal alien households. That methodology is questionable.

What's missing from the Camarota study is the increase in U.S. GDP arising from alien household expenditures. Most of aliens' income is not sent back to their home country. Instead it is plowed back into the U.S. economy. Camarota makes no allowance for that benefit.

On the state tax ledger, the other table referenced uses California rather than a U.S. average to estimate expenses. He charges alien households with the very high California cost of services such as schooling. It is true that low-income alien families do not fuly fund their children's education, just as all low-income families in the U.S. do not. We have collectively decided that the burden of education should fall disproportionately on higher income families and on business. It seems incorrect to me to charge the effect of this funding decision to the cost of alien families. We generally regard childhood education as an investment in the future. As such, the future benefit of the educated children of aliens should be included in any cost-benefit analysis.

If we insist on including education investment, then we should also include the offsetting economic benefit aliens bring to the businesses that fund education. After all, those businesses pass the costs of school taxes on to their customers.

We could use government statistics to show that every low income family in the U.S. is paying less in taxes than receiving in expenses. That will not eliminate our need for low income workers. The problem is that government spends too much, not that alien families cost too much.

JM writes:
I know plenty of people with live-in immigrant domestic help, sometimes with the kids in tow as well.
That is not the same, is it? The domestic help was negotiated and maybe even contracted out. But in the case of illegal aliens, they are here against the wishes of the host country.
Amazing what that market thing can do...
Yup, it will certainly depress the wages of the lower classes, especially African Americans, if the unskilled labor market is flooded with unlimited supply.
Scott writes:

Random thoughts as I peruse the commentary

Christoper Rasch:
If welfare programs were to be eliminated for all immigrants, couldn't one make the case that they shouldn't have to pay taxes related to those programs?

Regarding the secession plan, how is that any different from people's ability to move to different countries now? Maybe I'm not clear on the reasons for this, but is this really an immigration issue. Couldn't you divide a country into an infinite amount of areas based on different issues.

This is a difference between publicly funding education and government-run schools. Publicly funded education can be achieved through school voucher programs. Having a well educated workforce in the future benefits everyone.

Michael Blowhard:
Just because a majority of people feel a certain way, doesn't mean they're necessarily right. That's moral relativism.

I'm curious to know if your ability to judge the content of people covers everyone who breaks any law. I would hope you've never broken any law as that might say something about your character. By your reasoning, in a different time you could say that any slave who broke the law for simply wanting to be free deserved punishment according to the laws of the time.

You can't equate national borders with private property. To suggest that allowing immigrants into a country is equivalent to allowing "all scruffy, poor strangers into your house" is a straw man. No one, but the property owner themselves, has the right to dictate who can or can't enter that property. If you don't want to exclude a certain group from your property, great, that's your right. But what gives you the right to say who I can allow onto my property?

JohnJ writes:

I'm curious to know if your ability to judge my character is worth my caring about.
Nope, it's not.
If you want to argue issues, argue issues. If you want to debate ideas, debate ideas. If you want to sling personal attacks, I'm more than willing to stand my character up against anyone's.
My purpose here, though, is to share ideas and learn. That's a purpose that gets hampered when someone starts attacking me personally without any reason. Calling someone a racist when discussing illegal immigration does absolutely nothing for the discussion.
It's certainly not going to help me learn where I may be wrong, if I am wrong.

I would have no problem with giving immigrants a refund if they don't have access to the things for which their taxes pay.

Moving to a new country is quite costly -- you have to learn a new language, a new culture, make new friends, leave behind family, etc. Formalized secession mechanisms would allow more people to have governments more to their liking, without the costs associated with moving to a new country.

If vouchers were implemented, how long before governments start imposing increasingly stringent strings on how those funds are spent?

John S Bolton writes:

Paul Krugman, in the NYT, 3-27-06, p. A19, tells us that:"Unfortunately, low-skill immigrants don't pay enough taxes to cover the cost of the benefits they receive."
Is this anti-foreign bias or economic ignorance? No, it's knowledge and impartial facts.
Birthplace is of great significance relative to the moral standing of those who receive net public subsidy. For a foreigner to come in on net public subsidy, is a hostile act, and one that makes him accesory to the treason that increased the aggression on the net taxpayer in this way.
The nation cannot mean less than that we owe loyalty to the net taxpayer, and any of our fellow citizens who are attacked by foreigners here.
Officials, even anarcholibertarians, owe loyalty to the citizen who is attacked by immigrants on net public subsidy; they owe a loyalty which does not permit taking the side of the aggressive foreigner.

Scott writes:


Exactly where in my post did I call you a racist?

You stated "We can judge the content of an illegal immigrant already based on the fact that they decided to commit the crime of entering the country illegally."

My question is, do you believe there is such a thing as an unjust law? If not, do you judge the content of everyone who has committed a crime equally whether it's littering or murder?

In my world, there's a difference between a litterer and a murderer even though both have committed a crime. If you want to debate the issue, focus on the legitimacy of immigration laws and whether they are just or not, not the content of people who break that law.

Scott writes:

John S. Bolton,

Even if a low-skill immigrant does not pay enough in taxes to cover the benefits they receive, that does not necessarily mean they are a burden on the net. There are other benefits they add that aren't measured in tax revenues. If they provide services at a lower cost they are creating a benefit for consumers. If a business can save X dollars by hiring low-skill immigrants that isn't measured in tax revenues directly.

Rantly McTirade writes:

As someone who's degree was in financial economics, and who's spent nearly a quarter-century seeing(by making a living managing investment portfolios) how economic theory is only tangentally-and occasionally-relevant to the real world(even the 'economic' real world), let me say that this column-and the comments attempting a statistical justification for ignoring illegal aliens-are a great example why economists and their pronouncements are viewed with contempt, hilarity or some combination thereof by nearly everyone else with real-life experience(i.e., basically, everybody). As to the defense of illegals as a way of showing how wonderful 'the market' is, a market does depend on the establishment of a certain rule set that can be expected to be applied to all participants equally; those who hire illegals to work are violating one of the rules(i.e., that one may only hire those who are lawfully present in the country to work at a job)that define the labor market.
More generally, as others have noted, the view of a vast majority of American citizens is that there is more to life than economics- and there is more to economics than 'maximum efficiency/utility'. However, the political process does not reflect this(I don't claim that it fully reflects the 'maximum e/u' point, either), obviously, and therefore we may see a term bandied about recently-'civil war'-become much more relevant to our domestic affairs in the months and years ahead than anyone has yet imagined.

John S Bolton writes:

Quite so; economics proceeds on the basis of harmony of interests, while this has little to do with items like power, where conflict is the rule.
If there are hidden benefits of below average income immigrants' presence; how is it that these are not expressed in the wages they receive?
Employers can pass hidden costs onto the net taxpayer or the general public; but hidden benefits are not so easily concealed from other employers.
No one ever mentions the costs of having additional low income customers on businesses which are required , by mere aggression, to deal with that undesirable traffic.
Utilities are especially affected, and retail after them, perhaps.
Would this cost be less than $1,000 per adult immigrant? It could be thousands per, yet it is somehow, never considered quite acceptable to mention this as a concomitant increase of aggression with immigration, as of our antimerit sort.

JohnDewey writes:

John S. Bolton writes:
"Paul Krugman, in the NYT, 3-27-06, p. A19, tells us that:'Unfortunately, low-skill immigrants don't pay enough taxes to cover the cost of the benefits they receive.'
Is this anti-foreign bias or economic ignorance? No, it's knowledge and impartial facts."

Paul Krugman may have used facts to draw conclusions about benefits received by immigrants. But he probably made the same mistakes that Steven Camarota made. It is important that an analysis of immigrant costs include only marginal costs and not an allocation based on average government cost per household. It is equally important that taxes paid by businesses but passed through to immigrants be included as well.

Other studies by both conservatives and liberals have provided important insights about the immigrant population:

- the late conservative economist Julian Simon calculated that native U.S. citizens receive more in government benefits than do immigrants;

- a Cato Institute study found that immigrants paid 48% as much in taxes as the average American family, but received only 32% as much in government benefits;

- the Urban Institute estimated in the mid-90's that immigrants contributed $30 billion more in taxes than they receive each year, a number that has no doubt risen since then;

- Rachel M. Friedberg of Brown University and Jennifer Hunt of Yale University determined that immigrants create many more jobs than they fill;

- economists Paul Krugman and Elise S. Brezis concluded that immigrant expenditures in the U.S. encourage investment and, over time, increase the number of jobs in the U.S.;

- the National Academy of Sciences determined that immigrants provide a net economic benefit to the U.S..

I can't say with certainty that Paul Krugman's most recent statement is incorrect. But this other research certainly seems to cast favorable light on the economic impact of immigrants.

Mr. Bolton, the hard-working Mexicans who build our homes, pick our produce, serve our food, and clean our buildings are not attacking our nation or its citizens. They're making us stronger just as every other immigrant group has done in our history.

victoria writes:

i dont think immigration should be ilegal,because everyone living in america are immigrant except for the America indians. and also i think that the government should limit the rate of immigrant the let into america each year. the most population of ilegal immigrant are from mexico. i understand if the lawmaker are targeting the hispanic, itz because they make the most population. and the america border is close to mexico so the have more chances than the other countries.

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