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Michael Walker

The Center for Immigration Studies is a biased source subscribing to a low-immigration vision and advocates fewer immigrants.

The National Academy of Sciences is a well respected independent source advocating no point of view - sticking to the facts and evidence.

Daniel Chapman

Ahhh... well at least we cleared that up. I suppose you could point out which fact in the 144 page study you disagree with... They have pages upon pages of charts and statistics... Want to pick one? It shouldn't be hard. I still don't know where that information you found is located, by the way.


A commenter has already pointed out the flaw of your "evidence." It is about "immigrants," not illegal immigrants (who pay only sales taxes) who occupy mostly low-skill, labor intensive jobs.

If what you suggest--that illegal immigration is a net benefit to state financial resources--then we wouldn't see border states struggling with the problem like they are. In fact, your own evidence contradicts your assertion. "The study reported that while immigrants may use more publicly funded services than they pay in on an annual basis in the states where immigrants are most concentrated."

I'm not sure how this jives with the previous assertion that "An immigrant and his or her children will pay on average about $80,000 more in taxes during their lifetimes than they collect in government services."

This disparity probably occurs from rosey extrapolation (or previous, irrelevant data) about how productive an immigrant's family may be. Or the misleading lumping of data of illegal and legal immigrants (the former drawing net negatives, the latter drawing net positives). Or perhaps the total exclusion of illegals altogether.

Thanks for the link, btw. Though one can only access parts of the study you mentioned, it's still providing plenty of ammunition.

"Generally, these studies have found that both natives and immigrants make the largest tax contributions to the federal government, that immigrants make lower average tax contributions, and that immigrants are a greater burden on state and local governments (Vernez and McCarthy, 1996; Garvey and Espenshade, 1996). Three studies have examined fiscal impacts of immigrants in California. Los Angeles County (1992) found that recent legal immigrants, legalized aliens, and undocumented aliens and their children incurred costs to the county in excess of their share of the population. Although these immigrants and their families composed 25 percent of the county population, this group consumed 30.9 percent of total county services while paying only 8.7 percent of tax revenues, most of which flowed to the federal government."

The NAS study you cited then goes on criticize these studies for focusing on undocumented aliens. I don't know why that would be a flaw if one wanted to address the problems arising from undocumented aliens. But maybe that would be a problem if you wished to conflate legal and illegal immigration in order to obscure the impact illegals have on fiscal matters. It's ridiculous to treat the issue of immigration as a monolithic one--that you're either for it or against it. One can be for immigration, and also oppose the chaos that our current immigration policy is creating.



You have to buy it, I believe. But portions of it can be accessed for free. OR at least some of the NAS work on immigration can be.

Michael Walker

I thought we were discussing legal immigration and proposals to improve our flawed immigration system. I am not interested in debating illegal immigration or bashing illegal immigrants.

Please distinguish legal from illegal immigration. I do not favor or advocate illegal immigration. It would also help to distinguish between two forms of immigration: non-immigrant intent (work visa) and immigrant intent (green card).

One goal of immigration policy is to have support mechanisms to reduce the social disruption of immigration and maximize economic gain.

Daniel Chapman

We're talking about opening the borders and under which circumstances that would be an acceptable policy. Talking about open borders while only looking at statistics for legal immigration is foolish. We should actuall be considering all the illegal immigration and more because we have to assume that our laws DO discourage SOME people from crossing the border.

None of us would argue that immigration held to our current legal standards is a net gain for society... as I've said before. Our laws are designed to prevent a burden on our public services, encourage assimilation, and discourage immigrants from clustering in enclaves. Open borders would remove these safeguards, and the best way to study the effects of open borders is to look at statistics for illegal immigration.


I don't think by selling the rights to immigrate, illegal immigration can be stopped. A lot of the people who immigrate illegaly are very poor people. They cannot afford the price to buy the right to immigrate. These people will still try to cross the border for free rather than pay for it.They don't want to be burdened for the rest of their life with a huge loan.


"Open borders would remove these safeguards, and the best way to study the effects of open borders is to look at statistics for illegal immigration."

How about looking at American History and the expansion that occured the last time we had open borders. The statistics for illegal immigration are hopelessly dependent on the form of this week's immigration policy.

Imposing "illegal" status on immigrants makes it harder for them to do the productive work that we hope immigrants will do. It creates an under-caste that causes all sorts of problems for social administration.

To the extent that America's collection of wealth has depended on access to cheap overseas labor, it is greedy and protectionist and immoral to stop that labor from following the money here.
Calling it a "safeguard" leads to the question, what are you protecting and how is closed border policy consistant with open market policy.

Michael Walker

One goal of immigration policy is to reduce or prevent illegal immigration. It is helpful to distinguish between two forms of immigration: non-immigrant intent (work visa) and immigrant intent (green card).

Our current system is flawed by not allowing enough legal non-immigrants to come in temporarily to satisfy economic demand. The result is excessive and unsupportable illegal immigration causing social disruption.

The solution is designing a workable non-immigrant (intent) temporary work visa program to meet economic needs. Unfortunately past programs were not designed or managed prudently and caused unacceptable social disruption (bracero program).

As an alternative to a fee based or human capital metric system I suggest a controllable non-immigrant temporary work visa program with oversight and support mechanisms to reduce social disruption and maximize economic gain. We should keep our current family based system and reform the employment based (both non-immigrant and immigrant intent) system.


While I think this is an interesting idea, though I do believe that some sort of community service agreement could be a viable way to earn your citizenship for those without the cash. However Prof. Becker says "The United States, the leading destination for immigrants..." and "I believe that with unlimited immigration, many would come mainly because they are attracted by these government benefits, and they would then be voting to influence future government spending and other public policies," yet is that really the case? It seems like the US would get less immigration than the more socialized European nations if immigration was prompted largely by a desire to take advantage of first world social services.

Daniel Chapman

The EU does get huge waves of immigration, both legal and illegal. The only variable between the two situations is that the United States has a border with Mexico. All of europe is being flooded with immigrants, especially Sweeden, which has one of the largest welfare states of the EU. Even notoriously tolerant Holland is looking for ways to control its immigrant problem, and Sweeden is debating whether to curtail its entitlements.


The rich countries have capital and more highly evolved economies. The poor countries have people. Lots and lots of people. There's plenty of land and financial capital in the US. Open the gates and let the games begin! Are we or are we not free market capitalists?

RE: non-immigrant temporary workers, it is essential that the US gets its arms around this issue. Someone above already made the point: most good jobs will increasingly be knowledge jobs and there are weak constraints on where those jobs are located. Certain clustered industries will be insulated, but see article in NY Times today on outsourcing lab work to India and China. It's just the beginning.

Point is, immigration debate is not a real economic debate. It's a social debate, the proverbial shifting of the deck chairs on the Titanic. Fine if we want to keep people out. But if we were concerned about the future economy, we need to talk about long term investment in education and more discipline in our individual and collective economic choices.

NYT article:
Medical Companies Joining Offshore Trend

Are we headed towards an hourglass economy with lots of wealthy "owners" and lots of service employees? (The current administration will go down in history for being asleep at the wheel while protecting access to oil and protecting he wealth of the already wealthy.)

Daniel Chapman

Again, if you want to use the "free market" approach to open borders, you have to be willing to forgo the welfare state and probably free education as well. If each immigrant received services based on his/her contribution to the economy, then of course you would be right.

Bernard Guerrero

Wouldn't a 50K entrance fee also skew the intake of immigrants towards older folk who have had the time to sock away that much capital? If so, you're also reducing the amount of time the average immigrant will be paying into social-spending schemes such as SS before starting to draw, and reducing our net gain thereby.

Bernard Guerrero

"Why not just confiscate their art and gold teeth at the border and send them to labor camps to work off their 'entrance fee'?"

This is silly, Corey. Said immigrants are not being forced to come here. The decision to immigrate is, for most, a rational one, based on the idea that one and one's family will do better in the U.S. than in the home country. Given an entrance fee, many on the margins will simply decide that they're better off staying put. For the non-economic immigrant (i.e. refugees), a separate system can be employed.


I believe that with unlimited immigration, many would come mainly because they are attracted by these government benefits, and they would then be voting to influence future government spending and other public policies.

So what about a policy of unlimited work visas? Either the cheap foreign labor comes to the US corporations or the US corporations will send their factories overseas anyway.

I recently had a friend apply for a tourist visa and I was apalled at how she was treated by US consulate. There was a three month wait for the required interview. On the day of the interview she had to stand on the sidewalk in the tropical sun for hours next to a pile of garbage that had been rained on the night before. Overall the whole bureucratic was vague and arbitrary. And that was just for a tourist visa.

The solution to illegal immigration is to make it easy enough (administratively) for people to come to the USA for the purpose they want (tourism, jobs, and occasionally citizenship) that they don't feel they have to get in illegally.


"Wouldn't a 50K entrance fee also skew the intake of immigrants towards older folk who have had the time to sock away that much capital?"

I thought this was likely as well, but Becker actually thought the opposite would occur because the younger you enter the more justifiable the decision is from an economic standpoint (longer to make up the fee). It would seem the old would be able to afford it easier, but that doesn't mean they would want to (they may decide the 50k is better spent in their home country).

scott cunningham

Right, the young have future incomes making the decision to immigrate justifiable. The old, presumably, would be coming here to retire, and that might make it less likely.

Plus, Becker notes government loans would make saving for the fee easier. A person would need to somehow show to the loan officer, I presume, that they could pay back the loan, and a younger individual with certain characteristics would probably have an easier chance of doing so.


This idea, despite being bad for many other reasons, would most certainly NOT decrease illegal immigration into the United States. Not a single person who illegally enters this country is able to pay such a huge amount of money to come here legally. The most they can do is scrape together maybe $500-$1000 to hire a "coyote" to help sneak them across the border. And anybody making $10 an hour in China probably will stay there, those who want to come here make more like $1 a day.


Nico, I agree and expressed my disagreement with that point as well. Those entering the country illegally today are the least likely to participate in the program Becker has proposed. If Becker believes we are in error, I would encourage him to address that in his response to comments.

scott cunningham

Nico, you may be right, but note that Becker's proposal has a government loan component. It is not necessary in theory that they save the entire $50k, in other words, since they can work out a payment plan for after they get there. You might still be right that even given access to capital, they wouldn't be eligible for loans because they're high risk or because you believe their labor opportunities in the USA still would not make enough money for them to borrow, but I just wanted to point that out nonetheless. It seems plausible to imagine that this would draw some of those more productive workers currently illegally immigrating out, but to what degree is an empirical question. I hear so many good things about Latin American immigrants here in Georgia (that population has been rising tremendously over the last few years), that I tend to believe the expected profits for an immigrant are greater than $50,000 in some cases, though I know nothing about this area.


Why would an illegal immigrant borrow $50k? The presence of millions such persons is testament to the fact one can work, and draw state benefits all while being an "illegal" immigrant. What possible incentive does such a person have to get a loan for $50k?

Hans Suter

Martin Wolf has an interesting point of view this morning in the FT (sorry, subs requested). Here is how he starts:In the earlier column, I argued that three fallacies bedevil this debate.

The first is the argument that immigration increases economic growth. But what matters, instead, is its impact on incomes per head of the original population.

The second is the "lump of labour" fallacy, in this case the assumption of a fixed excess demand for labour. In a flexible economy, however, the quantity of employment adjusts to the number of people available for work.

The third is the urgency of specific shortages. But "shortage" is just a label for something underpriced. Changes in relative wages (and associated adjustments in incentives to acquire and impart skills) should in time secure the needed adjustments.


"Since I am a free-trader, readers might expect my preferred alternative to the present system to be 19th century-style unlimited immigration."

Since you're a religiously conservative old white guy, no one would ever mistake you for an immigration enthusiast. Nothing gets under the skin of most conservatives more than the thought of inferior races hoarding into America. It would have been completely out of character. (Like your plan to have the government force every human to buy health insurance, which might have been a good idea.)

On the other hand, I am surprised that Becker only went half way. Markets have buyers and sellers, right? Why not let Americans sell their citizenship as well? Of course, to me it seems that charging money for American citizenship is distasteful and against America's creed, let alone selling one's citizenship.

I agree with those who say that charging $50,000 to those who can pay it will have only a little impact on illegal immigration. It will increase the number of rich immigrants from 3rd world countries who can afford to pay it and wouldn't bother moving here illegaly otherwise. (One thing common among poor countries is that they all have at least a handful of very rich people.)

I'm surprised there's been no discussion of the effects of immigration on long-term economic growth, and what could develop into an economic race w/ China. Both legal and illegal immigration have a huge positive impact on economic growth. The US's role as the sole economic superpower gives us untold power around the globe. In a world where China & the US are roughly the same size, our power would be greatly restricted.

One might argue that the size of the American economy won't be affected greatly, one way or the other by immigration policy, but if America increased the ease and number of immigrants from China (for example, by allowing all Chinese PhDs, who make up significant portions of US grad school enrollments, the right to citizenship). This could help increase the size of the brain drain from China, which would help US economic growth while sapping China's. Yet, as China's economy continues to grow, it will become increasingly difficult to

The one powerful objection to this was made by Posner -- it is mostly in the US's interests for Chinese (and Korean & Indian & African) students to return to their countries & serve as a stabilizing force there.

It is equally surprising that, given the current political climate, that the debate over SS & immigration has not crossed paths. The more immigrants let into America, the easier it will be for America to keep our seniors out of poverty via SS. A few weeks ago Becker expressed his support for a ss privatization plan designed to increase America's debt. Allowing more immigration is one way to decrease it, both by an increase in economic growth & in the wages paid by immigrants themselves.

Also, about the chat on illegal mexican immigrants helping or hurting society .. the statistics suggesting illegal immigrants don't pay their fair share didn't imclude the profits of companies and individuals who benefit by hiring immigrants at lower wages. One of the reasons illegal immigration is tolerated in states that "suffer" from it is that a lot of business owners depend on illegal immigration. When you factor that it, as well as the consumption of illegals, I suspect that the numbers would tell a bit of a different story. The gap between what the wage is for illegals and what the minimum wage would be with no illegal immigrants is effectively a tax paid by those immigrants.

Hans Suter

there will be some competition:

Russia’s able-bodied population is shrinking and if the country is to achieve further economic growth it needs more immigrants, Minister for Economic Development and Trade German Gref told a government session Thursday.

From 2006 Russia will be entering a stage of “considerable reduction in the working population”. While next year Russia’s labour resources could be reduced by 30,000 people, in 2007 the number will go down by 370,000, and by 538,000 in 2008, ITAR-TASS news agency quoted German Gref as saying.

Because of this, Gref considers migration policy to be a most important factor in rectifying the situation. The current process of “migrant quotas”, in his opinion, is “inefficient and non-transparent”. In particular, while in 2000 the migration flow into the country exceeded 200,000 people, in 2004 one could say it was “zero” (approximately 30,000).

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