Tag: illegal immigrants

The Consequences of Our War on Low-Skilled Immigrant Labor

Credit: Chiapas state government website

Authorities in Mexico intercepted two semi-trucks on Tuesday containing more than 500 migrants being smuggled across the border from Guatemala and presumably headed for the United States. An x-ray of one of the trucks that revealed the migrants struck me for its resemblance to those 18th century woodcarvings of slave ships crossing the Atlantic.

That analogy shouldn’t be taken too far, of course. According to the news reports, the migrants voluntarily paid $7,000 each for the chance to be smuggled into the United States. But like the slave ships, the conditions in the trucks were horrific, putting the lives of the men, women and some children in real danger.

People across the spectrum will try to make hay from this, but to me it argues that the status quo is unacceptable. No respectable party is in favor of illegal immigration. The real debate is over how to reduce it and all the underground pathologies that accompany it.

We can continue to ramp up border and interior enforcement, as we have relentlessly for more than a decade, driving low-skilled migrants further underground while driving smuggling fees higher and higher. Or we can expand opportunities for legal entry into the United States, and by doing so shrink the underground network of smuggling and document fraud.

Like the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, real immigration reform would go a long way to eliminating the human bootlegging that was exposed in Mexico this week. A robust temporary worker program would allow foreign-born workers to enter the country in a safe, orderly, and legal way through established ports of entry. It would allow resources now going to smugglers to be collected as fees by our government and otherwise put to work in our economy. It would save the lives of hundreds of people who needlessly die each year trying to re-locate for a better job.

If Congress enacted the kind of immigration reform we have long advocated in my department at Cato, our economy would be stronger and the human smuggling networks a lot less busy.

Responding to Critics of Immigration Reform

President Obama is making his first visit to the U.S.-Mexican border today to deliver a speech in El Paso, Texas, on the need to reform America’s immigration laws. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the president’s plan, but in the meantime, the Cato Institute has released a new study this week that examines the major objections to comprehensive immigration reform.

Titled “Answering the Critics of Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” and authored by Cato adjunct scholar Stuart Anderson, the new study draws on the latest research to address five common objections to expanding opportunities for legal immigration. The issues addressed in the study include the effect of immigration reform on government spending, welfare use, culture and language, unemployment, and incentives for illegal immigration.

After carefully weighing all those concerns, the study concludes that the arguments continue to weigh heavily in favor of expanding legal immigration as the best way to reduce illegal immigration. Here is the study’s conclusion:

The status quo is not acceptable. There is no evidence that continuing—or expanding—the current “enforcement-only” policies on immigration will be successful. The best approach is to harness the power of the market to allow workers to fill jobs legally, rather than to rely on human smuggling operations for workers to enter the United States. Addressing the situation of those now in the country illegally will achieve both humanitarian and economic objectives, including raising the wages of those now working as illegal immigrants. The primary arguments employed against comprehensive immigration reform do not stand up to a review of recent history and predictable social and economic behavior.

Here is the short-form Cato blueprint for immigration reform, and here is the long-form version (PDF).

Will Republicans Come to Grips With Immigration?

Today POLITICO Arena asks:

Given President Obama’s speech today in El Paso, Texas, is immigration a winning issue for Democrats?

My response:

Immigration will be a winning issue for Democrats only if Republicans allow it, which they’re quite capable of doing. Where’s the anti-immigrant part of the Republican base going to go — to the Democrats? Hardly. With so much else at stake, will they sit out the 2012 elections, over this one issue? Please.

If Republicans play it right, this can be a winner. No one seriously believes that the estimated 10 to 12 million illegal immigrants in the country, most working, can or should be sent back to their countries of origin. So the main issues are paving the way to legalization, better securing the borders, and providing for a rational guest worker program. If Republicans got behind a package like that, immigration would cease to be a Democratic issue. This isn’t rocket science.

Latest Immigration Reform Bulletin Examines Immigrant Crime Myth

The June issue of Cato’s monthly newsletter on immigration reform, just released, tackles the timely topic of “Immigrants and Crime: Perceptions vs. Reality.” The bulletin finds that, contrary to public perception, immigration has not caused higher crime rates, in Arizona or in the nation as a whole. In fact, one new study even suggests that a rising level of immigration in a city actually leads to lower crime rates.

According to bulletin editor and author Stuart Anderson, a Cato adjunct scholar, “National studies have reached the conclusion that foreign-born (both legal and illegal immigrants) are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born.” It’s an important fact to consider as other states look to copy Arizona’s tough new law against illegal immigration, which was in large part motivated by fears of crime.

The latest bulletin is the third in a series Cato plans to publish through 2010 and into 2011. The May issue analyzed the pluses and minuses of a Senate Democratic proposal to reform U.S. immigration law, and the April issue critiqued efforts to impose a national ID card and the E-Verify system.

You can sign up here to receive the bulletin each month by email.

New Crime Stats Contradict Anti-Immigrant Hype

FBI crime figures reported in today’s Wall Street Journal challenge the perception that illegal immigrants have unleashed a crime wave in Arizona.

One of the clinching arguments for Arizona’s tough new law aimed at illegal immigration has been the perception in that state that crime has been rising, and that undocumented workers are largely to blame. Yet the Journal reports that the incidence of violent crime in Phoenix last year plunged 16.6 percent compared to 2008, a rate of decline that was three times the national average.

According to the Phoenix Police Department, the downward trend in crime has continued into 2010 even as the “illegal immigrant crime wave” story reverberates on cable TV and talk radio. As the Journal story reports:

In Phoenix, police spokesman Trent Crump said, “Despite all the hype, in every single reportable crime category, we’re significantly down.” Mr. Crump said Phoenix’s most recent data for 2010 indicated still lower crime. For the first quarter of 2010, violent crime was down 17% overall in the city, while homicides were down 38% and robberies 27%, compared with the same period in 2009.

Arizona’s major cities all registered declines. A perceived rise in crime is one reason often cited by proponents of a new law intended to crack down on illegal immigration. The number of kidnappings reported in Phoenix, which hit 368 in 2008, was also down, though police officials didn’t have exact figures.

The new crime figures confirm what I wrote in a column in today’s Washington Times under the headline, “Unfounded fear of immigrant crime grips Arizona,” and what I explored in a longer think piece, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime,” in Commentary magazine a few months ago.

The president and Congress need to fix our immigration system, but we need to do it in the right way and for the right reasons.

Let’s Get Serious about Immigration Reform

The controversy over America’s immigration policy does not allow for easy answers, as the post below by Roger Pilon demonstrates. Even among those of us who advocate limited government and free markets, there is room for debate about what our immigration policy should be and the order in which needed reforms should be pursued.

Roger gives a welcome nod to the argument for “a serious guest-worker program,” which I’ve argued is essential to any successful reform effort. He also acknowledges that its implementation should be in concert with serious enforcement rather than delayed indefinitely by demands that we “control the border first.”

One place where I differ with my dear colleague is in his assertion that: “We no longer control our southern border, and Congress seems unable or unwilling to do anything about it.”

I’m not sure there ever was a time, at least in recent decades, that the U.S. government exerted “control” over the southern border in the sense that illegal entry was largely prevented. Sealing a 2,000-mile border remains a daunting challenge to those who advocate it.

If anything, our border with Mexico is more under control today than at any time in recent years. According to estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Department of Homeland Security, the number of people living in the United States illegally has dropped by more than 1 million in the past two years. That strongly implies that the net inflow of illegal immigrants across the border has declined sharply.

The main reason for the drop in net illegal immigration is probably the recession, but increased enforcement has arguably played a role as well. According to a recent paper by Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda of UCLA, the federal government has dramatically increased the resources it spends to “control the border.”

Consider: The U.S. Border Patrol’s annual budget has shot up by 714 percent since 1992, from $326 million to $2.7 billion. During the same period, the number of Border Patrol agents stationed along the southwest border has grown from 3,555 to 17,415. Hundreds of miles of fencing has been constructed along the border, much of it across private property.

If this is the mark of a government “unwilling to do anything,” I would shudder at the cost and intrusion of a more concerted effort.

The bottom line is that our “enforcement only” approach to controlling the border has failed, and it will continue to fail until we create a legal alternative to illegal immigration.

To ‘Control the Border,’ First Reform Immigration Law

The latest catch phrase in the immigration debate is that we must “get control of our borders” before we consider actually changing the current immigration law that has made enforcement so difficult in the first place.

In his Washington Post column yesterday, George Will wrote that “the government’s refusal to control [the U.S.-Mexican] border is why there are an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants in Arizona and why the nation, sensibly insisting on first things first, resists ‘comprehensive’ immigration reform.”

On the other side of the political spectrum, Democrats in Congress this week unveiled the outlines of an immigration bill that would postpone any broader reforms, such as a new worker visa program or legalization of workers already here, until a series of border security “benchmarks” have been met.

Requiring successful enforcement of the current immigration laws before they can be changed is a non sequitur. It’s like saying, in 1932, that we can’t repeal the nationwide prohibition on alcohol consumption until we’ve drastically reduced the number of moonshine stills and bootleggers. But Prohibition itself created the conditions for the rise of those underground enterprises, and the repeal of Prohibition was necessary before the government could “get control” of its unintended consequences.

Illegal immigration is the Prohibition debate of our day. By essentially barring the legal entry of low-skilled immigrant workers, our own government has created the conditions for an underground labor market, complete with smuggling and day-labor operations. As long as the government maintains this prohibition, illegal immigration will be widespread, and the cost of reducing it, in tax dollars and compromised civil liberties, will be enormous.

We know from experience that expanding opportunities for legal immigration can dramatically reduce incentives for illegal immigration. In the 1950s, the federal government faced widespread illegal immigration across the Mexican border. In response, the government simultaneously beefed up enforcement while greatly expanding the number of workers allowed in the country through the Bracero guest-worker program. The result: Apprehensions at the border dropped by 95 percent. (For documentation, see this excellent 2003 paper by Stuart Anderson, a Cato adjunct scholar and executive director of the National Foundation for American Policy.)

If we want to “get control” of our border with Mexico, the smartest thing we could do would be to allow more workers to enter the United States legally under the umbrella of comprehensive immigration reform. Then we could focus our enforcement resources on a much smaller number of people who for whatever reason are still operating outside the law.