08 June 2006

Debating the Senate Immigration Reform Bill

The Objectivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer

Even for the Senate, the current immigration bill (the Hagel-Martinez immigration bill) is terrible. It includes a guest worker provision, an amnesty for many illegal aliens, and a large increase in legal immigration. A quick cost-benefit analysis shows why it shafts the citizenry.

Since 57% percent of illegal immigrants are from Mexico, it is worth considering their effects (as a side note, 80-85% of Mexican immigrants are illegal and 1 in 10 persons born in Mexico live in the U.S.). The following information in this section comes from a 2001 study from the Center for Immigration Studies and relies on data from the Census Bureau. As a group, Mexican immigrants suck up welfare benefits like a Hoover vacuum. While approximately 15% of natives used a major welfare program, Mexican immigrants use it at more than twice that rate (31%). One study by the National Academy of Sciences estimates that the average adult Mexican immigrant imposes a net loss of $55,200 on the U.S. (taxes paid minus services cost).

This tendency persists over time since 30% of Mexican immigrants who have been here for more than twenty years use welfare benefits. Even third-generation Mexican-Americans are more than twice as likely as natives to use welfare and almost twice as likely to be in poverty or near the poverty level. Thus, Mexican immigrants and their descendants continue to suck up tax dollars.

This study underestimates the danger since as medical costs spiral upward, the costs of these immigrants will likely explode. Since 53% of Mexican immigrants don’t have medical insurance, compared to 14% of natives, these costs threaten to break our ability to bail out Medicare and Social Security. Even legal Mexican immigrants who have been in the U.S. for more than 20 years are disproportionably uninsured (more than 33% don’t have medical insurance).

Nor can we reasonably expect this pattern to change over successive generations. Education is an important indicator of how a group will affect others’ pocketbooks and Mexican immigrants as a group do poorly in school. While 9% of natives drop out of high school, a whopping 65% of Mexican immigrants do. Again this pattern is multi-generational. Third-generation Mexican-Americans are almost three times likely as natives to drop out from high school and less than half as likely to graduate from college.

Culturally, Mexican immigrants drag down standards. According to one study that used Bureau of Justice statistics, Hispanics are three times more likely than whites to commit violent crimes and three times more likely to be incarcerated. They also have a comparatively weak family structure in that 36% of Hispanic births in the U.S. are out of wedlock. The kicker is that large numbers don’t identify with the U.S. or even want to become citizens. In 1997, only 15% of Mexicans qualified for naturalization did so, versus 53% from Europe and 44% from Asia.

What benefits outweigh these costs? Some Senate apologists claim that the amnesty is necessary to keep costs down. However, the Center for Immigration Studies suggests that Mexican immigration in the ’90s reduced prices between 0.08% and 0.2%. This is because unskilled labor accounts for a very small portion of economic output. Other Senate clowns claim that immigrants do jobs that natives won’t do. This is patently false since many of these jobs were done in the 1970s by non-immigrants. In 1970, for example, there were fewer than 800,000 Mexican immigrants in the country. Even if these benefits were real, they likely wouldn’t come close to outweighing the costs.

In addition, we still need to consider opportunity costs. Instead of amnestying millions of illegal aliens and letting in their families (the Congressional Budget Offices estimates that the Senate bill will increase the population by 8 million over the next 10 years), imagine we took in immigrants based on wealth, skills, and education. No one who isn’t a senator from Massachusetts could argue with a straight face that taking in largely uneducated Mexican immigrants is better for this country than taking in wealthy Chinese entrepreneurs, Pakistani doctors, and Indian engineers. The Senate is like the owner of an NFL team who uses its first round draft pick to take a player who couldn’t play for a college team. They must think we’re pretty dumb.


The Constructivist
Dunkirk-Fredonia Observer

Over the next few weeks and probably months a conference committee made up of selected members of the Senate and the House will attempt to reconcile the Hagel-Martinez Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611) and the Sensenbrenner Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437). Americans should hope the cheap labor corporatists and nativist populists of the Republican-controlled Congress fail to reach a compromise. Otherwise, they will have locked us into a fundamentally flawed version of “comprehensive immigration reform” and missed another opportunity to develop a truly efficient, effective, fair, and just way of managing regional and global labor flows for the benefit of everyone in the Americas.

The ongoing debate between Congressional Republicans who emphasize punitive and militaristic solutions to the immigration “crisis” and Senate Republicans and Democrats who advocate comprehensive reforms to U.S. immigration policy avoids confronting the root causes of large-scale international migrations. What are these causes? First, consider “push” factors such as poverty, lack of economic opportunity, political repression, and social instability abroad that lead people to make the agonizing decision to leave their homeland. Next, consider “pull” factors such as demand by U.S. corporations for cheap and vulnerable workers, along with a higher standard of living, political freedoms, and social stability that make the U.S. an attractive destination for international migrants. Then, take into account the uneven effects of corporate globalization and the Washington Consensus on trade and development promoted by such institutions as the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and World Bank and enacted in NAFTA and CAFTA. For example, the subsidies the U.S. offers to its own multinational corporations in agribusiness contribute to the impoverishment and bankruptcy of small farmers in Mexico and Central America, which leads them and their children to migrate to cities for work and, often, on to the United States.

By focusing on a limited version of “comprehensive immigration reform”--attending only to border and interior enforcement, visa reform and backlog reduction, and work authorization and legalization of undocumented workers--Congress fails to use key tools in aid, development, labor, and trade policy to provide disincentives for illegal immigration, mitigate the factors that lead to international migration, and recruit the most promising immigrants into our economy, society, and polity. What tools should Democrats and reasonable Republicans on the Congressional conference committee advocate adding to its legislative repertoire?

Aid: Incorporate the most promising proposals from the ONE Campaign and Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs’s The End of Poverty into funding for field testing aid programs aimed at drastically reducing poverty around the world.

Development: Incorporate the most promising proposals from the World Social Forum and the International Forum on Globalization’s Alternatives to Economic Globalization into funding for field testing development projects that can help build a new Washington Consensus aimed at creating conditions for sustainable economic growth throughout the Western hemisphere.

Labor: Incorporate measures recommended by Amy Traub of the Drum Major Institute, who points out that “undocumented workers’ inability to defend their rights in the workplace contributes to a race to the bottom that hurts many Americans who aspire to a middle-class standard of living.” Recognize, with Sociologists Without Borders, that “workers who can work legally and workers who are undocumented need a living wage, safe working conditions, and pension and health benefits, and they need to be treated with respect and dignity.” Supplement funding for enforcement of laws forbidding employers from hiring and exploiting undocumented workers with recognition of workers’ right to free association and the benefits for everyone when they are free to form and join unions to improve the terms and conditions of their employment.

Trade: Turn NAFTA and CAFTA into truly cooperative programs that promote fair trade and globalization from below. Invest in transnational communications and transportation infrastructure to reduce the costs of international trade.

Given that the Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to follow even the common-sense principles driving the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights’s Fair and Just Immigration Reform for All program, Americans should hope that it fails to pass an immigration reform bill before the mid-term elections in November. Once Congress is in more responsible hands, it can develop a truly comprehensive immigration reform bill.


The Constructivist said...

O, care to respond to this study on immigration and crime? It seems to present data that conflict with your implied claim that Hispanic immigrants commit crimes at a higher rate than native-born Americans.

The Objectivist said...

Dear C:
Here are where my numbers come from.

U.S. Department of Justice Statistics Bulletin entitled "Prisoners in 2002" p. 10. It states that in the 1997 Survey in inmates at correctional facilities, there were 102,600 Hispanics in jail for murder and 3,500 in jail for rape (compared to 208,100 and 6,300 for whites). Since the Hispanic to white ratio is about 1:6, this produces the 3:1 ratio.

Earlier I reported that 30% of federal prisoners were foreign born. I need to find a cite for this.

Also, in the study you sent on page 5-6, I might be misreading this, but the per cent of males 18 to 39 incarcerated by the U.S. when we compare Mexican immigrants to non-hispanic whites (I assume these are natives - I might be mistaken here) is 2.71 to 1.66. This means that Mexican males are more than 65% more likely to be incarcerated.

Is this correct?

The Objectivist said...


Compare the incarceration rate for men in the 18 to 39 age range for Mexicans to Chinese. The ratio is 2.71 to .28. Assuming I did this correctly, the former are almost 10 times more likely to be incarcerated.

So I have three questions for you.

(1) Why do you want to amnesty Mexicans when we could fill their slots with brighter, better educated, and better behaved Asians (specifically Chinese and Indians)?

(2) Do you think Mexican immigrants are going to strain our welfare system and endanger our ability to bail out social security and medicare?

(3) Should the Gene-Expression type concern with the gene pool of the Mexicans versus Asian groups play a role in deciding whom to let in?

I know it's unfair to blitz you with questions, but I am really curious as to how you would answer them.

The Objectivist said...

Tangoman, Darth Quixote, and C:

TM and DQ:

We could use your expertise on the relevance of genetic differences on the immigrant issue. In particular, do you subscribe to the thesis of Richard Lynn that a country's level of wealth (per capita) is explained in part by the genetic makeup of its population?

I'm particularly interested as to what you think the effect of the amnesty will have on blacks in
America. George Borjas and others are reporting that it reduces their wages by increasing competition for low-skill labor.

Assuming that the country is not going to enact the sweeping reforms in foreign and domestic policy you call for and rather will either amnesty, deport, or leave the status quo with regard to Mexican and other illegal aliens, how do blacks enter into your calculation?

TangoMan said...

In particular, do you subscribe to the thesis of Richard Lynn that a country's level of wealth (per capita) is explained in part by the genetic makeup of its population?

His findings have now been replicated by economists and the findings are robust, so yes, I subscribe to the Lynn Hypothesis.

I have in mind a thought experiment that readers should conduct. Compare the ethnic compositions of two cities and look at the education, SES, crime, welfare, etc metrics and get a rough idea of how the minority populations fair. Unfortunately I can't think of any US city that is comparable to Vancouver BC, in that all of the US cities that have minority populations in the 40%+ range have a substantial Black population which would muddy the comparison with the recent immigrant surge. I'm thinking that Albuquerque or Phoenix might be good matching cases for they've surged in population and much of that is due to Hispanic immigrants and the city size is in the comparable range, unlike cities like LA or NY.

So, here is some data on the demography of Vancouver:

2001 census 2017 projection
Vancouver 740,700 1,533,300

2001 census 2017 projection

Chinese 352,900 729,500
South Asian 171,400 317,000
Black 19,100 40,800
Filipino 58,600 139,700
Latin American 18,000 37,100
Southeast Asian 29,500 43,400
Arab 5,800 20,600
West Asian 21,800 69,300
Korean 25,400 68,300
Japanese 21,900 32,500
Others 16,400 35,100
TOTAL 740,700 1,533,300

IIRC, 30 years ago Vancouver was something like 90%-95% white, so they've faced a rapid demographic change. They seem to be able to survive without an illegal Hispanic class doing the work that Vancouverites don't want to do and the immigrant experience of the Chinese and South Asians is far less troubling than that of Hispanics.

The quality of immigrants matters, where quality is measured in human capital, culture, and genetic potential.

The Objectivist said...

Dear Tangoman and C:

Thanks for the interesting argument on Vancouver. I still think you should do a speaking tour for this country.

I also think there is a philosophical argument about immigration that has gotten lost in the shuffle. To the extent that Hispanic voters are for greater government and smaller liberty, they take away precisely what makes this country valuable. For example, they tend to vote heavily Democrat and I suspect that's at least in part because they support the vast wealth redistribution that conflicts with economic liberty.

I'm guessing that they also support the vast array of race and ethnic preferences and the machinery designed to protect and promote it. I'm also guessing that they are heavily pro-life. If you think these policies are mistaken, and I do, I don't see why we would want persons who will support them to join our country.

This is analogous to a country club that emphasizes risque social activities. A few members (analogy: agri-business and current immigrants) want to allow a large number of Orthodox Jews or Southern Baptists who will then oppose and likely vote down such activities. I don't see why the club members would want to let such persons in.

By analogy, I don't see why persons who value economic liberty, pro-choice policies, and oppose racial and ethnic preferences would support letting in such massive numbers [estimates range from 8 million (CATO) to around 60 million].

The Objectivist said...

Dear C:
Any views as to whether we would do better letting in wealthy or educated Chinese and Indian immigrants over Mexicans would be a good idea? I'll leave it to you to focus on whether the current advantage of the former relates to family structure, education, wealth, or genetics.

The Objectivist said...

Dear C:

What about the effects of a tens of millions of poor Mexican and other Hispanic immigrants on the environment in the U.S.? What about their effect in the availability of forests and open spaces, leaving aside environmental concerns?

Also, do you really want tens of millions of new uneducated voters (that the majority of Mexican immigrants are uneducated is uncontroversial as is the fact that second and third generations are less likely than natives to have college degrees).

I know you are skeptical of the Republicans and media to mislead voters. Isn't such an uneducated population tailor-made for such manipulation?

What I really don't understand is why the left isn't leading the charge for kicking out the illegal aliens. It isn't good for the poor, blacks, the environment, welfare programs (e.g., social security), or our liberty (e.g., pro-choice). Other than votes, why has the left staked out this position?

The Constructivist said...

O, working on the next column so no answers yet, but I suspect you and I might both cheer the latest news on the reconciliation process between the House and Senate immigration bills.

The Constructivist said...

O, in response to your first comment on the immigration and crime link, you're confusing ethnicity and nativity. The actual rates of immigrant Mexican vs. native-born white are: Mexican, foreign-born .7; white, non-Hispanic, U.S.-born 1.71. Where the crime appears to be coming from is the second generation, born in the U.S.: a whopping 5.9% (behind only U.S.-born Laotian/Cambodian 7.26% and black 11.61% populations). So there's evidence that conditions in the U.S. have a greater impact on crime rates than country of ethnic origin--for every ethnic group listed, U.S.-born crime rates are well higher than immigrant crime rates. Here's a quote from the authors of the study:

"Of particular interest is the finding that the lowest incarceration rates among Latin American immigrants are seen for the least educated groups: Salvadorans and Guatemalans (0.52 percent), and Mexicans (0.70 percent). These are precisely the groups most stigmatized as "illegals" in the public perception and outcry about immigration."

More broadly, remember how TM and DQ went on at length about how unfair it was for them to be accused of guilt by association in our earlier debates on immigration and racial realism? If you are sympathetic to their arguments, then why are you not sympathetic to arguments that no matter what patterns exist among a particular group, individuals' guilt should not be assumed on the basis of their membership in that group?

The Objectivist said...

Dear C:

My apologies for misreading the study. However, if I read your response right, and apologize if I didn't, 2nd generation Mexican immigrants have a very high rate of crime. Am I correct in this?

I don't see how the guilt-by-association charge works. We are deciding who to let into our country and relying on statistical generalizations. Over a population of Mexican workers we can reliably predict that they we will impose a series of costs and not provide offsetting benefits. It is true that embedded in this population are some fine human beings and persons who will contribute greatly. But we are deciding on the pool.

Analogously, admitting persons into this country who flunked calculus will produce some great academics. But it's a worse bet than taking those who got an A in it.

The Objectivist said...

Dear C:
I apologize for mischaracterizing the study. However, if I'm reading your correction right, 2nd generation Mexicans are disproportionately involved in crime. This is obviously a serious concern and counts against letting them in.

Also, I'm judging populations by their collective characteristics. That is, if Mexican immigrants earn less money, have less intact families, have more involvement in crime, and, perhaps even, contribute less to the collective gene pool, I don't see why this isn't relevant to deciding whom to let in. They are a bad bet whether one adopts the best-student or best-alumni admissions system we discussed earlier.

Do you accept this analogy to college admissions?

The Objectivist said...

Sorry, I didn't think the first posting went through. The second one is cleaner. Thanks, O

The Constructivist said...

O, our old friend Right Wing Prof recommends these two essays on immigration.

On the study, second-generation Mexicans are citizens by birth, O, so deportation of them is no option unless you prefer, as some conservatives do, to revise American citizenship law and rewrite the 14th Amendment. Not letting someone into the country b/c their children are disproportionately likely to commit crimes stretches the meaning of individual responsibility just a bit, don't you think? I've heard of "sins of the fathers," but "sins of the sons"?

On the college admissions analogy to eligibility for immigration and citizenship, the only way I'd accept it is if you're willing to make citizenship for everyone conditional on some set of criteria--anything else is just affirmative action for children of citizens or those born on U.S. soil. If you're so against affirmative action, why are you for it when it comes to this hypothetical citizenship admissions competition?

The Constructivist said...

O, here's a debate on immigration's costs and benefits from the Wall Street Journal--comments?

The Constructivist said...

O, Peter Levine has some interesting links and commentary on inequality in America--which connects to the issue of the causes of statistical disparities among groups defined by ethnicity or national origin of nativity.

The Constructivist said...

Over at the Becker-Posner Blog, they both agree the US should end farm subsidies. I think this would lead to less immigration from our south--O, do you agree?

The Constructivist said...

Just came across this at The Moderate Voice.

The Constructivist said...

More from the Applied Reesearch Center.

The Constructivist said...

Some pro-immigrant rights organizations are coming closer to my position on the Senate bill.

The Constructivist said...

Donna Gabaccia has a lucid overview of immigration studies and debates over immigration restriction out recently (h/t Cliopatria). She leaves out racial formation in U.S. immigration history, in part b/c she's a bit sketchy on the most recent work, and fails to consider what difference nationalism and national borders make in the broader perspective of migrations in world history, but overall it's a very good essay.

The Constructivist said...

RWP considers a different perspective from Rich Lowry at National Review.

The Constructivist said...

More on immigration and inflated crime stats at Orcinus.

The Constructivist said...

More on selective enforcement of immigration law at Orcinus.

The Constructivist said...

Hey O, the latest news must really make you happy, eh? (From Bitch Ph.D. so you know it supports my side.) Going to support Tancredo for President?

The Constructivist said...

Hey, O, what do you think of this?

The Constructivist said...

O, here's a lefty blogger whose position on immigration you'll probably like (at least the conclusion).

The Constructivist said...

O, here's Zuky with some history on Asian exclusions....