I have been writing about immigration policy for quite a while. Each time I am impressed by how much interest there is in this subject, and the strong beliefs and emotions involved. I will respond to some of the many comments, although I will not do all of them justice.
I strongly believe in either enforcing laws or changing them. I am not happy with the position we face with regard to illegal immigrants. It is not good precedent to ignore immigration laws in deciding how to treat illegal immigrants, but we do that too with tax amnesty opportunities. With so many illegal immigrants here, it is unrealistic to believe we can throw them all out. We should have faced the issue many years ago, as I, along with others, were advocating, but we did not.
So we have to adjust to what we have. I believe amnesty at this time, with a few fines and payment of some back taxes, is probably the best of bad alternatives, but we can take steps to reduce problems with future illegal immigrants. A relatively secure identity card that is needed to get a job, combined with serious fines to employers that hire with workers without these cards, seems like the best available approach.
We should, however, greatly expand the number of legal immigrants accepted. This would include unskilled as well as skilled, but I would put great emphasis on the skilled. This country can easily accommodate and benefit from substantial increases in the number of legal immigrants admitted. To be sure, workers that the immigrants compete against would have their earnings lowered, but that effect would be relatively small, and the gains to others would be far greater- the excess of gains over losses can be easily demonstrated by simple economic analysis.
I do not deny that immigrants come for many reasons: higher earnings, freedom, better opportunities for children, etc. But it is unrealistic to deny that some come to take advantage of free and good medical care, free and good schools for children, and other benefits. Moreover, incentives to come due to the generous entitlements would become much greater if we tried to return to the nineteenth century of unlimited immigration.
To Robert Book, I do agree that the first best might be to deny illegal immigrants access to various benefits. I discussed that in my earlier post on immigration. But that policy has been tried and failed politically. It is hard politically to enforce denying medical and other benefits to sick adults, and even more so, to sick children. So what I taught in Econ. 301 is right, but has to be expanded to take account of political economy considerations.
A common fallacy is to assume a fixed number of jobs, so that if immigrants take some, native-born Americans have fewer. Or if older workers keep their jobs because they work until later ages, younger workers have fewer jobs. The number of jobs that can be created is very elastic, and depends on wages, productivity, etc. What is true is that immigrants will lower the earnings of natives with similar skills. I addressed that issue above.