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You are probably wrong in many of your guesses.

A full one third of all inmates in LA county are illegal aliens. They are there for crimes, not because of their immigration status.

A large percentage of the illegal population is in the cash economy, i.e. they work on the black market where there are no income taxes or social security taxes.

In any case, low wage earners pay little or no Federal and state income taxes.

Illegals tend to be concentrated in specific areas and in specific states. So the costs of illegal immigration are not carried equally my all Americans. It is estimated that California spends 12 to 12 billion per year to cover the various costs of the illegal community. The taxes paid by illegals doesn't approach these costs. And school quality has declined significantly in many illegal dominated areas. Specific areas and specific demographic classes suffer the burden of illegal immigration -- while others benefit. In part its a class issue. The many in the American lower class suffer the costs, and a few in the American upper classes reap the benefits.


I'll probably be considered cold hearted, callous and vicious, but why is illegal immigration a U.S. problem? Simply because the flotsam and jetsom of the world is washing up on U.S. shores. The solution lies in the country of origin where the immigrants originate. But you know full well that they will do nothing, because illegal immigration is a superb relif valve for dumping their surplus and worthless population. Not too mention, a superb cash flow channel back into the country of origin.

Control of illegal immigration, only a rigorous world wide program of population control will cut it back to manageable levels. Perhaps the Bird Flu (HN52 as opposed to 51))may be just the answer if it breaks out into the human population.


Children born in the United States (unless their parents are foreign diplomatic personnel) are automatically entitled to U.S. citizenship.Not so long ago, it was widely believed that a person's rights and priveleges should depend on the color of their skin. Even as recently as 50 years ago in the United States it was widely believed that it was justified to restrict the places a person could live on the basis of their skin color (that is, racial segregation).As far as I can tell their were two reasons for this belief: opportunistic greed and fear. One group of people (with light skin)who had power believed that they could benefit economically and in terms of security by restricting the freedom and rights of another arbitrary group of people (with dark skin).Is restricting a person's rights and priveleges on the basis of where they were born or who their parents were any less arbitrary? Is it any less arbitrary to tell a person that they can only live within certain geographical boundaries because of where they were born or who their parents were than because of the color or their skin?I don't think so but with opportunistic greed and fear so rampant in the United States my views are solidly in the minority. There was a time when I hoped that I could just ignore anti-immigrant sentiments and they would fade away like racism or homophobia. The older I get and the more I see of human nature the less I think that is likely to happen.

Paco (F.E. Guerra-Pujol)

Once again, I find myself more in agreement with Posner than with Becker. As I see it, there is an 'optimal' amount of illegal immigration (though I concede that empirical research is required to determine whether 500,000 illegals per year exceeds the optimum, assuming that that estimate is correct).

I would, however, like to make one point in reply to both Posner and Becker's conclusion that the current US policy of arrest and deportation (without imprisonment) has little preventive or deterrent effect.

As Becker correctly pointed out, many illegals often hire the services of a smuggler (or 'coyote') to help them cross the border. Becker, however, is wrong to suggest that smugglers 'don't charge that much'.

Some smugglers can charge over $1000USD to illegal immigrants from the Dominican Republic for helping them reach the shores of Puerto Rico, a US territory. Perhaps smugglers charge less for land crossings between Mexico and the United States, but as I understand it, the coyote's fee often represents the life savings of the putative illegal immigrant.

I mention this because, if I am correct that most illegals pay a substantial amount for the assistance of a smuggler, then this amount represents a loss if they are then subsequently caught and deported back to their home country. This loss would thus operate as a kind of makeshift fine.

My point, then, is this: deportation without imprisonment may still have some deterrent effect, since the illegal who is deported will have lost his investment (the amount paid to the smuggler). Considering the enormous social cost of putting otherwise law-abiding people in jail, perhaps the current system is more or less working fine, as Posner himself suggests in his blog.

Arun Khanna

U.S. should examine the possibility of deporting illegal immgrants to a third world country even poorer than Mexico. If a williing third world country can be found, this will curb illegal immigration.


Observation: most of our problems with illegal immigration come from legal immigration, i.e., those here legally stay on past the time when they should return and, given the laxity associated with finding and deporting these individuals, become illegal aliens.
Second observation: the Mexican government has an enormous interest in maintaining illegal immigration into the United States. As outlined in the book 'Mexifornia' by Victor Davis Hanson, the Mexican government receives billions in remittances from foreign workers who send part of their wages back home. It also profits from exporting an entire group of people who, had they remained at home, might have become a threat to the continuance of the status quo.

Simon Dodd

Judge Posner:
"Children born in the United States (unless their parents are foreign diplomatic personnel) are automatically entitled to U.S. citizenship . . . [This] rule is thought by many legal experts to be grounded in the Constitution, but this arguably is incorrect."What is the argument that the text "[a]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States," U.S. Const., Amdt. XIV, 1, does not confer citizenship on all persons born (or naturalized) in the United States? I had seen the argument late last year that illegal immigrants are unknown to law enforcement and are therefore not "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States, but I had assumed this argument was so obviously flawed as to be frivolous. Am I wrong, or is there a more substantial argument?


While there are necessery pragmatic reasons to restrict US citizenship and residency to certain groups of people I am bothered by the constant assumption in this debate that what matters is the welfare of UC citizens. As moral beings we should be just as concerned about the welfare of mexicans as we should about US citizens. The united states is just an arbitrary collection of people with certain shared cultural/social tendencies as a voter it would be wrong for me to weight their suffering any more strongly than I weight the suffering of mexicans.

The problem I see with illegal immigration is the following. We need some hurdle that immigrants need to overcome in order to avoid being totally flooded with immigrants, a situation that would lead to backlash, poverty and suffering for both us and the immigrants. At the moment this hurdle takes the form of hazardous border crossings and the risks of getting caught in the US.

In short we need some sort of cost for entering the US but it can't be in terms of actual money. While it is has its flaws until we come up with something better than the current system I would suggest an amnesty after 5 years of habitation in the US giving the individual permenant residency. In other words if you want to stay here so bad you evade the cops for 5 years you get to stay.

It would be better if we could do this without encouraging law breaking but I just don't know any other way it could be done. Maybe just a very difficult buearocracy handing out permenant residency allowances?

LOL Alzado

It seems to me that America should analyze the niche in its economy that illegal workers fill and then examine its priorities.

I do not believe that illegal workers steal jobs from Americans. Rather, it is more often true that these workers perform jobs that American citizens will not take. We create the need for these workers and then debate the appropriate punishment for their effort to attempt meet that need.

If there were no jobs to be had, surely the immigrants would stop coming. We should raise minimum wage, employ our unemployed citizens, and thus reduce the demand for immigrant workers.

It's not surprising that Americans would rather blame the worker than blame themselves for maintaining an economy which indulges our own senses of entitlement.


I do not believe that illegal workers steal jobs from Americans. Rather, it is more often true that these workers perform jobs that American citizens will not take.So your theory is that the jobs that illegal immigrants perform are dispensable; perhaps just there to give illegal immigrants something to do?

If those jobs are, in fact, not only unpleasent enough that American citizens will not take them at the wages those jobs currently pay, but in fact, necessary, consider what might happen if there were no longer an illegal immigrant workforce to carry out those jobs. If the jobs needed doing, employers would be forced to pay a wage sufficient that American workers would be willing to take the jobs. In other words, those nasty, unpleasent low-paying jobs would become the new low-paying minimum-wage jobs - which has obvious consequences for the rest of the economy.


Dear Prof. Posner,
Thank you for your insights. I just want to point out two things that may be of interest to others.

1. So far, I think your argument concerning the incentives to immigration show impeccable economic logic. The fact that children of illegal immigrants are US citizens sets a strong incentive for illegal immigration. However, I am not too sure I agree that its eliminating this part of the constitution would do more good than evil. This is one of those airy fairy wishy washy things that economists are too wise to spend time on (I agree). But, as a person who was not born in the States and would like little more than to be part of the great covenant that is America, I have to say that this part of the constitution is one of the strengths of America. How much of AmericaÔøΩs dynamism comes from immigrants working hard? Certainly, the challenges of immigration arise from legal and logistical problems, not from the ability of immigrants to be good Americans, work hard, and do good for America.

I am sure I can anticipate your answer. You would say, yes, I agree, but the children born to illegal immigrants do not form the best basis for the ideal you speak about. You would perhaps aspire to the same thing, but implement it in a different way. Yet, I cannot think of a better way than telling people ÔøΩyouÔøΩre country doesnÔøΩt respect your hard work and creativity, so come here, where do not care who your parents were or your bloodline as long as you work hard and are creative and follow the rulesÔøΩ. I agree that it is hard to test empirically, but I believe that this forms one of the strengths of America.

2. I agree that sending immigrants back does little good and is costly. Are you familiar with the sniper in DC? Well, the police told all of us that the culprits were going around in a white van. They finally stopped a white van and captured to Guatemalan workers. Of course, they were NOT the snipers and they were NOT illegal. They got sent back. A month later they were interviewed and quoted as saying that they were preparing to go back to the US. Just an intereseting story.

Excuse my rambling. I promise to make more time with other responses.



I agree with Judge Posner that illegal immigration from Mexico is probably not one of the country's most pressing problems. While national security is a legitimate issue, and while we should take seriously the potential for terrorists and other criminals to breach our porous borders, political opposition to illegal immigration has often been code language for baser views. I would note that a coded anti-"immigration" campaign contributed to the downfall of the Tory party in England. And, "anti-immigration" parties in other European countries have a racist tint. When discussing immigration, it is necessary, though perhaps not always easy, to separate legitimate concerns from demagoguery.

As a side note, I am surprised to see Posner suggest that competition from immigrant workers could be bad for the American economy. That's not exactly a free-market position. Shouldn't libertarians like open borders, so long as terrorists, criminals, and free riders are excluded? :)


Dateline Chicago: Just as an aside, there's only two days left to the National General Strike and March against the House Immigration Controls Bill HR 4437. Who says immigration is benign?

Viva la Revolucion! ;)


"The national general strike" against a bill before Congress? Good luck with that.


What happened to "give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free," and the welcoming lamp of liberty for the "wretched refuse" of the "teeming shore?"

Patrick R. Sullivan

Since we're robbing the illegals blind in payroll taxes that are probably never going to be redeemed in benefits, I'd say the economics favor allowing more and more in.

Especially since we're going to need all the immigrants we can get to pay Baby Boomer SS and Medicare benefits. Mexicans are particularly desirable, in my experience, as they have a wonderful work ethic, strong family values, speak a European language that is pretty easy for an English speaker to understand, and they aren't from a religious tradition that is hostile to our Judeo-Christian culture.

Maybe we can figure out a way to send a bill to Vincente Fox for any excess of public service costs over taxes paid by his citizens.


"They, they, they, they"

That's what your commentary boils down to.

Xenophobic bullshit, pedalled by a mummified, ivory-tower snuff-hitter. That's right, take out your ornate timber snuff chest and blast up another hit of the good stuff. An addiction to snuff makes more sense then your antiquated, prehistoric attitude.

"Illegal immigrants (i.e., "they") take American jobs."

Yep. So? Give me one reason why you should have a job if someone else can do it better and cheaper?

If I were to hire a lawyer for $10k and then a better lawyer comes along and says "I'll do it for five," then I'd have to be a complete and utter fool to refuse.

It's time you xenophobic chumps woke up and realised the truth: you may tell yourself that you are a tolerant and open-minded person, but deep down you a racist. Like most people.

We have gone from an overtly racist society to a covertly racist society and I, for one, am ashamed. The idea that racism is these days somehow less harmful, simply because it is hidden - what a joke!

Give me one reason why there can't be completely free and open immigration in every country of the entire world. One reason. You may say "if we allowed totally free immigration then criminals would get in." Fine. Don't let criminals in. Apart from criminals, give me one reason why everybody on Earth shouldn't be able to live wherever they want. Come on, I'm waiting.

Get this through your primitive skull: the American government does not own the United States, it only says it does. The USA belongs to the world.

Provided they are not a criminal, every single peson on the face of this Earth should be able to live wherever they goddamn choose.

Prove me wrong. I am waiting.

The Ragman

I like the sentiments you express about open borders, and ideally open orders is the best policy. But due to the welfare state, there has to be some pragmatism, because America's limited resources can't supply the world.


Hey Walker, How come as an American I can't emigrate at will to the Asian Sub-Continent to work and breed? As a matter of fact, most visas for Americans are under lockdown the World over. The Nation-State and Economy has yet to wither away into oblivion and pure Anarchism rules the day. "Live the fantasy, never mind the facts or realities."


As usual, I think Becker and Posner ask the wrong question. Rather than asking how the USA should close its borders, they should be asking how the USA should open its borders.Opening the borders all at once would probably cause some problems although it is unlikely that they would be as severe as most people imply. To prevent problems, the United States could do two things.First, the United States could open its borders gradually. One approach would be to proceed country by country. The United States could start with opening it's borders with Canada and then when that had settled down, move on to opening it's borders with Mexico, etc.Second, the United States would need to work with other countries to create an international entity to oversee immigration between countries in the same way that the United States federal government oversees immigration between states. This entity could be something like the European Union and it could be called something like the "North American Union". It would be charged with verifying that each country in the union granted fair immigration and basic human rights to citizens of other member countries.Countries in other continents could also form unions and open their borders to each other. Eventually, when immigration within continents had stabilized, then neighboring continents could begin to open their borders to each other (for example, North and South America).



Borders can be 'open' in theory while still being 'closed' enough to allow the right people in. For example, the US-Canadian border has historically been quite open. However, many think that Canada would have to spend quite a bit more money on security and would have to take terrorism a little morre seriously before borders are opened in the way you suggest they should.
One thing is having a commitment to immigration, the other thing is being reckless in patrolling a border.
For example, look how much turmoil and violence comes from insecure and porous borders in Iraq. Certainly you are advocating for more openess, but not less control. Am I right?
What do you think?


For example, look how much turmoil and violence comes from insecure and porous borders in Iraq.Not to get off-topic, but the root cause of turmoil in Iraq is hardly an open border policy (not that Iraq even has an open border policy).Certainly you are advocating for more openess, but not less control. Am I right?No, I want traveling between the United States and Canada to be like traveling between Michigan and Ohio. Anyone with the resources to carry out a significant terrorist attack on the United States will have the resources to circumvent any border controls the USA could put in place (for example, the 9/11 hijackers). The minor criminals and mentally ill that get stopped at the border are not enough of a danger to justify the inconvenience to everyone else.Having said that, given that the United States is at war with Iraq, a completely open border policy with Iraq would be not be a good idea at the present time. Essentially, the USA should not have an open border policy with any country that it is at war with or even that it is not on good terms with diplomatically.


Hi Wes,
Thank you for your response.

When I ask:
"Certainly you are advocating for MORE OPENNESS, but not LESS CONTROL. Am I right?"

You answer "No" and proceed to state exactly what I asked. I feel we are understanding and perhaps arguing the same thing, but not noticing that we are doing so. Read my question carefully. I was not being argumentative, but asking for a clarification.

I am completely lost concerning your argument on open border policies and Iraq. I am certain that the USA and Iraq do not share a border. Maybe you are referring to Immigration Agreements. The US holds many immigration agreements with other nations and offers a Visa Lottery Diversification Program for those who do not send a large amount of immigrants into the US every year.

Of course we can complicate the discussion and move on to the "root cause of turmoil in Iraq," but I really think that would be uninteresting here and largely beside the point. If you can so easily identify the "root cause of turmoil in Iraqî, please do us a huge favor and apply for a job in the DoD or DoS. We need people like you very badly.

My statement on Iraq simply served to highlight the fact that lack of border controls and the inability of our army and allies to properly secure the Iraqi border with Syria (and Afghanistan and Pakistan for that matter...) has allowed foreign fighters to enter the country and contribute significantly to sectarian violence. I think reading the news coming from Iraq over the past two years would make this point clear.

I would like you to clarify what you mean by an "open border policy". I fear that I am confusing or misunderstanding your argument (which I want to avoid).

By "open borderî, do you mean freedom of passage or zero policing? For example, in Europe I traveled freely between France and Spain (which was great!), but it was far different from traveling between Ohio and Michigan because when traveling between the two European states there WAS a risk of being stopped and there WAS infrastructure in place in order to stop and check people if needed.

One thing is a call for the Kantian "cosmopolitan right" and the freedom of movement of people and goods between Republics. A different thing is not policing borders. Imagine if Beijing was unable to cordon off people infected with SARS. Imagine if tomorrow there was a brutal outbreak of the Avian Flu in France and that the virus had mutated so that it could be transmitted between people. Do you think it would be wise to not have border controls?

Lastly, in order to put the "open border" policy in perspective and to temper a call for "all borders to be open," I suggest you look again at the European example. Certainly, the Spanish, the Germans, and the French are agreeable to the movement of people between their countries, but look at their intolerance to the free movement of people when the people in question are low-wage laborers from Eastern Europe. Different, ah? Yes, quite different.

The argument that borders should be open because "anyone with the resources to carry out a significant terrorist attack on the United States will have the resources to circumvent any border controls the USA could put in place (for example, the 9/11 hijackers)" is terrible! It is like saying that you should not lock your doors or your local bank because anybody with the resources to carry out a burglary will have the resources to open a vault or your front door. It is always important to have a deterrent and a credible threat. In addition, you make it sound as if the only people stopped at the 48th parallel are minor offenders or mentally ill (haha a joke for Canadians perhaps? Personally, I love those.)

What EXACTLY do you mean by an ìopen border policyî? What would happen to immigration attempts if the northern Mexican border were completely open and unprotected? Do you think the number of migrants would go up, or down? Would their commitment to a long-time stay in America go up, or down? Would we just be seeing more hard working people (positive) or perhaps also more drug related violence (negative), or both?

How can you call for an "open border" policy with Mexico, but then recommend a "shut border" policy with countries that the US is not on good diplomatic terms with? If one looks carefully at US-Mexican relations, it is hard to find a continuum of "good" or "bad" diplomatic relations. Rather, they shift up and down over time as a function of various factors such as relative economic growth, trade policies, and lobbying and bills passed in Congress. Just recently, the DoD canceled military aid to Mexico (and 11 other Latin American countries). So tell me (approximately): when do you think that America as a continent will to be ready for "open border" policies?

I am not trying to sound like one of the self-titled Arizona "minuteman," patrolling our borders with a shotgun in one hand and a beer in the other (and hindering law enforcement institutions in the meantime) Rather, I am pointing to the fact that 'open' does not mean 'un-policed' or 'unrestricted' or ëunprotectedí.




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thanks for your post.perhaps you will like ed hardy

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