Cato Journal experts say immigration is good for the U.S.

by Melanie Davis
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Washington, D.C. — An ongoing series in the Cato Journal calls on a small army of experts to address the question of what’s good for the United States. In the Winter 2012 issue more than a dozen writers, writing 13 essays, overwhelmingly supported the notion that immigration is good for the United States. The essay touched a wide range of aspects, from values delivered to public services supplied. El Hispanic News selected some highlights from the 220-page report. For the full report, visit or do a web search for “Cato Journal Winter 2012.†The report In the first essay, Daniel T. Griswold noted, “President Obama has been calling on Congress to enact immigration reform while his administration has been deporting record numbers of unauthorized immigrants. Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates have been competing with each other to adopt the toughest positions to enforce existing law, including the completion of a fence along the entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico.†“Basic economic analysis and numerous empirical studies have confirmed that immigrants boost the productive capacity of the United States through their labor, their human capital, and their entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of competing head-to-head with American workers, immigrants typically complement native-born workers by filling niches in the labor market.†(pp. 1-4) Bryan Caplan addressed those who feared that immigrants bring a dilution of the English language in the United States. He cited figures from the Pew Hispanic Center, which said among first generation immigrants, 23 percent speak English well. However, 88 percent of second generation immigrants and 94 percent of all third generation Hispanic immigrants spoke English fluently. (pp. 5-24) Gordon H. Hanson cited the value of top talent immigrants earning PhDs in U.S. universities. Using data from the National Science Foundation survey, Hanson showed that in 1960 about 20 percent of students earning doctoral degrees were immigrants. By 2010, more than half the new PhDs earned in U.S. schools went to foreign born scholars. On the other hand, immigrants that do not earn advanced degrees also added valuable elements to the economy. “One contribution of low-skilled immigrants,†Hanson wrote, “is to make it possible for high-skilled workers to spend more time on the job and less time doing non-work related chores.†(pp. 25-34) Giovanni Peri said that immigrants account for about one-third of U.S. innovation. Moreover, he continued, “They have been founders or co-founders of 25 percent of new high-tech companies with more than $1 million in sales in 2006 …†(pp. 35 – 53) In their essay, Joel Kotkin and Erika Ozuna offered a wry thought. Overall, they reasoned, we should worry less about too many newcomers and worry more about too few workers that might not come. (pp. 55-69) The pair argued that although high birth rates are a problem in undeveloped countries, low birth rates are a problem in highly developed European, Asian, and North American nations. Kotkin and Ozuna see visions of “a permanently slow growth country with a rapidly aging population.†In this situation, they suggest that young immigrants can pick up the slack. (pp. 55-69) Stuart Anderson stated his view of a rational immigration system in his first two sentences: “If the U.S. Congress and executive branch agencies formulated coherent policies, then here is what our immigration system would look like: highly skilled foreign nationals could be hired quickly and gain permanent residence, employers could hire foreign workers to fill niches in lower-skilled jobs, foreign entrepreneurs could easily start businesses in the United States, and close relatives of American citizens could immigrate in a short period of time. If all those things were true, then we wouldn’t be talking about America’s immigration system.†(pp.71-82) Pia M. Orrenius and Madeleine Zavodny looked back at the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act and concluded that amnesty programs without a revised immigration program would not work. (pp. 85-106) Edward Alden suggested that Congress and the Obama administration should ask a number of questions. “What are the goals of border control? How much is enough? How much can we afford? How can the economic costs of tighter border enforcement best be mitigated? How can better legal immigration and temporary work programs help to reduce further the illegal immigration problem?†Instead, he said, “Congress and the [Obama] Administration continue to be focused on the elusive goal of creating a perfectly secure border through enforcement measures alone.†Alden quoted Yale law Professor Amy Chua as saying the most successful empires in history have been those that opened their doors widely. (pp. 107 – 124) Jim Harper, author of the book “Identity Crisis: How Identification is Overused and Misunderstood,†expressed strong doubts about the usefulness of the proposed E-Verify identity cards. Harper said that each of the three steps involved in activating the card could be defeated. Even if the cards could be made to work, Harper worried to what uses they might be put. “Expanded E-Verify would produce a national ID system anathema to freedom,†he concluded. (pp. 125-137) Margaret D. Stock examined the efforts of some anti-immigrants to tighten interpretation on the constitutional right of babies born in the United States to become U.S. citizens — even if their parents were non-citizens. Stock reasoned that there is little to gain and much to lose by changing the rights granted by the 14th amendment. (pp. 139-157) In his second essay in this forum, Daniel T. Griswold addressed the oft-heard claim that immigrants take more than a fair share of welfare dollars. Griswold responded, “Low-skilled immigrants do impose a net cost on government, in particular on the state and local level, but those costs are often exaggerated by critics of immigration and are offset by broader benefits to the overall economy.†Moreover, he wrote, “Despite the common belief, newcomers to the United States are not generally eligible for the full smorgasbord of welfare benefits.†However, he noted, “All foreign-born residents, even those in the United States without authorization, can enroll their children in public K-12 schools and be treated for emergency medical needs.†On the other hand, he wrote, “… immigrant children grow up to be citizen taxpayers. In this way, the education of immigrant children is an investment that helps to raise their productivity, incomes, and tax payments as adults.†(pp. 159 – 174) Raúl Hinojosa-Ojeda reported that “the federal government’s current policy is to step up its enforcement-only strategy without creating a path to legalization for the millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the country. Even worse, laws of dubious Constitutional validity such as Arizona’s S.B. 1070 have appeared in other states. And the result of laws like S.B. 1070? “The economic analysis in this article shows that the S.B. 1070 approach would have devastating economic consequences if its goals were accomplished.†(pp. 177 – 199) The trio of Joshua C. Hall, Benjamin J. VanMetre, and Richard K. Vedder conceived a novel concept to illustrate the economic value of immigrants. In their market-based example, “An engineer working in Bangladesh currently adds $5,000 to the value of the world’s output but has the potential to add $50,000 if she were to move to California, in part because in California she will have greater access to capital. Allowing the engineer to move from Bangladesh to California enhances the world’s output potentially by tens of thousands of dollars.†Hall, VanMetre, and Vedder reasoned that moving this woman thousands of miles would make the world a better place. Using another market-based model, they posed this example devised by Nobel laureate Gary Becker: “Markets determine the amount of oranges we eat, the price and number of BMWs we drive, and what amount of capital that we import from or to other countries. Why can’t markets determine who comes to this country, rather than the Washington bureaucrats?†(pp. 201 – 220) Subscription information to the Cato Journal is at the bottom of that website’s home page.