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Becker's immigration "admission fee" is sound policy. Another benefit of such a program is that the governmental admission fee, if priced competitively, would tend to put black market vendors of illegal immigration services (the "mules" to which Becker refers, also known as "coyotes") out of business.


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Thomas Rekdal

Would not an "admission fee" allowing illegal immigrants to normalize their status make it easier for those deriving high incomes from undesirable activities, such as the drug trade, to make the most use of it? It would be ironic to institute an amnesty program that benefits the least desirable elements first.

Mitchell K.

Becker alludes to one of the political obstacles to immigration reform ("employers of illegal immigrants have political clout, and they complain to government officials when enforcement efforts against these employers is stepped up"). Posner also mentions a few, but it is worth mentioning that strong political incentives for amnesty exist as well.

One such incentive is the promise of millions of new voters who are predominantly Latinos from Mexico and Guatemala and skew heavily towards the Democratic Party (Latino immigrants from Cuba and Puerto Rico skew towards the Republican Party but few of them are here illegally). The promises made by some prominent Democrats regarding "comprehensive immigration reform" are greatly motivated by political opportunism since even unrealized promises will purchase the support of many voters who view the issue through a racial lens and it draws a sharp contrast to the hard-line rhetoric of some prominent Republicans.

Of course, the Republican leadership has done more than flirt with amnesty; Ronald Reagan signed off on it in 1986 and George W. Bush nearly did so in 2007 until a conservative backlash put the issue on hold. Political opportunism was a consideration for the Republican Party too because Republicans, many of whom feel that their party is a natural home for socially conservative Latinos, did not want the opposition to beat them to the vote-grabbing punch.

Becker and Posner seem pessimistic about the prospects of broad immigration reform, but the leadership of both political parties do not want to lose so many potential voters to the other side.


Excellent plan. Not original but still a good plan.
Politically viable.
Ethically tolerable.
Behaviorally beneficial.
Debt is the new citizenship anyway. :)

Cesar Gomez

Hello Professor Becker, I think that if the government were to implement this desired sound policy they would need to be willing to sell the "immigration right" to everyone not only to those already in the US illegally. And the reason why I believe this is that doing otherwise would encourage more illegal immigration in the first place. Take me for example, if I knew that I could buy the right to immigrate only if I were in the US illegally, then I would go there now as an illegal immigrant so that I can buy my legal status.

Thomas Rekdal

Hello, Mr. Gomez: You make a related, but different, point than the one I was trying to make. Your question is a better one. Incentives do matter, as Becker-Posner would surely agree, and I do not believe they adequately address the incentives an "admission fee" for illegal immigrants would create.

Down Coats

I like this article.


Here's a partial solution: How about granting those of us sensible Amerikans who want to get the hell out the opportunity to trade residency status with a foreigner who wants in? I know some Brazilians I'd like to trade with.


The idea that undocumented immigrants pay little in taxes is false. Numerous sources, both journalistic and academic, have reached that conclusion. For example, see www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/87xx/doc8711/12-6-Immigration.pdf.

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ecker and Posner seem pessimistic about the prospects of broad immigration reform, but the leadership of both political parties do not want to lose so many potential voters to the other side.

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You can't deny that illegal immigrants are generally productive members of the labor force, and make relatively little use of taxpayer-funded programs.So the Government must find a good method to solve the problem, or it will occure heavily society shock.

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Becker sez:

"Such a loan program would be especially attractive to the well established successful immigrants who have been in this country for many years, but do not have much in the way of liquid assets."

Umm......... yeh. And how long would it take for those doing the shtwrk for shtpay to "save" $10,000? and payoff another $40,000?

A successful drug lord might not want to fill out the papers for a loan...... and just pay it from one week's take?


One of the problems with illegal immigration is that it drives down wages for occupants of the bottom rungs of American society. Among other things, this leads to higher welfare costs for the middle class. It is true that immigrants are willing to work hard, but that is because they have no other options. Perhaps if we withdrew some of the welfare benefits we provide, recipients of those benefits would face the same choices and take jobs that supposedly "Americans won't do. If Americans still won't do them, then wages for those jobs will have to rise.

In places such as West Virginia, northern New England, and the high plains you see whites (and some of the few African Americans who live there) - not Latino immigrants - doing jobs such as harvesting crops, waiting table, cleaning, fast food service, etc. I think there is a lesson there.

Having done some of these undesireable jobs in my youth, they aren't so terrible and the experience can be salutary for alot of reasons.


lhf ------- On the other side of the ledger "someone" makes a lot more profit due to having hardworking folk doing their jobs at substandard wages. Want to know where that goes? or went?


Ha ha! Mebbe it will "trickle down" some day?


I don't find the argument that druglords would benefit the most from this scheme very convincing. Generally speaking, Mexican druglords tend to have a lot more than 50,000$, and they can easily get a legal tourist visa and overstay or bribe their way into a green card. Paying a mule to get their henchmen in would likely still be the cheaper option.

Overall this doesn't seem like a bad idea. Jack, this scheme would obviously not benefit immigrants that are getting paid subsistence wages, but many are making enough to save 10,000$ after 2-3 years or less. It would take a way at least a part of the burden, both for the federal government and them.

Mark Michael

Heather Mac Donald in City Journal's Winter edition points out that in California most immigrants are Hispanics, and Hispanics are heavy users of government welfare programs, much more so than other citizens. This contradicts the general comment made above by the authors. They also vote for Democrats and bigger government over "family values" or other more Republican themes. See:


Some more quotes:

#1 U.S.-born Hispanic households in California already use welfare programs (such as cash welfare, food stamps, and housing assistance) at twice the rate of U.S.-born non-Hispanic households, according to an analysis of the March 2011 Current Population Survey by the Center for Immigration Studies. Welfare use by immigrants is higher still. In 2008–09, the fraction of households using some form of welfare was 82 percent for households headed by an illegal immigrant and 61 percent for households headed by a legal immigrant.

Higher rates of Hispanic poverty drive this disparity in welfare consumption. Hispanics made up nearly 60 percent of California’s poor in 2010, despite being less than 38 percent of the population. Nearly one-quarter of all Hispanics in California are poor, compared with a little over one-tenth of non-Hispanics. Nationally, the poverty rate of Hispanic adults drops from 25.5 percent in the first generation—the immigrant generation, that is—to 17 percent in the second but rises to 19 percent in the third, according to a Center for Immigration Studies analysis. (The poverty rate for white adults is 9 percent.) That frustrating third-generation economic stall repeats the pattern in high school graduation and college completion rates as well.

Hispanics’ reliance on the government safety net helps explain their ongoing support for the Democratic Party. Indeed, liberal spending policies are a more important consideration for Hispanic voters than ethnic identification or the so-called values issues that they are often said to favor. “What Republicans mean by ‘family values’ and what Hispanics mean are two completely different things,” says John Echeveste, founder of the oldest Latino marketing firm in Southern California and a player in California Latino politics. “We are a very compassionate people; we care about other people and understand that government has a role to play in helping people.” That Democratic allegiance was on display in the 2010 race for lieutenant governor, when Hispanics favored San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, the epitome of an elite tax-and-spend liberal, over the Hispanic Republican incumbent, Abel Maldonado, despite Newsom’s unilateral legalization of gay marriage in San Francisco in 2004. La Opinión, California’s largest Spanish-language newspaper, cited Newsom’s “good progressive platform” in endorsing him. In the 2010 race for state attorney general, Hispanic voters helped give the victory to liberal San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, who was running against Los Angeles district attorney Steve Cooley, a law-and-order moderate—even in Cooley’s own backyard of L.A.

#2 The Latino Caucus has already made its mark on higher education, putting constant pressure on the University of California to admit more Hispanic students or face draconian budget cuts. “If campuses don’t capitulate, you’ll get killed. The Latino Caucus will march with torches,” says John Moores, a former chairman of the UC Board of Regents. Moores resigned the chairmanship “in disgust,” he says, at his inability to restore color-blind admissions to the system.

Such a push for meritocratic admissions shouldn’t even be necessary, given the 1996 voter initiative banning racial preferences in state government, including the university systems. The UC and CSU systems, however, quickly devised stratagems for evading Proposition 209—and even those schemes haven’t gone far enough for the Latino Caucus.

#3 Even as Hispanics are gathering clout in Sacramento, the immigrant populations of some small, almost entirely Latino, cities in the Los Angeles basin have been politically passive toward local governance. As a result, the city councils and managers of Bell, Maywood, La Puente, and other localities, unchecked by their residents, have engaged in rampant self-dealing, virtually bankrupting those cities’ governments.

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Ahh... Yes, the "Market Solution". We can put all of the Visa's up for sale including "Amnesty" for those already here illegaly to the highest bidder or outright cash payoffs to the "proper" authorities. And the "Illegal train" will continue to run. Even at $2,000 to $10,000 a "ticket". It will still be cheaper by far to enter illegaly. And so the problem continues unabated. Remember, Desperation knows no law...


Geez NEH...... is it fair in this forum to resort to predictions based upon economic principles?

CoonAndFriends ..... wouldn't the main purpose of the "citizenship for sale" scheme be that of mollifying the right wingers? many of whom have already benefited from cheaper housing or their direct labors?

Mark Michael??? The topic of the week is that of what to do with illegal immigrants who would not qualify for most forms of welfare and typically have their SS contributions ripped off.

Most of us who are familiar with the hardships borne by various waves of immigrants aren't at all surprised by the stats you post... but as your "stuff" goes on it descends even deeper into the fantasies typical of the hysterical whack-right.

BTW...... have you looked over these couple of graphs?


I think the data serves well to depict the reasons for increasing amounts of welfare meant for the destitute, instead, going to the "working poor" and with even the long stagnant wages of the median household not providing an opp to save, explains why so many end up on aid just weeks after being thrown out of the work force.

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i like this article. .The idea that undocumented immigrants pay little in taxes is false. Numerous sources, both journalistic and academic, have reached that conclusion.. .keep it up!!


@Jack The right-wingers are not a homogeneus group, and I'm sure many of them would hate this scheme for cultural reasons. Those that are directly involved in exploiting their labor would probably want them to stay, but I doubt they'd be willing to pay 50,000$ per worker for that. It would be cheaper to lobby to keep things the way they are or let the immigrant-hating faction defeat itself, like it seems to be doing.
I think this scheme is aimed at the immigrants that have managed to find non-agricultural jobs and are making a better living than their field-working brethren.

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Thank you for such an informative website and post on the EU debt crisis. This is particularly the case when there seems to be constant and volatile opposition in these weaker EU nations to austerity measures.

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