Quality Control On Immigration

The US debate on immigration addresses the wrong question. The issue is not whether or not millions of illegal Mexican immigrants add value but whether they best benefit the US. This post summarizes an excellent analysis in City Journal by Steven Malanga. I don’t usually include lengthy quotes, but this is worth it.

First, here’s Art Laffer – rather surprisingly – stating the establishment view(WSJ, $):

“illegal immigrants are the lifeblood of our society.”

If so, the blood is anemic (my ellipsis):

A study by Harvard economists…noted that 63 percent of Mexican immigrants are high school dropouts who on average earn 53 percent less than native workers when they enter the United States.

High school graduation rates among the American-born children of Hispanic immigrants are much lower than the average in the rest of the native-born population, while census surveys have begun to record growing numbers of native-born Hispanics who don’t have English-language proficiency—nearly 3 million in the 2005 American Community Survey.

…a 1997 study by economists for the National Academy of Sciences estimated the net benefits of immigration at only $10 billion in our $8 trillion economy, while the next year an NAS study of the social costs of immigration reported that in California each native-born family paid nearly $1,200 more in taxes to support government services that went to immigrants.

Enacting amnesty for illegals already here, as well as creating a new guest-worker program (could) eventually add some $46 billion a year in social costs—including welfare—to the federal government.

These poorly educated, unskilled immigrants are a new phenomenon:

The popular image of the 24 million who came during the first great migration, from the 1880s to the 1920s, is that they were Europe’s “tired” and “poor” masses, desperately escaping political or religious persecution and stagnant economies, making their way here with a few threadbare possessions.

But…many were also skilled workers. A 1998 National Academy of Sciences study noted that the immigrant workers of that era generally met or exceeded the skill levels of the native-born population, providing America’s workforce with a powerful boost just when the country was metamorphosing from an agrarian into an industrial economy.

The author draws on recent Australian and Canadian experience to make the following proposals.

1. Limit Family Unification Visas

Current law allows not only the spouses and minor children of permanent residents and American citizens—both native-born and naturalized—to come here, but also their adult sons and daughters, as well as the parents and adult siblings of citizens. This chain of relations accounts for some 600,000 legal visas a year and has prompted a backlog of some 4 million visa applicants. By restricting the family unification category to the spouses and minor children of citizens, the United States could cut family unification visas in half.

(In Canada) residents who want to sponsor a relative under the country’s family reunification program must also prove that they have the resources to support the immigrant. (America makes a similar demand that those who sponsor immigrants pledge to support them in case of need, but it doesn’t require sponsors to honor the promise.)

2. Limit Immigration To Skilled Workers

That’s not just PhDs:

Reducing family visas would allow for a shift toward skills-based immigration without increasing the number of newcomers. To determine what kinds of workers would receive skills-based visas, the United States would shift away from its current system in which those visas—totaling only 77,000 last year—now almost entirely go to highly educated workers, such as technology specialists, whom companies request, but not to skilled tradesmen who might also be in short supply.

…today 70 percent of Australia’s permanent visas go to skilled workers. As a result, Australian immigrants do far better than American immigrants. A 2006 study by the Australian Productivity Commission…shows that on average Australian immigrants earn about 6 percent more than the median income of the native-born population, because immigrants typically have higher levels of education and skills.

3. Remove The Magnet Effect Of Modern Welfare

Today’s immigrants are more than twice as likely to use government programs as native-born Americans…Milton Friedman has said: “It’s just obvious that you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state.”

(So) developed countries uniformly prohibit illegal aliens from receiving social benefits, and many restrict those benefits for legals, too. Australia, for instance, prohibits legal immigrants from participating in social programs for two years.

Though the federal government bans illegal aliens from receiving many benefits, several states and cities have made themselves immigrant havens by providing government services through a don’t-ask, don’t-tell policy.

New York City, for instance, offers immigrants, regardless of their status, such benefits as government-sponsored health insurance, preventive medical care, and counseling programs. Some states have moved to ensure that illegals receive in-state tuition discounts to state colleges, even though out-of-state American citizens don’t qualify for those discounts.

4. Stop Giving US Citizenship To Children Born Of Foreign Parents

Currently, the children of our 11 million illegal aliens automatically become citizens with the right to apply for visas for their parents and siblings to immigrate here legally. And they have the right to government benefits, including “child-only” welfare payments, which vary greatly by state but can amount to up to $500 a month for two children in California.

5. Get Tough On Illegal Immigration

Though hardening the border is important, the real key is to lessen the economic incentives to sneak into the U.S. by ensuring that businesses don’t hire workers they know to be illegal and that government doesn’t provide them with services and benefits. The 1990s commission on immigration reform recommended establishing a national database for employers to verify the Social Security numbers of their workers. Now is the time to do it.

Though eliminating economic incentives will stem the flow of illegals and send many home, stricter enforcement also means more deportations. Canada has followed this policy, beefing up its Border Services Agency and increasing deportations, estimated to rise to about 10,000 this year in an illegal population of about 200,000. By comparison, the U.S. deports some 50,000 annually out of its 11 million-strong illegal population.

Of course an amnesty-obsessed Republican leadership allied with an illegal-friendly Dem Congress won’t do any of this. But the next administration might.

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