12/02/2005

Immigration Madness, Part II: Economic Reductionism and Immigration

Yesterday, Dennis posted an excellent, but too short, critique of a Townhall article by Alan Reynolds entitled, 'Immigration as random rationing'.
The article is, as Dennis says, immigration via economics - on other words, it's only the costs that count. But not quite.
Reynolds starts by saying,
"President Bush has reopened a badly needed discussion about comprehensive immigration reform."
If he thinks discussion on immigration reform is badly needed, then he needs to start reading m0re widely. There's plenty of it there.
He then cites figures from the Congressional Budget Office which chart the inflow and outflow of legal temporary visitors to the USA -
"Yet in 2003 alone, "roughly 3 million people were admitted as temporary residents," according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). That included 593,000 temporary workers and an even larger number of temporary students. Yet nobody has yet claimed all those temporary guests were granted "amnesty."

The CBO estimates that "181 million people were (legally) admitted to the United States as non-immigrants in 2003," mostly as tourists -- a figure nearly as large as the entire U.S. adult population. "Closing the borders" is a soundbite, not a serious suggestion"
Why is 'closing the borders' not a serious suggestion? It is for the American people to determine whether their borders are open are closed, not the financial interests of its 'moneyed corporations' or the desire of its places of higher learning to maximise their revenues. One option, God forbid, would be to make it harder to visit the United States, with the number of tourist visas being issued reduced by 90% with the remainder being issued only in those countries which have produced the lowest numbers of recorded illegal immigrants.
He goes on,
"The president and his critics discuss only the illegal portion of immigration, and only that portion of illegal immigrants who crossed the Mexican border by land. But illegal immigrants accounted for only 28 percent of the total immigrant population in 2003, according to the Urban Institute."; and continues,
"The Mexican border accounts for only about half of illegal immigration, or one-sixth of total immigration. Those who focus too exclusively on the Mexican border often cite the Pew Hispanic Center's estimate of 11 million illegal immigrants because it is larger than any official count. Yet that same study says only 6 million of those 11 million came from Mexico -- a share that remained "virtually unchanged for the past decade."
Those are pretty damn big 'only's', which say as much about the nature of Mexican society as about the ruthlessness of American immigration policy - or lack thereof.
He goes on,
"Roughly half of illegal immigrants, including many Mexicans, arrived here perfectly legally, often by air or sea. But they overstayed their visas. If the institutional incentives to reside in the United States illegally remain unchanged, then tightening the Mexican border would be like putting up a "detour" sign -- diverting a larger share of illegal immigration toward arrival by air, sea or the Canadian border."
At first sight this argument appears to be grossly disingenuous. The US-Mexican border is over 2,000 miles long. At many points it is nothing more than a fictional line in the sand. It is very much easier for indigent Central Americans to hitch-hike/work/whore/rob/traffic their way through Mexico to the Rio Grande than it is for them to save for air-fares and queue at the local Candian or American embassies for temporary visas. That's why they do it. In any event, their native societies' cultural poverty inevitably produces financial poverty and lack of opportunity, which is why very many illegals become illegals in the first place. So tightening the Mexican border and restricting the number of tourist and temporary visas being issued would kill off illegalism completely.
Where's Tancredo's number?
Reynolds then quotes testimony he gave to Congress relating to immigration policy in 1998:
"Immigration policy is about rationing something of great value -- the right to live in the United States. The question boils down to methods and criteria of rationing a relatively small number of spaces among a much larger number of people who would like to live in the United States. There are only four possible rationing methods -- the queue, the lottery, allocation by political or bureaucratic preference, or the price system (a fifth option, of course, is to immigrate illegally). Current policy mainly relies on a mixture of political preference categories and the queue, although the lottery is used, too."
And there, folks, are the answers to all your questions. For the avoidance of doubt, there is no such thing as the right to live in the United States. There is the ability to apply for permission to live there, which may be either granted or denied as the American people see fit; but no automatic right. Similarly, there is absolutely no question of immigration policy boiling down to 'rationing a relatively small number of spaces among a much larger number of people who would like to live in the United States'. 'Would like to live in the United States'? Who in their right mind wouldn't? That doesn't mean Americans have to let them in. And similarly, from what standpoint did Reynolds reach the conclusion that there are 'spaces' to be 'rationed'? As Dennis says,
"...American residence and citizenship cannot be reduced to money. The historic American culture, which is to say a majority white European and Christian culture, is not based on fee-paying, but on a loyalty to a particular place and country which so many immigrants conspicuously do not possess".
I couldn't have said it better myself.
However, Reynolds isn't finished. He seems to be making a subtle case for more Mexican and Filippino immigration, based on the anomalies that the current system has produced. For example,
"Since Mexico and the Philippines became the two leading sources of U.S. immigrants around 1970, the post-1965 U.S. preference for family members perpetuates that same Mexican and Philippine dominance of immigration queues... Relatives who are not part of the immediate family, such as siblings and adult children, are limited to 226,000 a year, and no one country can comprise more than 7 percent of that. As a result, the usual waiting period is a dozen years, but it's worse for those from Mexico and the Philippines. "In February 2005," said The Economic Report of the President, "Filipinos who immigrated as siblings of U.S. citizens had waited 22 years for their green cards."
As they say on the soccer phone-ins on Scottish radio, what's your point caller? If you're permitted to live in the USA for no other reason than because a member of your family has been permitted to live there, you have to be able to get a green card? Why shouldn't your family member be supporting you, as opposed to you getting a green card, entering the workforce and pushing down your siblings pay rate, along with everyone else's? After all,they'r the only reason you're there.
And at the risk of sounding repetitive, doesn't he care to ask why Mexicans and Filippinos are desperate to get out out of their own countries and move to his?
He continues,
"Using long waiting lists to ration entry encourages frivolous and insincere applications, but discourages the most skilled or affluent people who have other attractive options, such as moving to Canada or Australia, where they are quite welcome"
If they are so skilled and affluent, why do they want to move? And if he thinks the ability to live in the United States of America is nothing more than 'an attractive option' for rich foreigners, then Alan Reynolds does a great dis-service to his country's history, its culture and to the patriotism and good faith of very many of his fellow Americans.
Now we get to his proposed soultion to the immigration crisis.
"It would be easy to make partial use of the price system to alleviate such obvious rationing problems as 22-year waiting lists and lotteries. An auction of available spaces might be ideal. But a big step in that direction would be to simply charge a modest immigration fee, as Canada and others do, while offering a loan if immediate payment poses a hardship"
In other words, anyone would be able to get to live in America upon payment of a fee. It all boils down to money.
I wonder if such policies as immigration fees were at the forefront of George Washington's mind at Valley Forge.
He goes on,
"Hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants return to their home countries each year, after a short stay in the United States. "
Er, let's see your sources on that one, Mr. Reynolds. But now we get to the real meat - and what a meat it is!
"A modest one-time fee of $2,000 per immigrant (which could be paid by prospective employers) would significantly shorten the waiting lists by thinning-out those applicants with weak, uncertain motivation. That, in turn, would greatly reduce reliance on such clumsy devices as waiting lists and lotteries.

Clumsy, politicized non-price rationing would doubtless continue. But the most economically destructive quotas -- those on people with superior education and skills -- could be easily fixed by eliminating them. Fortune's Geoffrey Colvin proposed eliminating the post-1990 cap on H1-B visas"
Because of the way in which it is being abused by American employers to put Americans out of work and replace them with foreign labour in America, the H-1B visa will eventually stand alongside the old South African 'Pass Laws' in the annals of despised and discriminatory bureaucracy. H-1B limits shouldn't be eliminated. The H-1B should itself be abolished - not re-named, not reformed, but abolished. And one can only imagine that for the very reasons it should be abolished, its absolutely negative impact on the earnings and lifestyles of American citizens as a result of its abuse by coporations seeking to lower their costs, that Alan Reynolds would fight tooth and nail to preserve it.
No doubt Alan Reynolds is well-intentioned; but his arguments show that his complaint that 'immigration policy has usually been left to immigration lawyers,' shows the wisdom of not leaving it to economists.

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