Tag: immigration

Arizona’s SB1070 and Crime

Arizona state representative Sonny Borrelli (R) remarked that crime rates in his state dropped 78 percent since the passage of that state’s infamous SB1070 in 2010. His remark was thoroughly debunked. Below are a few charts to put Arizona’s crime rates in context. 

It is very difficult to show causality between a law and its effect on crime in later years. Crime rates have trended downward in the United States for over 20 years now. It is difficult to credit any decline after 2010 to a specific Arizona immigration law.  Also, Arizona’s crime rate cannot be considered in isolation. Comparing it to neighboring states and the country as a whole which did not pass an SB1070-type bill is necessary to even get a slight hint of how that law on crime.  Furthermore, there is a vast empirical literature on the effect of immigration on crime. At worst, immigration has almost no effect on crime. At best, immigration decreases crime rates.   

All of the figures are presented as a rate of crime per 100,000. The violent crime rate in Arizona was declining before SB 1070 and continued to decline afterward (Figure 1). From 2009 to 2014, the Arizona violent crime rate declined by 6.3 percent while it dropped 13 percent nationally. There was a decline of 16.3 percent in California, 9.9 percent  in Nevada, and 5.5 percent in New Mexico. 

Figure 1

Violent Crime Rate


Source: FBI.

Like the violent crime rate, the property crime rate in Arizona was also declining before SB 1070 and continued to decline afterward (Figure 2). From 2009 to 2014, the Arizona property crime rate decline by 10.9 percent while it dropped 14.6 percent nationally. It declined in every other state: 10.6 percent in California, 14.3 percent in Nevada, and 4.6 percent in New Mexico.

Do Immigrants Have “Trust” Issues?

One common criticism of immigrants is that they could undermine American institutions, weakening them so much that future economic growth will decrease so that the long run costs of liberalization are greater than the benefits. As I’ve written before this criticism doesn’t hold up to empirical scrutiny but a new line of attack is that immigrant trust levels could weaken productivity.  I decided to look at trust variables in the General Social Survey (GSS), a huge biennial survey of households in the United States, to see if immigrants and their children are less trusting than other Americans. The results were unexpected.

The first variable examined was “trust.” The question asked was: “Generally speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in life?” I confined the results to the years 2004-2014 to measure more recent immigrants. The first generation is the immigrant generation, the second generation are children of immigrants, the third generation are the grandchildren of immigrants, and the fourth+ generation includes their great grandchildren and every older generation.

The first and second generations are less trusting than the third generation, confirming the findings of the literature. However, the fourth-plus generation is about as distrustful as the first and second generations. The immigrants and their children are not the trust anomaly, the third generation is. They are more trusting than every other generation of Americans (Figure 1).           

Figure 1


Source: General Social Survey

Related to “trust,” the “fair” variable asks: “Do you think most people would try to take advantage of you if they got a chance, or would they try to be fair?” It reveals the same pattern as “trust” –first and second generations are much more likely to say people try to take advantage than the third generation (Figure 2). However, the fourth+ generations are nearly indistinguishable from the immigrant generation and their children. Only the third generation sees other people as particularly fair. 

Figure 2


Source: General Social Survey

The third variable examined was “helpful,” which asks: “Would you say that most of the time people try to be helpful, or that they are mostly just looking out for themselves?” The same pattern emerged – the first and second generations were more similar to the fourth-plus generation. The second generation is nearly identical to the fourth-plus generation. The third generation was most likely to say that most people were helpful and least likely to say that people look out for themselves. Again, the third generation is the trust anomaly, not the immigrants.    

Figure 3


Source: General Social Survey

The differences between immigrants, their children, and fourth-plus generation Americans are small when it comes to levels of trust, opinions of fairness, and whether people are helpful. It’s hard to see how these small differences could comprise the micro foundations of an institution-based argument against liberalized immigration. The question is not why native-born Americans trust and immigrants don’t, it’s why do third generation Americans trust so much while all other Americans and immigrants do not?


For “trust,” there were 1039 first generation respondents, 364 from the second generation, 327 for the third generation, and 4988 for the fourth-plus generation. For “fair,” there were 972 first generation respondents, 345 from the second generation, 304 for the third generation, and 4699 for the fourth-plus generation. For “helpful,” there were 986 first generation respondents, 347 from the second generation, 303 from the third generation, and 4700 from the fourth-plus generation. 

Immigration Restrictionism Hasn’t Helped Japan’s Labor Market

Japan is a developed nation that allows little immigration, thus winning occasional praise from American immigration restrictionists. If the reason for copying Japan’s immigration policy of almost no immigrants is that it will improve the labor markets, conditions there do not provide evidence for that claim, at least on the surface. 

Japan’s immigrant population is minuscule compared to the United States, as a percent of either country’s population (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Immigrant Stock as Percentage of Population

Source: World Bank.

Although there is little immigration to Japan, real average monthly cash earnings have declined slightly since 1995 (Figure 2). During the same time period, U.S. wages have actually grown, albeit not as fast as many want (Figure 3). If those graphs were unlabeled, my hunch is that most immigration restrictionists would assume the better graph is Japan. Japan’s sluggish wage growth in a low-immigration environment doesn’t match the restrictionist fairytale while American wage growth contradicts it.

Emigrants Transform Institutions - For the Better

The potential negative impact of immigrants on American political and economic institutions is the best argument against liberalized immigration and the economic, social, national security, and criminal objections are not convincing.  Michael Clemens and Lant Pritchett dig into this argument, which they call the “Epidemiological Case for efficient migration restrictions,” and find it mostly wanting (their paper is the best I’ve read in a long while).  I’ve co-written an academic journal article, Cato policy paper, and other work about how immigration could affect institutions.  There is more evidence that immigration improves institutions than that it worsens them although there is still much work to be done on this issue and questions remain.

But there is evidence that emigration improves a source country’s institutions.  Fredrik Segerfeldt summarizes some of the evidence in his new book for the Adam Smith Institute in the UK.  In Chapter 6 of his book, Segerfeldt observes:

Mexican migrants play an important role in shaping political atti­tudes in the country, both through social remittances and after returning home. Political participation increases, democratic com­petition intensifies, it becomes more difficult for leading members of the party in power to enrich themselves and the chance that the rul­ing coalition will retain power decreases. In short, Mexico’s exodus makes it more democratic.

Although much of the research above deals with Mexico, there are other results indicating that emigration can strengthen democracy. In a macro study of a large number of poor countries, economists find that emigration increases both democracy and economic freedom in the sending country.

How does emigration improve Mexican economic and political institutions?  By breaking up cronyist and interventionist political arrangements:

Emigration can also help to break up or at least weaken governance based on patronage. In such countries voters tend to vote for the rul­ing party, because otherwise they risk losing the benefits that the power distributes. Entire communities will be dependent on the rul­ing party, which impairs democracy. But when people in a commu­nity receive income that is not from the state or the ruling party, citi­zens become more independent and can therefore vote for the oppo­sition if they want to. In Mexico, remittances reduce the support for the PRI, the party which, with the help of patron-client methods, managed to retain control of the country during most of the 20th cen­tury (between 1929 and 2000).

Migration and remittances may also be a way to break up old hierar­chies based on class and ethnicity. In San Pedro Pinula in Guatemala, for example, residents of the Mayan people, with the help of both returning migrants and remittances, have slowly but surely been able to challenge the ethnic underclass role they had for five centu­ries. In the oases of southern Morocco, the Haratin, poor black, land­less workers, have enhanced their status thanks to remittances from abroad.

Segerfeldt’s summary of that research can help explain the important finding by Joshua C. Hall that the ability to emigrate is correlated with improvements in source country economic freedom: 

Exitability, a variable created by Brown (2014) to capture how easy it is for citizens to “vote with their feet” is related to the change in economic freedom from 1980 to 2010 in a statistically significant manner across all specifications. This provides some indirect evidence to the importance of “exit” versus “voice” with respect to the question of institutional reform.

Emigration benefits governance in sending countries, increasing the returns from liberalized immigration policies in the developed world.  This is an exciting time to be working on how immigrants affect economic and political institutions.   

Terrorism Does Not Justify Immigration Moratorium

Some prominent conservatives like Larry Kudlow, David Bossie, and Ann Coulter have now called for a complete moratorium on immigration because of the threat of Islamic terrorism.  However, they all focus on the benefits and neglect the costs of such a policy.  An immigration moratorium will cost the U.S. economy about $200 billion annually on net, even if it is successful at significantly reducing terrorism.

Costs of Terrorism and the Benefits of an Immigration Moratorium

According to the New America Foundation, jihadists have killed 45 Americans on U.S. soil since 9/11.  John Mueller estimates that each murder by jihadists costs about $15 million – double that of other deaths.  That means the cost of jihadist terrorism on American soil, just taking in to account the loss of life, is about $50 million a year since 9/11.  Let’s double that to $100 million to try and take account of other costs, excluding counter-terrorism spending. 

Under the most pessimistic assumptions, 73 percent of convicted terrorists in the decade after 9/11 were foreign-born.  Assuming that those 73 percent of immigrant terrorists are responsible for 73 percent of the jihadist murders since 9/11, their annual cost is $73 million.  At best, assuming there are no immigrant terrorists currently in the United States, the benefits of reducing terrorism via an immigration moratorium are $73 million annually.       

Costs of a Moratorium

Of course, measuring just the benefits of a moratorium is only half of the relevant calculation.  We must also estimate the economic costs of a moratorium on all future immigration.  Professor Benjamin Powell of Texas Tech University estimated the economic costs of a total immigration moratorium at $229 billion annually – $193 billion in rent-seeking costs and an additional loss of the conservatively estimated $36 billion annual immigration surplus.  Powell’s estimate is remarkably similar to Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda’s related estimate that removing 11 million unauthorized immigrants would lower GDP over a ten period by $2.6 trillion (Powell’s ten-year cost is $2.3 trillion).

Market Solutions for Population Problems

The Wall Street Journal put out an article with some excellent visual representations of the world’s changing demographics. (Please remember that you can also explore population growth, fertility rates, and the changing age make-up of the population using HumanProgress.org’s interactive maps and charts).

The WSJ notes,

In 1798 Thomas Malthus, a British essayist, argued that humanity would reproduce faster than food production could rise, leading to destitution and starvation. He was wrong. The Western world’s population grew rapidly over the 19th and 20th centuries, with a dip in 1918-19 because of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. But rising agricultural productivity proved more than capable of feeding the extra mouths.

Humanity found ways to produce more food per unit of land through innovations like synthetic fertilizers and increasingly advanced genetic modification techniques. As production increased, prices fell, calorie consumption increased, and undernourishment fell even as the world’s population grew.

Malthus’ mistake was to ignore human beings’ ability to innovate their way out of problems. But, as Julian Simon found in The Ultimate Resource, people are excellent problem-solvers. A challenge (feeding a growing population), led to technological innovation (the Green Revolution and GMOs) and that led to a solution (higher agricultural productivity and falling food prices).

As Human Progress advisory board member Matt Ridley notes in The Rational Optimist and The Evolution of Everything, technological innovation depends on the exchange of ideas. The more people there are (and the freer and more timely their exchange of ideas), the better.

The WSJ article recognizes problems associated with declining working-age populations—especially when it comes to unsustainable social security commitments those countries have made to their elderly. The WSJ also notes that government programs to incentivize having more children do not seem to work very well, and are not a viable solution.

One of the ways in which nations could increase their growth rates is to attract immigrants from other countries where their talents may be wasted. To learn more about the economics of immigration and the contentious issues surrounding the debate, including the effects of immigration on the native-born population’s wages and culture, consider registering for Cato’s forum in January on the subject.

Ted Cruz’s Mixed Record on Immigration Reform

Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio both impressed audiences in the last debate.  Senator Rubio’s positions on immigration are discussed frequently, but Senator Cruz is normally viewed as an immigration restrictionist – an unfair characterization.  It’s more important to look at Senator Cruz’s actions when he offered amendments to the 2013 “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration reform bill (S. 744) than it is to cherry-pick a few quotes.  Senator Cruz did end up voting against S. 744, but only after he offered many amendments.   

Senator Ted Cruz was a tremendous supporter of skilled immigration and supported massively expanding the size of those programs, even beyond what was proposed in S. 744.  He offered four amendments (1324, 1326, 1586, 1587), to expand the number of employment based green cards to over a million annually.  Senator Cruz offered two amendments (1325 and 1585) to increase the number of H-1B visas issued annually to 325,000 while S. 744 allowed an upward bound of 180,000 annually (with some upward adjustments possible).  In other words, Senator Cruz’s amendment intended to practically double the number of H-1B visas over that which was proposed in the Senate’s 2013 comprehensive immigration reform bill.  Amendment 1587 also increased the number of H-1B visas and employment based green cards.  Senator Cruz’s amendments would have also allowed the spouses of all H-1B visa holders to work legally – going beyond President Obama’s actions to increase work eligibly for those spouses.  Expanding the number of green cards and H-1B visas for skilled workers would have been a tremendous boost to the U.S. economy.