Tag: undocumented workers

President Obama’s Incomplete Speech on Immigration

President Obama spoke this morning at American University on the need for comprehensive immigration reform. The president deserves credit for turning his attention to a thorny problem that desperately needs action from Congress, but the speech failed to hit at least one important note.

While the president called for comprehensive reform, he neglected to advocate the expansion of legal immigration in the future through a temporary or guest worker program for low-skilled immigrants. Even his own Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, has said such a program is the necessary “third leg” of immigration reform, the other two being legalization of undocumented workers already here and vigorous enforcement against those still operating outside the system.

As I’ve pointed out plenty of times, without accommodation for the ongoing labor needs of our country, any reform would repeat the failures of the past. In 1986, Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which legalized 2.7 million workers already here illegally, while beefing up enforcement. But without a new visa program to allow more low-skilled workers to enter legally in future years, illegal immigration just began to climb again to where, two decades later, we are trying once again to solve the same problem.

On the plus side, President Obama reminded his audience of the important role immigrants play in our open and dynamic country. And he rightly linked immigration reform to securing our borders:

“[T]here are those who argue that we should not move forward with any other elements of reform until we have fully sealed our borders. But our borders are just too vast for us to be able to solve the problem only with fences and border patrols. It won’t work. Our borders will not be secure as long as our limited resources are devoted to not only stopping gangs and potential terrorists, but also the hundreds of thousands who attempt to cross each year simply to find work.

Unfortunately, given the political climate in Washington, an election looming only four months away, and the president’s unwillingness to press for an essential element of successful reform, the illegal immigration problem will still be on the agenda when a new Congress comes to town in 2011.

Misguided Fears of Crime Fuel Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona’s harsh new law against illegal immigration is being justified in part as a measure to combat crime. The murder of an Arizona rancher in March, allegedly by somebody in the country without documentation, galvanized support for the bill.

The death of the rancher was a tragedy, and drug-related violence along the border is a real problem, but it is a smear to blame low-skilled immigrant workers from Latin America for creating a crime problem in Arizona.

The crime rate in Arizona in 2008 was the lowest it has been in four decades. In the past decade, as the number of illegal immigrants in the state grew rapidly, the violent crime rate dropped by 23 percent, the property crime rate by 28 percent. (You can check out the DoJ figures here.)

Census data show that immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than their native-born counterparts, as I unpacked a few months ago in an article for Commentary magazine titled, “Higher Immigration, Lower Crime.”

Three Steps to Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Congress can and should pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2010. Any legislation worthy of the name would:

1) offer legalization to undocumented workers who have been here for several years, pass a security check, and pay a reasonable fine and back taxes;

2) create a temporary-visa program sufficient to meet future labor needs of a growing economy; and

3) enforce the law against those who still insist on working outside the system, but in a way that does not restrict the freedom of American citizens.

Reform would reduce illegal immigration by offering a legal alternative. It would tighten border security by allowing U.S. agents to focus on intercepting real criminals and terrorists, not dishwashers and gardeners. And it would expand output, investment, and job opportunities for middle-class Americans. Polls show a majority of Americans will accept the three-fold approach to reform. Recent elections confirm that support for reform is a modest plus with swing voters, and a huge plus with Hispanics.

This is an issue where both major parties can work together to fix our immigration system in a way that boosts the economy, enhances security, and expands liberty.

For more, see Cato’s research on immigration.

Have Mexican Dishwashers Brought California to Its Knees?

workerAn article published this week by National Review magazine blames the many problems of California on—take a guess—high taxes, over-regulation of business, runaway state spending, an expansive welfare state? Try none of the above. The article, by Alex Alexiev of the Hudson Institute, puts the blame on the backs of low-skilled, illegal immigrants from Mexico and the federal government for not keeping them out.

Titled “Catching Up to Mexico: Illegal immigration is depleting California’s human capital and ravaging its economy,” the article endorses high-skilled immigration to the state while rejecting the influx of “the poorly educated, the unskilled, and the illiterate” immigrants that enter illegally from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.

Before swallowing the article’s thesis, consider two thoughts:

One, if low-skilled, illegal immigration is the single greatest cause of California’s woes, how does the author explain the relative success of Texas? As a survey in the July 11 issue of The Economist magazine explained, smaller-government Texas has avoided many of the problems of California while outperforming most of the rest of the country in job creation and economic growth. And Texas has managed to do this with an illegal immigrant population that rivals California’s as a share of its population.

Two, low-skilled immigrants actually enhance the human capital of native-born Americans by allowing us to move up the occupational ladder to jobs that are more productive and better paying. In a new study from the Cato Institute, titled “Restriction or Legalization? Measuring the Economic Benefits of Immigration Reform,” this phenomenon is called the “occupational mix effect” and it translates into tens of billions of dollars of benefits to U.S. households.

Our new study, authored by economists Peter Dixon and Maureen Rimmer, found that legalization of low-skilled immigration would boost the incomes of American households by $180 billion, while further restricting such immigration would reduce the incomes of U.S. families by $80 billion.

That is a quarter of a trillion dollar difference between following the policy advice of National Review and that of the Cato Institute. Last time I checked, that is still real money, even in Washington.

Should Immigration Agents Target Businesses Knowingly Hiring Illegal Immigrants?

The Obama Administration plans to shift immigration enforcement from workers to employers, but the whole policy of “internal enforcement” of immigration law is the problem, says Cato scholar Jim Harper.

According to Harper, aligning legal immigration rates with the demand for new workers in the country is the only solution to the problem of illegal immigration.

He appeared on Fox News this week to debate this issue.

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