Immigration Reinvigorates the American Dream, Some Republicans Wrongly Focus on Immigration as a Border Issue


The GOP's colossal November defeat has led many party leaders and conservative pundits including Sean Hannity, John Boehner, Charles Krauthammer to reconsider the GOP's big government approach to immigration reform. (i.e. e-Verify mandates, fines against employers, and Arizona-style "your papers please.") Republicans' preoccupation with the border and rule abiding-ness has distracted them from the real problem: the rigidities of our current immigration laws.

Like capital mobility, labor mobility is critical to economic prosperity. In the case of capital, prohibiting cross-border investing results in missed investment opportunities and hinders startups from accessing much-needed capital that would be readily accessible if not for an arbitrary geopolitical boundary. Similarly, restricting immigration (labor) results in fewer opportunities for workers and inhibits businesses' ability to hire talent and thus compete in an increasingly global marketplace.

Immigration is also, as George Will rightly points out, an entrepreneurial activity that breeds a culture of individualism and personal responsibility; emigrating from ones' home country requires substantial risk and hard work, leaving behind family and friends for the unknown, in pursuit of greater happiness. This is the soul of American culture. The act of immigrating to the US is remarkably similar to 19th century Americans moving Westward, an economic experience some argue fostered America's unique culture of rugged individualism and personal responsibility. Immigration today is the essence of the American Dream, proof of the promise that individuals can rise above the circumstances of their birth and leave their children better off.

Contrary to concerns that liberalizing immigration laws would pose a long-term burden to US taxpayers, Dan Griswold points out that "the typical immigrant and his or her descendants pay more in taxes than they consume in government services in terms of net present value." Moreover, while he also explains that low-skilled immigrants may impose a net cost on state and local governments (for instance public education), these costs are offset by broader benefits to the overall economy.

Republicans would be wise to recognize that immigrants come to America to build a better life through work, not welfare. There is evidence of this through high labor-force participation rates and immigrant labor movement toward states that offer better employment prospects, rather than welfare benefits. For instance, labor participation rates are higher for foreign-born adults than native-born adults, 67.9 versus 64.1 percent. This gap is even higher among men 80.1 to 70.1 percent. Moreover, fully 94 percent of unauthorized immigrant males were in the labor force in the mid-2000s. Immigrants in the 2000s were also far more likely to immigrate to states with low welfare spending per capita. For instance, the 10 lowest welfare-spending states experienced a 35 percent increase in unauthorized immigrant workers, the top ten welfare-spending states only experienced an 11 percent increase. (Data sourced here). These data indicate that immigrants, including low-skilled immigrants, come to America to earn money in the private economy. The failure to recognize that immigrants are here to work for a better life is insulting and does not win their votes or the votes of those who identify with immigrants.

Republicans have every reason to view immigration as an opportunity to bolster the American belief in upward economic mobility and to strengthen America's culture of individualism, hard work, and personal responsibility. Recognizing this would help the GOP re-focus their attention on liberalizing our current immigration laws making it easier for people to come here and work with government authorization.

Instead many Republicans (take the Republican presidential primary for example) get caught up in the border and enforcing apparently ineffective immigration rules. This devolves into exclusionary speech that ignores the real reason that people come to the United States. The competitive political process coupled with changing demographics have made it in the GOP's political interest to accept the facts that immigration strengthens our economy, our culture, and a belief in the American Dream.