President Clinton’s secretary of labor, Robert Reich, complains on Marketplace Radio that the new immigration bill may encourage immigration by high-skilled people. He argued:
A century ago, America’s immigration policy was best summarized in Emma Goldman’s famous lines on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
It’s a lovely poem, and it’s true that America was the land of opportunity for millions of people. But as Julian Simon pointed out, on the whole immigrants in the 19th century were not tired, poor, huddled masses. He cites findings from economist P. J. Hill:
[I]mmigrants, instead of being an underpaid, exploited group, generally held an economic position that compared very favorably to that of the native born members of the society.
Update: An alert reader points out that I was still half-asleep when I heard this commentary and cut-and-pasted Reich’s words. Of course it wasn’t the anarchist Emma Goldman who wrote the words on the Statue of Liberty, it was the New York City poet Emma Lazarus.