Art Carden  

What I've Been Writing Lately: On Immigration

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Over the summer, I had an exchange on AL.com with Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks about immigration. AL.com declined my rejoinder to Representative Brooks because they generally don't publish back-and-forths, but given that Congress is apparently set to take up immigration next week and in light of Daniel Kuehn's excellent EconLib Featured Article about the subject, I published it this morning on my Forbes site.

For more, here's Bryan Caplan's EconTalk appearance on immigration. Here are a couple of my AL.com contributions on immigration (1, 2) and Representative Brooks' response to my June article. Here is the Winter 2012 issue of the Cato Journal, which discusses immigration.


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COMMENTS (14 to date)
Dan writes:

I agree with Kuehn that the most attractive immigrants are those willing to risk the most to do it. (As an aside I will say that "Skin in the game" is the most important factor in the success or failure of government policy, whether it is housing, education, healthcare or finance)

So the paradox should be obvious. The higher the immigration barrier the higher the quality of the immigrant, and vice-versa. And hopefully Kuehn can appreciate that passing an amnesty act every generation is not a long-term solution either. The expectation of amnesty effectively lowers the cost of illegal immigration. This is akin to the parent who keeps telling the kid that his bad behavior will eventually demand harsh punishment. It doesn't take long for the kid to figure out the parent is bluffing and that misbehaving is worth it.

A productive society relies on cultural expectations that encourage exchanging short-term pain for long-term gain. A nation needs people who appreciate the value of human capital and who make decisions based on the long-term. (Thus another paradox of the current immigration argument is the need for companies to fill jobs NOW, ie a short-term fix for a short-term problem)

The policy question is to determine the immigration standard that invites as many of those who are willing to put their own skin into the game and who are able to make long-term decisions while discouraging all others. That current government methods fail or are outright oppressive does not justify walking away from this objective.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Yes I definitely agree Dan. That article was based on a blog post where I more or less said the same thing - that yo-yoing amnesty is an awful way to get the benefit of selection effects.

I didn't make it quite as clear in this article, although I did note the other side of that equation: that it's terrible burdensome strategy on undocumented immigrants themselves just so we can get a "well selected" inflow.

I think the obvious answer to all this is that these tendencies to pick the most desirable immigrants is a bad outlook in general - that we really need to drop that way of thinking about the problem and open up to all comers (I'm not necessarily an open borders advocate - we can ensure it's orderly and secure, but it should be extremely liberal).

I have an article coming out in this month's issue of Regulation magazine on the same topic (although only on high skill immigrants in this case). At the end I cite Emma Lazarus's poem The New Colossus and how far we've strayed from that ideal. High skill visas send exactly the opposite message from the one Lazarus was communicating.

Daniel Kuehn writes:

The selection argument, though, is more that these are the people that truly benefit from immigration. It's not really an argument that they are more "desirable" for the U.S. than some other potential migrant. It's really the opposite - it's a signal that they desire the U.S. more fervently than other potential migrants.

I'm open to all comers, but I am particularly excited about the migrants that are excited to come here, and if more people thought like that I think you'd see a very different attitude towards undocumented immigrants.

johnleemk writes:
I'm not necessarily an open borders advocate - we can ensure it's orderly and secure, but it should be extremely liberal
I'm not sure how far you disagree with open borders advocates on this point. It's a common restrictionist talking point to reduce open borders to some artsy-fartsy "tear down the borders and let invading armies rampage across our fertile plains" position, but I've never met an open borders advocate who actually favoured a border policy allowing armed criminals or invading armies to cross borders freely.

As the very second sentence on the home page of openborders.info states: "The term “open borders” is used to describe a world where there is a strong presumption in favor of allowing people to migrate and where this presumption can be overridden or curtailed only under exceptional circumstances." I fervently embrace open borders because I think anyone should be able to migrate as long as they do not pose a threat to order or security (something which in my book would qualify as an exceptional circumstance, since the vast majority of people on earth are neither a member of an armed force nor a criminal).

Where I part ways with most restrictionists and mainstream thought is that I simply do not see migrants in general as a threat to order or security. And when you probe the underlying thoughts and assumptions behind this belief, you are almost always met with an overwhelming lack of substance. Until I see compelling evidence in favour of the belief that migration in general is a threat, and that we ought to presume migrants are threats until proven otherwise, I find it utterly pointless and immoral to support a policy regime which treats ordinary human beings like common criminals or invading armies.

Dan writes:

@johnleemk

There is no way around the simple fact that any and every nation worth keeping will have laws that implement its immigration policy. So while you can boast about the idealism of "Open Borders" sooner or later you are going to have to put the mechanics of it into place.

In response to your middle paragraph could you answer this question? At what point in the colonization of North America did the native inhabitants realize they had lost their country and wish they could have it back?

LD Bottorff writes:

When debating an immigration policy, we should avoid the use of the word 'amnesty' unless we are actually talking about amnesty. Any policy that requires current undocumented immigrants to pay a fine is not amnesty. Amnesty is a policy of ignoring or forgiving the crime or error.

Amnesty is not a part of the current reform being considered by Congress.

I understand that many consider allowing an undocumented immigrant to eventually become a citizen as amnesty. However, it isn't amnesty. Overstaying your visa makes you a lawbreaker. Driving 80 mph in a 40 mph zone makes you a lawbreaker. Which crime is actually a threat to our safety? If you fine a speeder but allow him to eventually get his driver's license back, do you call that amnesty?

MikeP writes:

At what point in the colonization of North America did the native inhabitants realize they had lost their country and wish they could have it back?

When the government of the foreigners claimed and enforced dominion over the territory of the native inhabitants.

MikeP writes:

There is no way around the simple fact that any and every nation worth keeping will have laws that implement its immigration policy.

So when did the US become a nation worth keeping? Was it 1875, 1882, or 1924?

Dan writes:

The US became a nation worth keeping with the adoption of its Constitution in 1787.

Per wikipedia: The first naturalization law in the United States was the Naturalization Act of 1790, which restricted naturalization to "free white persons" of "good moral character" who had resided in the country for two years and had kept their current state of residence for a year. In 1795 this was increased to five years residence and three years after notice of intent to apply for citizenship, and again to 14 years residence and five years notice of intent in 1798.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naturalization_Act_of_1790

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_laws_concerning_immigration_and_naturalization_in_the_United_States

MikeP writes:

Naturalization is not immigration.

Dan writes:

"Naturalization is not immigration."

MikeP, we can all think that but those engaged in the political battle would disagree. Why do you believe that is?

The history of immigration legislation reveals that more than anything politics is the source of anti-immigration sentiment. And what is politics other than the use of government force to coerce groups of people to act in certain ways?

The 2010 Hopkins / Georgetown study is central to explaining American views on immigration. Key observation: Opposition to immigration is proportional to the national rhetoric about immigration.

What drives national rhetoric on immigration? Clearly it is Politics

Why would this correlation exist? Why would Americans generate negative views about immigration when it is a national political issue but be accepting of it in all other times?

I submit that on the issue of immigration what threatens the American voter is not the fear of foreigners but rather the fear of politicians and their exploitation of the immigrant class to increase the burden of government imposed on the citizenry. This is the concern that needs to be addressed. Until it is I do not see the American people getting on board with the immigration reform plans that come out of Washington DC.

MikeP writes:

Here is the grand bargain:

1. Anyone who is not provably a threat to the population of the US may enter the US on an unlimited residence and work visa.
2. This visa is explicitly not a path to citizenship, but holders of this visa may apply for citizenship-track visas according to the requirements and quotas of those visas.
3. "Amnesty" is the issuing of this visa.
4. No immigrant or citizen child of immigrants may receive targeted welfare for 18 years.

Consider the concern addressed. I'm not holding my breath that this will be the essence of any immigration reform plans that come out of Washington DC.

johnleemk writes:
There is no way around the simple fact that any and every nation worth keeping will have laws that implement its immigration policy. So while you can boast about the idealism of "Open Borders" sooner or later you are going to have to put the mechanics of it into place.
Pretty easy to do. The EU has internal open borders. They haven't torn down all the border controls -- there are plenty between the UK and the Schengen zone states for instance -- but there is still total freedom of movement for EU nationals within the EU. Open borders is pretty easy to implement from a legal standpoint. Just make applying for a work and/or residence permit as easy as applying for a driver's licence.
In response to your middle paragraph could you answer this question? At what point in the colonization of North America did the native inhabitants realize they had lost their country and wish they could have it back?
I'm not sure why you think it's relevant to compare the modern state to communities with limited to no states. Like it or not, the modern state is not going away. Its resilience is exactly why I'm not concerned about open borders undermining national sovereignty. (The only real concern is cultural swamping, but this is again a special circumstance. Plenty of small countries have liberal immigration policies, proving that it's easy to greatly ease restrictions on movement even if you are a tiny country.)

To put it differently, it's rather absurd to compare the self-defence capabilities of the Iroquois or even the Aztecs to the self-defence capabilities of almost any modern state. I'm not sure why this is supposed to be relevant to anything.

1. The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition, after Weber).
2. The world's human population cannot grow without limit.
3. The world's human population will stop growing when either (a) the birth rate falls to meet the death rate or (b) the death rate rises to meet the birth rate.
4. The world's human population will stop growing as a result of either (a) deliberate human agency or (b) other.
5. Deliberate human agency is either (a) democratically controlled or (b) other.
6. All human behavioral traits are heritable.
7. Voluntary programs for population control selectively breed non-compliant individuals.
8. Misery is like heat; in the absence of barriers it will flow until it is evenly distributed.
9. The world's maximum possible instantaneous human population is greater than it's maximum possible sustainable human population.
10. The world's maximum possible sustainable human population leaves little room for wilderness or large terrestrial non-human animals.
11. Value is determined by supply and demand. A world in which human life is precious is a world in which human life is scarce.
12. Politically-imposed limits on reproduction and immigration are the (wildly optimistic) best-case scenario.

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