CIS: Enforcement Might Work! Or Not! But Probably!

The population of undocumented workers in the country seems to be declining, which one would expect with a slowing economy and moribund construction industry. Part of this may be due to raids and deportations, but it's extremely difficult to disaggregate the effects of enforcement from those of unemployment. This becomes abundantly clear while reading the Center for Immigration Studies' attempt to establish that undocumented workers are lining up to leave because the Department of Homeland Security is mindblowingly effective.

The CIS report "Homeward Bound" (Pdf) is getting a lot of play from people who seem to have misunderstood the report, which is understandable, since it's an evasive and confusing 12 pages. The strategy here seems to be to stuff the executive summary with bold speculation and follow up with a study full of to-be-sures and it-is-certainly-plausibles and it-must-be-remembered-thats and but-of-courses:

Although both legal and illegal immigrants are subject to the economic downturn, it seems that only the illegal immigrant population is declining. This is consistent with the idea that the enforcement of immigration laws is causing the decline.

Of course, less-educated workers in general are more vulnerable to hardship during an economic downturn than are more-educated individuals. This fact may also partly explain why the number of less-educated, young Hispanics immigrants fell while the rest of the adult immigrant population did not fall in the same way.

A less tortured way to put this is: "As always happens in times of economic downturn, the most transient and vulnerable immigrants leave first." The report defines the "likely illegal immigrant population" as young foreign-born Hispanics with little education. Even in the context of a good economic climate, young uneducated foreign-born men without status comprise the major demographic group least likely to stay in the United States for long periods of time. They're mobile.

The report also claims that the undocumented population began leaving before August 2007, when the country saw a jump in the unemployment rate. Thus, argue the authors, they must have been running from ICE. But as researchers at the Immigration Policy Center write in a point-by-point rebuttal, "the economic downturn in many of the industries where undocumented immigrants tend to be employed began well before August 2007."

My own (speculative!) view is that an aggressive employer sanctions law in the state of Arizona has driven out significant numbers of immigrants, who may either be returning to Mexico or moving on to less restrictionist states. Arizona has made it more difficult for unauthorized workers to find work, which distinguishes it from states that are merely subject to random ICE raids. But even in Arizona, where enforcement measures are the most severe in the country, responsible economists say they can't be completely sure why people are moving on. As always, the most surefire anti-immigrant policy is one that contributes to economic decline.

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  • John McCain||

    My friends,

    I will solve the illegal immigration problem in my first 30 days in office. All it will take is my signature on a bipartisan comprehensive reform bill.

  • ||

    Arizona's "reforms", meaning they try to harass illegals as much as possible, are very broad. Being Hispanic is merely enough to be subjected to extra trreatment from the police and others. Employers are afraid to hire legal immigrants as well. And many people who are legal are also leaving the state saying that they prefer other states which don't treat them as badly.

    This has been just great for the economy, he said sarcastically. Vacancy rates in Arizona are very high. Empty apartments, empty houses, empty shops. Of course the housing bubble, another great government program, is involved. But with the housing bubble so bad in AZ you would think they would be smart enough to not make it worse by pushing up vacancy rates. But in a stunning move of bipartisan stupidity the dumb Republicans pushed through measures, signed by the stupd Democratic governo, guaranteed to make it worse.

    Of course employer costs are going up as well as they have fewer workers to pick from, just about the time that demand for products, with fewer customers, goes down. The bigots in AZ have fundanmentally shot themselves int he foot because they don't understand Econ 101.

  • Bingo||

    Sheriff Joe Arpaio is an egotistical prick that is absolutely great at public relations. I think that the availability of cheap labor from the "IllegalMexicanImmigrants" probably helped Phoenix boom more than anything else.

  • Barack Obama||

    No, I will solve the illegal immigration problem in my first 30 days in office. All it will take is my signature on a bipartisan comprehensive reform bill.

  • ||

    What I love about Obama and McCain is the stark contrast between the candidates. The choice is clear.

  • Orange Line Special||

    So, Howley says no one knows for sure, and CIS also says no one knows for sure, and both are right: no one knows for sure.

    As for hlm's comment, it's BadPublicPolicy to promote profiting from IllegalActivity because that inevitably leads to MassivePoliticalCorruption as, for instance, builders basically pay off politicians to look the other way. And, the costs of that are far greater than any costs from empty buildings.

    As for Arpaio, watch the videos of Isabel Garcia, a local public official and someone on the same side as Reason. They might disagree with people like her, but I've never once seen Reason to do something like that. Instead, Reason has acted as an apologist for people like that. And, of course, Reason and "libertarians" would give people like her even more power than they have now.

  • GILMORE||

    POliticalPOwer! MassImmigration! FAKELibertarians! I speakith! No one listenith! WhyOhWhy! WhY I NotLearneth! WhyTheyIgnorethMe!?

  • ||

    WE really need Sheriff Arpaio in the
    Sanctuary/Outlaw city of Los Angeles.
    There are over 2.5 million illegal
    aliens in the city. Our mayor's largest
    campaign contributor has admitted in
    the left wing Times that he has
    5500 who are mostly illegal working
    for him at his company's santa fe st.
    building. Go Sheriff Joe!

  • Rick H.||

    Wow! I live and work in a Sanctuary/Outlaw city? That would be so cool if it made any sense whatsoever.

    Then again, the comment by "Oneifbyland" was cut-and-pasted into some sort of spambic pentameter-style format; I suppose poetry doesn't always have to be logical.

  • ||

    "As always happens in times of economic downturn, the most transient and vulnerable immigrants leave first."

    And, as also needs to be mentioned, when the transient and vulnerable occupations in the US are filled by transient immigrant populations who, after all, can elect to economically migrate back to their home nations, employment of US native workers is to a great degree protected from economic shock. The persistently low unemployment numbers since the 1980s could very well be placed right at the feet of immigration, both legal and illegal.

  • Mike Laursen||

    it's BadPublicPolicy to promote profiting from IllegalActivity

    So, you'd be OK with making it a LegalActivity for Mexicans who are currently shut out by legal immigration quotas to live and work in the United States? It would solve the BadPublicPolicy problem.

  • ||

    http://www2.nationalreview.com/derbyshire/derbradio080725.mp3

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    "As always, the most surefire anti-immigrant policy is one that contributes to economic decline."

    Well, there's certainly no kool aid -- or should we call it "to-be-sures and it-is-certainly-plausibles and it-must-be-remembered-thats and but-of-courses" -- in that statement. Nosiree Bob nope not-a.

    Of course anarchists are in favor of open borders. They're not in favor of borders in the first place.

    Fortunately anarchists have always been a fairly small minority, leaving their wild fantasies still born. Most people got quite enough of that during Europe's last Dark Age.

    Somehow I keep hoping that somebody on the Reason staff is going to get a clue on this issue, but I haven't seen it yet. The majority of Americans are not anarchists and they are not in favor of wide open borders. However fuzzy the suits in DC get, these facts still stand.


    If I'm a white American construction worker in Arizona, having a swarm of Mexicans around who will work for half as much is not "good" for my personal economy. It'll be a cold day in hell that you convince me I should be in favor of open borders.

    Libertarians claim to understand the law of supply and demand until it comes to immigration. Then, around here, they so conveniently forget it.

    If you bring in a mass of foreign workers, the wages for whatever work they do are going down (see "LAW OF SUPPLY AND DEMAND"). It really doesn't matter what kind of work we're talking about, construction labor or engineering or whatever.

    And if the cheap labor pool gets bigger, then the incentive for US business to invest capital in technologies that eliminate the need for so many unskilled construction workers, also goes down. So it isn't an unambiguous "good" for the long run of the overall economy.

    But all of this gets no notice because Libertarian Kool Aid says right on the box "thou shalt believe in wide open borders". And we all know The Word of God when we see it.

    Libertarians, and libertarians, are going to remain politically and otherwise irrelevant, until they take a break from the Kool Aid and start trying to actually think for a minute. But there's a big stock pile of Kool Aid around here, so I'm not holding my breath.

    And now MikeP can tell us that the construction workers who are displaced by Mexicans (or these days, engineers displaced by Indians and Chinese), can just go to hell. And Mike Laursen can tell us how very much it helps those poor, poor Mexicans and Indians when they get jobs here.

    As if either of those arguments had any relevancy, to anything that matters. Americans don't owe Mexicans, Indians, or Chinese a damn thing, and if those people can't figure out how to institute better governments in their own countries, it's not our obligation to give them "opportunities".

    I'm still waiting to see a discussion on immigration that a) does not abandon the ethics of rational self interest for Americans, and b) does not a priori suspend the law of supply and demand.


    It's really easy to argue that all borders should be wide open if you're an anarchist, or if you're not in a line of work that has to seriously compete with masses of immigrants (or "temporary workers" or similar).

    For most of the rest of us (like, by far the majority of Americans), wide open borders is going to remain a hard sell.

  • Mike Laursen||

    And Mike Laursen can tell us how very much it helps those poor, poor Mexicans and Indians when they get jobs here.

    It helps those poor, poor Mexicans and Indians when they get jobs here. Helps our economy, too.

    And now MikeP can tell us that the construction workers who are displaced by Mexicans (or these days, engineers displaced by Indians and Chinese), can just go to hell.

    I'll just relate what's going on in my industry, computer software. We have big development centers now in India, and zero Software Engineers in the United States are out of a job because of it.

  • Don\'t Bother Me With The Fact||

    >I'll just relate what's going on in my industry, computer software. We have big development centers now in India, and zero Software Engineers in the United States are out of a job because of it.

    http://www.infoworld.com/article/08/08/06/Bureau-of-Labor-Statistics-reports-big-drop-in-tech-jobs_1.html
    http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
    http://www.infoworld.com/article/08/07/18/Study_predicts_IT_staff_reductions_in_09_1.html

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    It helps those poor, poor Mexicans and Indians when they get jobs here.

    Which means absolutely nothing. Neither I nor any other American owes Mexicans, Indians, or any others, a job.

    Helps our economy, too.

    That is far from clear. I agree it can help the net economies of Mexicans, and some Americans, in the short run. But it is not a clear net gain in the long term.

    Let's get our economic shit straight. Massive pools of slave-cheap labor do not raise the standard of living in the long run. If you want to see what mass pools of slave-cheap labor eventually lead to, read the history of intensive agriculture in China.

    They maxed out their "economic gains" at somewhere around subsistence level. And that's exactly where the Chinese were, economically stagnated, when the Colonial Era began.

    If you want to raise the standard of living, new and better technologies can actually do it. Think "farm tractor", which the Chinese did not invent (partly, I argue, because they had massive pools of slave-cheap labor). Think "things that make it so one man can do the work of ten, or twenty, or a hundred."

    If you want to raise people's standard of living across the board, think "technology", not "gee we need to import a horde of slave-cheap labor".


    Developing technologies and bringing them to market is risky business. I know, I do it for a living. And I have seen, with my own eyes, corporate managers decide not to pursue technologies because cheap labor (over seas) was readily available. Why take the risk when you can hire from a bottomless pool of slave-cheap Asian labor?

    This, I submit, does not lead to long term economic gain. It does lead to people bitching about Asian "sweat shops".

    Don't tell me that letting in mass hordes of cheap foreign labor is an unambiguous "economic good". You will not win that argument with me.


    I'll just relate what's going on in my industry, computer software.

    And I'll just relate to you a story I heard, just Friday, from an ex-HP computer software engineer, who is out of his old job because it got shipped to India. He's now consulting for a living in a completely different field.

    I'll also relate the fact that a lot of American engineers are now out of jobs because they're importing Indian and Chinese engineers all over the place.

    But I expect you've got some kind of babble about how I must just be making up these facts.



    Note: anarchists are not a proper part of this whole debate about immigration. They are in favor of open borders because they are not in favor of any borders. They must first convince the rest of us that anarchism is the right solution, and for the vast majority of Americans they have not won their case.

    So anarchists don't need to bother trying to sell me, or most Americans. Their arguments are utterly irrelevant.

  • Ebeneezer Scrooge||

    btw Reason staff, I'm not kidding. I'd love to see you put together at least a start towards a rational analysis of the issue of where we should really be setting our immigration levels in this country.

    If you've got anyone who's not an anarchist and has the interest.

  • Kolohe||

    And if the cheap labor pool gets bigger, then the incentive for US business to invest capital in technologies that eliminate the need for so many unskilled construction workers, also goes down. So it isn't an unambiguous "good" for the long run of the overall economy.

    Of course, everyone remembers how US technological development came to a standstill from 1870 - 1920, due to the number of cheap immigrants, which were about twice as much as the % of population as they are today.

    I'll also relate the fact that a lot of American engineers are now out of jobs because they're importing Indian and Chinese engineers all over the place.

    And I'll relay the fact that the median salary for a 2008 B.S in engineering is between $58K-$63K. (IIRC, when I graduated in 95, it was about $33-35K, but I can't find a non-gated source.) Thus the cost of labor has risen about 6%(nominal) per year over the last decade of globalization. And that same link says that comp sci offers are *up* 10% this past year. If the Indians and Chinese were really putting pressure on American engineers, we'd see a lot more downward pressure on these entry level positions.

    Also, I agree that the the pool of ultra-cheap unskilled labor available for input into the global system has gotten much larger over the past decade (on the order of 2 billion). However this pool, while large, is not infinite. Furthermore, it is a large as it is ever going to be. (worldwide birthrates everywhere are falling, and of course China has it's own policies). China (and India) are no longer going to be able to achieve their consistent double digit growth because of they no longer have the incredibly low (i.e. $1/day) baseline.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Don't Bother Me With The Facts, do you think the broad category of IT job is the same thing as the more specific job of creating and marketing computer software? Also, the links you gave attribute the dip in IT jobs to several factors, with outsourcing mentioned as a minor factor in only one of the articles.

    Ebeneezer, how did you jump from talking about Mexican immigrants to talking about Chinese factory workers?

    Don't tell me that letting in mass hordes of cheap foreign labor is an unambiguous "economic good". You will not win that argument with me.

    I don't think it is unambiguous at all. Same with Chinese factory workers. There are tons of ambiguity in both situations, with exploitation and progress intermixed.

    And I'll just relate to you a story I heard, just Friday, from an ex-HP computer software engineer, who is out of his old job because it got shipped to India. He's now consulting for a living in a completely different field.

    I'm glad he found another job. What is he doing for a living now?

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