Tough Immigration Policy Also Hurts Americans

The unintended negative consequences of immigration crackdowns.


“Democracies choose bad policies because bad policies are popular,” writes Bryan Caplan in a recent edition of Cato Journal, “and bad policies are popular because voters have systematically biased beliefs about their effects.” The piece in which that apothegm appears concerns immigration, which is fitting.

Americansâ€"conservative Americans particularlyâ€"think America will be better off if it fiercely guards its borders, allowing only a few people of the more desirable sort to cross them. They are mistaken. Not only does a generous immigration policy improve life for people already here, a hawkish immigration policy also can have serious downsides for U.S. citizens.

Economically, the case for more immigration is compelling: Immigrants are more likely than native-born Americans to start a business, more likely to launch a hugely successful one, more likely to work and less likely to commit crime. Free trade increases prosperity, and that is just as true of trade in labor as for goods. (Caplan cites research estimating that “open borders would roughly double world GDP, enough to virtually eliminate global poverty.”) 

Morally, the case for easing restrictions on immigration is compelling as well. Government has no more justification restricting the free movement of people than it has restricting the free movement of products or services. A tight-border policy denies native-born Americans the opportunity to hire, work for, sell to, lease to, make friends with, and even marry individuals they would freely do those things with if they could. A tight-border policy also consigns countless opportunity-seeking individuals to life in countries that are poorer and less free than the United States.

Granted, not everyone cares about the effect of immigration policy on other people. But there are sound, self-interested reasons to oppose tight border control as well.

According to Gallup, 85 percent of Americans support requiring employers to verify that all new hires are living in the U.S. legally. This likely is owing to the false belief that illegal immigrants take jobs that “belong to” Americans. That belief is false for three reasons: First, jobs don’t belong to anyone but the person doing the hiring. Second, illegal immigrants often do work Americans refuse to do. Third, Americans don’t just give jobs to undocumented workers. They also take money from them by selling them food and clothing, renting apartments to them, and so forth. That commerce creates jobs forâ€"yep â€"Americans.

What’s more, trying to stop illegal immigrants from finding jobs could keep Americans from finding them, too. In a recent piece for The Wall Street Journal, Laura W. Murphy of the liberal ACLU and Fred L. Smith, Jr. of the conservative Competitive Enterprise Institute explain that the E-Verify system is riddled with holes. Moreover, “if an employee’s information conflicts with the database, the individual cannot work until he corrects the error. Every potential employee is thus presumed to be ineligible to work until proven otherwise. 

They note a 2009 Homeland Security report showing that a national E-Verify system “would force 1.2 million of today’s legal workers to sort out such problems. Of these, almost 770,000 genuinely legal workers would lose their jobs.”

Conservatives, especially of the Tea Party variety, should be alarmed by the prospect of having to get a permission slip from the federal governmentâ€"a government they consider as efficient as the Postal Service and as compassionate as the IRS â€" before exercising the right to earn a living. That is just one part of the price to pay for the dubious benefit of “securing the border.” 

The gutting of the Bill of Rights is another. Since 2008, the Department of Homeland Security has claimed the right to seize and search your electronic belongingsâ€"cell phone, laptop, etc. â€"at the border, without a warrant and without even any suspicion of wrongdoing. 

But not just at the border: DHS claims the authority to conduct warrantless electronic searches within 100 miles of the U.S. border. That covers 197 million peopleâ€"almost two-thirds of the American population. What constitutional authority does DHS have to disregard the Fourth Amendment this way? That’s classified, it says. While the agency has released an executive summary of its rationale, the ACLU had to file a Freedom of Information Act request on Feb. 8 to see the entire report. 

Meanwhile, Homeland Security continues to put its policy into practice. Without any suspicion of wrongdoing, it has seized the electronic devices of a computer programmer involved with a legal defense fund for Bradley Manning, a researcher for Wikileaks, and others. (According to an October lawsuit filed by the ACLU of San Diego, border agents also have seized cameras from photographers who were simply taking photographs in publicâ€"which is is not merely legal, but constitutionally protected.) 

That’s the trouble with taking a hawkish approach to immigration: The harder you try to keep people outside the fence, the more you’re bound to restrict the freedom of people already inside it. You can have a leak-free borderâ€"or you can have limited government that respects liberty and individual rights. Take your pick.

This article originally appeared at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

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  1. I have never been an open borders guy, but am not completely closed to the idea.

    This alone may be enough to convince me;
    “But not just at the border: DHS claims the authority to conduct warrantless electronic searches within 100 miles of the U.S. border. That covers 197 million people?almost two-thirds of the American population. What constitutional authority does DHS have to disregard the Fourth Amendment this way? That’s classified, it says. While the agency has released an executive summary of its rationale, the ACLU had to file a Freedom of Information Act request on Feb. 8 to see the entire report. ”

    That is unconscionable. Don’t bother shushing me I am going to say it anyway. This fucking government is not legitimate and should be done away with. It is time for a constitutional convention.

    1. We have a constitution. How do we enforce it? I’m in favor of tar and feathers myself.

      1. I left that part out. But I was thinking it. And ropes.

      2. Brick wall. Blindfold. Some assembly required.

    2. Keep in mind that the DHS can “claim” this authority all they want, but that doesn’t mean they have it.

      In any case, the issue is a red herring, and can be fixed entirely separately from the immigration issue.

  2. “fiercely guards its borders, allowing only a few people of the more desirable sort to cross them.”

    Maybe some Americans believe this way but that statement has two parts:
    1. fierce guarding (control) of the boarder
    2. a trickle of people entering.

    The two parts are not necessarily a package deal.

    It is possible to embrace #1 while still allowing thousands/millions of foreigners to enter the country.

    In this scenario, The US government allows all the benefits of large scale immigration, but it controls it, not the other way around.

    I suspect most Americans (including myself) who support strong border control are more in this camp.

    1. So in other words you want Belgians and Canadians and Indians, but not Mexicans and Salvadorans?

      1. I didn’t specify so your conclusions are not my words or “in other words”.
        Once again a false assumption of what people like I believe in, which was what I was pointing out in my first comment.

        But since you asked, I want shit loads of Mexican, Central American, Philippine, Indonesian, etc. documented workers. I’ll work out the ratios when someone starts paying me to administer this rational policy.

      2. I unapologetically would prefer Belgians, Canadians and Indians over Mexicans and Salvadorans – not for racial reasons, but because the United States is already saturated with people from Latin American countries. If you want the US to be a true melting pot and have the widest diversity of talent for the labor pool, then it would make sense to put a moriatorium on immigrants from Latin America, and strongly encourage more immigration from Africa, Asia, and Europe.

  3. If you’re going to have a glorious state with awesome democracy making the people’s will the states, then new voters represent competition: they may either vote against your favorite policies, or be someone you have to share loot with. So, of course you need a strong immigration policy.

    There’s no wonder you’ll find consensus between Republican conservatives and “liberal” Democrats on this: they both see immigrants as competition, but from different angles. Republicans who give lip service to free markets and market competition, suddenly find themselves against competition in terms of labor. Democrats frequently tell me that we need a closed border to keep people from overloading our wonderful welfare state, as if their compassion for the less fortunate has a xenophobic streak. And, of course, this is when they’re not saying that we have no fear that social programs will bankrupt the country (I guess that’s as long as we’re racist about who receives what).

    Of course, if charity were voluntary, no one would need worry about immigrants overloading a welfare program. But that would just be showing people too much respect, and give politicians too little to do.

  4. I wish a presidential candidate would have the spine and the sense to tell Iowa voters, “I don’t care if your caucuses are first in the nation, I will end your corn subsidies.” Much of the problem can be solved if Mexican agriculture can support more jobs in Mexico, and we should make the ethanol industry cope with the free market, anyway.

  5. Hmm, hordes of 3rd world savages who don’t speak English flooding the nation and driving down wages helps make my life better? Ummm, NO.

    1. They need not be savages and they can be required to pass an English competency test, provided it is a documented worker program. Such programs already exist in many developed countries.

      1. If you enforce an English competency test and a documented worker program, then that STILL requires border enforcement.

        1. If you read my comments further above, you will see I am a strong advocate of border control…. Further, I dispute the idea that controlling the border implies a mere trickle of immigrants.

          Control the border and import cheap labor, just like a smart manufacturing company imports certain less expensive materials to make their business more competitive and is a boon to the economy.

          1. That’s what we do now. The United States already takes in more immigrants (both legal and illegal) than any other nation in the world, and we attempt to enforce our borders.

            1. With all due respect, that’s not what we do now. We do not control the border and hordes of illegals cross.

              The legal immigrants are not the problem.

              You say we “attempt” to enforce our borders. We might argue about what “attempt” means in this case, but IMO, the “attempt” is weak sauce.

      2. What part of there are no jobs don’t you get? They need not be savages, but they are.

    2. Chris Mallory said

      Hmm, hordes of 3rd world savages who don’t speak English flooding the nation and driving down wages helps make my life better? Ummm, NO.

      This implies that people can only have liberty when it makes your personal life better. Is this correct? If so, why are you so special?

    3. Ummm, yes, it probably will. Close-minded bigots like yourself only look at one side of the issue when it comes to immigration, trade, tariffs, etc.: jobs and pay. However, there is another side: cost of living. If “3rd world savages” take lower pay, costs of goods and services go down, which decreases cost of living and increases wealth to a degree that is certain to offset any reduction in income.

  6. just as Edward said I’m in shock that anyone can make $9973 in a few weeks on the computer. did you read this page http://WWW.FLY38.COM

  7. Question for the author that I always ask an open borders person, and so far, have never gotten an answer: When do you think the country will be “full”?

    Or, at least, when do you think it hit maximum population effiiciency? 300+ million is not enough workers now? Seriously?

    Because whether you think the country is full now, or could still take hundreds of millions more, it’s a simple reality that there is a limit, and therefore open borders are unsustainable in a world where the population is still rising.

    (I think the country is overpopulated right now, since we are in a fresh water crisis, but that’s another debate).

    1. John, no one answers the question because it’s not answerable.

      It’s like asking proponents of a free market in shoes at what level of shoe making per capita will the country cross over the shoe-event horizon.

      1. Right. I think the best you could say would be, in a free market, you may consider yourself conceptually “full” when there’s no reason for anyone to come here. That is, as long as people are coming here, then that implies that there are jobs to do and wages to earn and spend here, and immigrants are competing for them.

        I don’t need the government to set a limit on hiring at my company in order to prevent it from “overflowing” with employees; we stop hiring when we have everyone we need. I don’t see why it must be inherently different for a country.

      2. The question is very answerable. Land and resources are limited, so each ecosystem has a point where population is no longer a net gain for a community, but a minus.

        The problem with your shoe example is that shoes are controlled by the market – people are not. Migrants who arrive in the USA are seeking to better their own lives (understandably) but have little regard for the impact on the native population. Moreover, the system itself is not regulated by any market. People who come to the US illegally normally don’t find a job before they arrive. They simply believe things are north of the border, so that’s where they go, and hope for the best.

        1. Thomas Malthus died in 1834. It’s a pity his retarded ideas didn’t go with him.

    2. That assumes that immigration patterns would be the same if there were open borders. We currently have a system that penalizes you for coming and going as you see fit. People are more likely to settle down and have families, and generally struggle to make ends meet in the US once they get in. When we’ve had more open borders you saw more of an ebb and flow of immigrants depending on job markets here and in home countries. Often times immigrants would come over, sock away some money during hard times at home, and return home when things were better.

      I believe during the economic downturn we saw a severe decrease in immigration and many immigrants “self deported” because there weren’t jobs for them.

    3. Not disputing your basic point, but while the US population is 300+million, that is not the size of the US native work force, coz little kids and old farts can’t work for shit, not to mention wimenz.

      1. That’s a good point, but keep in mind that many illegal migrants are also children, pregnant women, etc., and not ready for the work force either.

  8. Filling the US with Mexicans will not help the US but turn it into a low wage low skilled economy. But opening the doors to millions of persecuted Asian gay computer engineers will cause a high-tech boom. Some can write the software that will help send the illegals back to the land of hot chili sauce.

    1. Maybe we could just round up people here we don’t like, and deport them, to make room for Mexicans? Just because they were here first? That seems like an arbitrary distinction.

  9. The downside of not controlling borders is related to the fact that Illegal Immigrants (IMs) are not controlled by the same rules as US citizens.

    Permitting 11-17 million additional people to become citizens means additonal un and under employed people getting fed and state services such as medical, food stamps, and cell phones. That drives up either the deficet, taxes or both.

    If in fact we had the free market and social rights to hire, rent, sell to whom we wish together with a balanced federal budget, reasonable debt and limited government, your scenario might work. Sadly that is not the case and so thee is no sound reason to put the cart before the horse.

    1. Yes, which is why we should relax immigration rules now instead of continuing to injure people in a futile effort to putt off the inevitable collapse of the welfare state by a few months.

  10. “…illegal immigrants often do work Americans refuse to do.”

    Americans wouldn’t refuse to do them if we took them off the government doles and made them get off thier fat lazy asses and do some actual work. End the welfare state or curb immigration. You cant’t have it both ways.

    1. It’s also worth mentioning that in a lot of these cases, the illegal immigrant is able to provide value where an American worker cannot because the American worker is subject to the government-imposed price floor on labor.

  11. Why does Reason keep trying to peddle the open borders shit when It is completely unsaleable politically, disastrous economically, and counterproductive to political change of a libertarian bent? Does anyone look to California and say “yeh baby, that’s the way we want to go!”.

  12. 1. When has there EVER been a tough immigration policy?
    Excepting that wonderful time of Operation Wetback?
    2. You are a insane,regressive commiecrat treasonous lying bag of festering guts. Why don’t you hie your insane ass down to mehico as a “undocumented human” and see how it goes for ya?

  13. just as Edward said I’m in shock that anyone can make $9973 in a few weeks on the computer. did you read this page http://WWW.FLY38.COM

  14. This article sounds like common sense, but when it comes to the US-Mexico problem it misses the mark by a mile. Yes, if the permanent existence of two states in North America were accepted, there should be no problem with Mexicans coming to visit, work, etc., as long as they stayed Mexican citizens. The problem is that many want to become voting US citizens, dividing their loyalties. This 1-sided situation is pure trouble, and it’s not about racism, but why do we need two nations in the first place to share the New World.

    Both major parties trivialize the issue to jockey for position. We need a new paradigm, the INCORPORATION OF MEXICO INTO THE U.S. AS 10 NEW STATES, which I call the Megamerge Dissolution Solution.

    WHY NOT make all 110M Mexicans into US citizens in return for adding their territory to the US so that migration can be in both directions? The power of free enterprise will then bring the 10 new states up to the same level of development as the other 50. The U.S. will be more defensible from illegal immigrants from other continents as well as from foreign invasion. The only thing that has to go is the ever-corrupt Mexican govt. It’s the win-win solution.

    This is I hope readers the time to study my proposal. It’s not a leftist or rightist idea, it’s above partisan politics. Congress can make it happen in just years, making the US permanently bigger, stronger, and safer.

    Read more:

  15. I consider myself a fairly strong libertarian, but this open borders crap just makes me shake my head in disgust. I may be able to get on board if we didn’t have a massive transfer of wealth set up from high earners to low earners. Fact is that most of those coming in will be low wage earners and therefore need government assistance for food, housing, medical, schooling, etc. Fix the welfare system and then we can talk about immigration reform. Until then, let’s severely restrict immigration, especially of low wage earners. And no, I don’t care what color their skin is or which country they come from.

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  18. Educated European/Americans no longer are entering the science of computer engineering but prefer the better pay in financial management. High-Tech companies are being forced to relocate in China due to the lack of skilled employees, but on the docks of Shanghai and Hong Kong millions of bashed gay computer engineers are waiting in the back of the line for the green light to be admitted to America. Garden cutters and prolific breeders are not needed; millions of hard working gay computer engineers will bring back the high-tech industries if they are granted American citizenship.

  19. Taxpayers South of the border don`t want to pay high prison costs to house violent inmates. They wisely chase them into Norte America with a warning that they will be executed if they return. The thousands of dead bodies found in Mexico are returning inmates the US booted out.

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