Tag: immigrants

The Failure of the Americanization Movement

Introduction

Last week I was on an immigration panel discussing my new booklet Open Immigration: Yea & Nay, coauthored with Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies.  The other panelists were Michael Barone, George Will, Andrew McCarthy, and John Fonte.  They all had interesting comments about the booklet and the issue of immigration broadly.  However, I do want to take issue with some comments by John Fonte about the assimilation of immigrants and his view that the United States needs a modern version of the Americanization movement – an early 20th century initiative that sought to assimilate newcomers rapidly into American civic life.  Fonte claims that modern immigrants just aren’t assimilating as well as previous waves of immigrants, especially in their patriotism, because there is no modern equivalent of the Americanization movement to help them. 

During the event, I challenged Fonte’s claims about both the assimilation rates of today’s immigrants as well as the effectiveness of the Americanization Movement.  On the former point, research by Jacob Vigdor and others shows solid and sustained assimilation of immigrants over the generations that is comparable to the assimilation rates of previous immigrant groups.  On the latter point about the effectiveness of the Americanization movement, I mentioned that there were no data available from the early 20th century to confirm or disconfirm that it was responsible for the assimilation of immigrants in those groups.  Fonte countered by saying [2:44:15]: “It’s true we don’t have data on how well assimilation worked, but I think we have plenty of anecdotal evidence that Americanization did help.”  Elsewhere Fonte writes “assimilation of the Ellis Island generation succeeded only because American elites (progressive at the time) insisted upon ‘Americanization.’”  The success of the Americanization movement is an empirical question but there is precious little data from that time period.  There may be some anecdotes available that support his position so I will list some others below that question the effectiveness of the Americanization movement.    

Fonte and I clearly disagree over how successful current immigrant assimilation is in the United States, but this blog will focus on the little-researched and less understood Americanization movement of last century.  Contrary to Fonte’s claims, the Americanization movement had no discernible impacts on immigrant assimilation at best and, at worst, it may have slowed down assimilation.  The Americanization movement was not a benevolent government program that sought to assimilate immigrants into American society so much as it was an avenue for American opponents of immigration to vent their frustrations about immigrants.  Such an atmosphere of hostility could not produce greater assimilation.  The Americanization movement, however, did create an air of government-forced homogeneity similar to the government policies of Russia, Hungary, and Germany that tried to forcibly assimilate ethnic and linguistic minorities with tragic consequences – an experience many immigrants came to America to avoid.  The Americanization movement replaced the tolerant cosmopolitanism (for the most part) that defined America’s experience with immigration up to that point, and represented a low-water mark of American confidence in the assimilationist power of her institutions.  Below I will lay out the history of the Americanization movement, how it worked, and why it was likely ineffective.

Do Amnesties Increase Unlawful Immigration?

One popular argument against a legalization, or amnesty, of unlawful immigrants is that it will merely incentivize future unlawful immigration.  Unlawful immigrants will be more likely to break immigration laws because they will eventually be legalized anyway, so why bother to attempt to enter legally (ignoring the fact that almost none of them could have entered legally)?  This claim is taken at face value because the stock of unlawful immigration eventually increased in the decades after the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) that amnestied roughly 2.7 million.

However, that doesn’t prove that IRCA was responsible for the increase in the stock of unlawful immigrants.  The stock of unlawful immigrants may have been increasing at a steady rate prior to the amnesty and that rate may have just continued after the amnesty.  Measuring the flows of unlawful immigrants is the best way to gauge whether the 1986 Reagan amnesty incentivized further unlawful immigration.  If the flows increased after IRCA, then the amnesty likely incentivized more unlawful immigration.  The number of annual apprehensions of unlawful immigrants on the Southwest border is a good way to approximate for these cross-border flows.

It’s perfectly reasonable to think that an amnesty of unlawful immigrants could increase their numbers in the future.  There are at least two ways this could occur.  The first is through knowledge of an imminent amnesty.  If foreigners thought Congress was about to grant legal status to large numbers of unlawful immigrants, then some of those foreigners may rush the border on the chance that they would be included.  Legislators were aware of this problem, which was why IRCA did not apply to unlawful immigrants who entered on January 1st 1982 or after.  IRCA had been debated for years before passage and Congress did not want to grant amnesty to unlawful immigrants who entered merely because they heard of the amnesty.  To prevent such a rush, subsequent immigration reform bills have all had a cutoff date for legalization prior to Congressional debate on the matter. 

Even with the cutoff date, some recent unlawful immigrants would still be able to legalize due to fraud or administrative oversights.  An unlawful immigrant who rushes the border to take advantage of an imminent amnesty still has a greater chance of being legalized than he did before, so legalization might be the marginal benefit that convinces him to try.  This theory of a rush of unlawful immigrants prior to an imminent amnesty is not controversial.

Immigrants Didn’t Take Your Job – The Byron York Edition

Byron York’s anti-immigration reform piece relies on at least three weak intellectual crutches:

  1. York assumes that immigration reform will import millions of immigrant workers for jobs that do not exist. In reality, immigration reform would allow more immigrant workers to come in response to job opportunities. Throughout American history, immigrants come when there are jobs for them and stop coming when there aren’t. Unemployment rates, economic growth rates, and employment growth in industries where immigrants tend to work are great predictors of immigrant flow. In the aftermath of the housing construction collapse and Great Recession, the number of unauthorized immigrants dropped, and the cross-border flow shrank to a level not seen in 40 years.  Unauthorized immigrants don’t come when there aren’t jobs they can fill, and neither do legal workers. York doesn’t explain why that relationship would suddenly change.
  2. York ignores demand – the other half of the supply and demand model. Assuming that immigrants are just workers ignores their impacts on the demand side. When immigrants buy goods, services, rent or buy property, or start firms here, demand is stimulated. Immigrants, like the rest of us, are more than just workers in a labor market. We also consume what is produced by that market. Excluding the worker from the U.S. through immigration restrictions would also exclude the consumer. According to a University of Georgia study, Hispanic and Asian Americans have $1.9 trillion in annual purchasing power. Those groups of new Americans, mostly added in recent decades due to increases in immigrant and subsequent births, are more than just workers. Future immigrants will be more than just workers too.   
  3. York relies on the lump of labor fallacy, implying that more immigrant workers somehow decrease the quantity of jobs available to American workers. Besides immigrants mainly coming when employment is available, stimulating employment creation once here, and creating firms– there are not a fixed number of jobs in the American economy. If there were a fixed number of jobs, then the large scale movement of women into the post-World War II labor force would have resulted in mass male unemployment. The opposite occurred.

The rest of Mr. York’s piece relies on anecdotes from a biased sample that refuses to deal with the arguments and evidence that support immigration reform.    

Immigrants Are Attracted to Jobs, Not Welfare

Unauthorized and low skilled immigrants are attracted to America’s labor markets, not the size of welfare benefits.  From 2003 through 2012, many unauthorized immigrants were attracted to work in the housing market.  Housing starts demanded a large number of workers fill those jobs.  As many as 27 percent of them were unauthorized immigrants in some states.  Additionally, jobs that indirectly supported the construction of new houses also attracted many lower skilled immigrant workers.

Apprehensions of illegal crossers on the Southwest border (SWB) is a good indication of the size of the unauthorized immigrant flow into the United States.  The chart below shows apprehensions on the SWB and housing starts in each quarter:

 

Fewer housing starts create fewer construction jobs that attract fewer crossings and, therefore, fewer SWB apprehensions.  The correlation holds before and after the mid-2006 housing collapse. 

What about welfare? 

Here is a chart of the national real average TANF benefit level per family of three from 2003 to 2011 (2012 data is unavailable) and SWB apprehensions:

 

Prior to mid-2006, TANF benefit levels fell while unauthorized immigration rose.  During the housing construction boom, unauthorized immigrants were attracted by jobs and not declining TANF benefits.  After mid-2006, when housing starts began falling dramatically, real TANF benefit levels and unauthorized immigration both fell at the same time.  If unauthorized immigration was primarily incentivized by the real value of welfare benefits, it would have fallen continuously since 2003.   

The above chart does not capture the full size of welfare benefits or how rapidly other welfare programs increased beginning in 2008.  As economist Casey Mulligan explained in his book The Redistribution Recession, unemployment insurance, food stamps (SNAP), and Medicaid benefits increased in value and duration beginning in mid-2008.  Including those would skew welfare benefits upward in 2008 and beyond, but unauthorized immigration inflows still fell during that time.

In conclusion, housing starts incentivize unauthorized immigration while TANF does not. 

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.

Arizona Immigration Decision Underlines Need for Fundamental Reform

The legal battle over SB 1070 is far from over, so neither side should cheer or despair. The upshot of the Ninth Circuit’s splintered and highly technical opinion is merely that the district court did not abuse its discretion in enjoining four provisions. The court could not and did not rule on the legislation’s ultimate constitutionality and, of course, SB 1070’s remaining provisions—the ten that weren’t challenged and the two on which Judge Bolton rejected the government’s argument—remain in effect.

But the legal machinations are only half the story. While I personally think that all or almost all of the Arizona law is constitutional, at least as written (abuses in application are always possible), it’s bad policy because it harms the state’s economy and misallocates law enforcement resources. But I also understand the frustration of many state governments, whose citizens are demanding relief from a broken immigration system that Congress has repeatedly failed to fix. Whether it’s stronger enforcement (Arizona) or liberalizing work permits (Utah), states should not be forced into the position of having to enact their own piecemeal immigration solutions while living within a system where the regulation of immigration is a federal responsibility. Congress has dropped the ball in not passing comprehensive immigration reform, despite facing a system that doesn’t work for anyone: not big business or small business, not rich Americans or poor ones, not skilled would-be immigrants or unskilled.

The federalism our Constitution establishes sometimes demands that the federal government act on certain issues. This is such a time and immigration is such an issue.

Immigration and Election Day

Immigrants are a voting block worth courting, but it seems both Democrats and Republicans aren’t terribly concerned about earning immigrants’ allegiance. The sometimes-dehumanizing rhetoric hurled at immigrants by a small, vocal minority of Republicans would seem to push immigrant voters into the loving arms of Democrats. But Democrats have been in charge of two branches of the federal government for two years and have done nothing to reform our immigration system. For his part, President Obama pledged that 2009 would bear witness to comprehensive immigration reform.

Dan Griswold discusses the rhetoric surrounding immigration in light of today’s election for today’s Cato Daily Podcast (subscribe, already!):