One of the biggest falsehoods that the anti-Mexican Immigration contingent puts forward is that undocumented aliens are a drain on the US economy. Despite the fact that many of that camp refuse to believe statistics and facts when put face to face with them, I will do so anyway. In America, we like to believe that that we are given certain, in-alienable rights, as human beings – rights like the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I’ve asked the question over and over again to folks who are against illegal immigration, and I’ve never recieved a straight answer: “Do these rights simply apply to Americans?”
In America, the concensus opinion is that racism is bad, something to be literally outlawed, in most situations. Yet our immigration stance in this country sends the message – you have certain inalienable rights only if you were lucky enough to be born on this side of the American border. Everyone else is worse than a second class citizen – you shouldn’t have a shot at citizenship at all.
Yet still, they stream across the border, in record breaking numbers. What effect does that have on the economy? Don’t they drain social services and cost us taxpayers money?
The nation’s 34 million immigrants also collectively pay more in taxes than they consume in public services and benefits, according to a National Research Council study. A high proportion of them work and pay federal, state and local taxes. Many return to their home countries before retirement and never claim Social Security payments or Medicare coverage.
Some analysts say that, since immigrants are young, they contribute more through taxes than they consume in government services. That’s especially true, they maintain, because illegal immigrants cannot collect many public benefits, such as welfare and unemployment. On the other hand, being young also means that immigrants tend to have children who attend public schools. If the immigrants are low income, as most undocumented workers are, they pay modest taxes, so their children’s education is a net cost to taxpayers.
Hispanic immigrant households in California each received $5,000 more in federal, state and local services than they paid in taxes in 1996, according to Smith’s NRC study. Public school accounted for the bulk of the disparity.
While those numbers sound compelling, there is a forceful rebuttal: “Immigrants’ kids will wind up being the taxpayers of tomorrow. Therefore you can say, you should treat the most expensive single item, education (for immigrants’ children), as an investment in tomorrow’s workforce.”
Another twist is that immigrants’ taxes largely go to the federal treasury as income tax and Social Security payments. By some estimates, about half of undocumented workers use fake Social Security numbers, allowing taxes to be withheld from their paychecks. But the services immigrants consume, such as education and health care, most often come out of state and local budgets. A recent analysis by investment research firm Standard & Poor’s found that the Social Security Administration receives about $7 billion a year in payroll taxes that can’t be linked to valid names. S&P presumed that most of those funds come from undocumented workers. If that money were diverted to state and local governments, it would pay about half of the education costs for undocumented workers’ children, S&P said.
“The reality of the immigration debate is it’s nothing to do with economic impact,” David Card, an economics professor at UC Berkeley said. “That’s just a smoke screen. It’s all about cultural protectionism and fear of change.”
According to the National Acadamies: “Immigration benefits the U.S. economy overall and has little negative effect on the income and job opportunities of most native-born Americans, says a new report* by a panel of the National Research Council. Only in areas with high concentrations of low-skilled, low-paid immigrants are state and local taxpayers paying more on average to support the publicly funded services that these immigrants use.”
“Immigrants may be adding as much as $10 billion to the economy each year,” said panel chair James P. Smith, senior economist at RAND Corp., Santa Monica, Calif. “It’s true that some Americans are now paying more taxes because of immigration, and native-born Americans without high school educations have seen their wages fall slightly because of the competition sparked by lower-skilled, newly arrived immigrants. But the vast majority of Americans are enjoying a healthier economy as the result of the increased supply of labor and lower prices that result from immigration.”
A study by University of California-Los Angeles professor Raul Hinojosa, says the total economic contribution of illegal immigrants from what they produce and what they spend is about $800 billion. Losing that by cutting off the flow of immigrants entirely and sending back the ones who are here illegally would be a tremendous blow to the gross domestic product, he said.
If you get rid of $800 billion in economic activity, that’s a big hit on the U.S. economy. With estimates ranging between $10 and $800 billion a year added to the economy, is there any question as to whether Mexican immigration is helping us or not?
The Wage Gap
From 1980 through 2000, immigration reduced average wages for the nation’s 10 million native-born men without high school educations by 7.4 percent, according to a 2004 report by George J. Borjas, a Harvard University economist who has studied immigration for years. They earned an average of $25,000 a year in 2000.
Other economists contend that the effect is much smaller — a wage reduction of close to 1 percent — and has dissipated as Americans have become better educated. The proportion of the adult labor force, including immigrants, without high-school diplomas has dropped to just 10 percent.
The proportion of immigrants in the U.S. adult urban population nearly doubled from 1980 to 2000, from 9.5 percent to 18 percent, according to census figures cited by David Card, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley, in a paper presented at a Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia conference last year. The Washington area mimicked the national trend, with the immigrants’ proportion growing from 9.6 percent to 20.6 percent during those two decades.
And immigrants are, on average, less schooled than native-born Americans. Looking at census data from hundreds of the nation’s urban areas where immigrants cluster, Card found that in both 1980 and 2000, more than a third of adult immigrants did not have high school diplomas. But the proportion of working-age natives at that education level fell from 23 percent to 13 percent from 1980 to 2000, “more than offsetting the inflow of less-educated immigrants.”
The wage gap between high school graduates and dropouts stayed relatively constant from 1979 to 2000, with the graduates earning 25 to 30 percent more, Card wrote.
The “evidence that immigrants harm native opportunities is scant,” he concluded, observing “a surprisingly weak relationship between immigration and less-skilled wages.”
Immigration also has made up for population losses in some parts of the country. In New England and the Mid-Atlantic, the labor force would have declined from 1990 to 2000 without immigration, according to a report released in February by Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies.
The Binswager ArgumentDr. Harry Binswager, a longtime associate of Ayn Rand, received his Ph.D. in philosophy from Columbia University. He wrote a piece for Capitalist Magazine a while back that succinctly explains why we as Americans can’t be exclusionary to the degree we are in regards to immigration in America. Here are some selected quotes:
A foreigner has rights just as much as an American. To be a foreigner is not to be a criminal. Yet our government treats as criminals those
foreigners not lucky enough to win the green-card lottery.
It is not a criminal act to buy or rent a home here in which to reside. Paying for housing is not a coercive act–whether the buyer is an American or a foreigner. No one’s rights are violated when a Mexican, or Canadian, or Senegalese rents an apartment from an American owner and moves into the housing he is paying for. And what about the rights of those American citizens who want to sell or rent their property to the highest bidders? Or the American businesses that want to hire the lowest cost workers? It is morally indefensible for our government to violate their right to do so, just because the person is a foreigner.
Thus, immigration quotas treat both Americans and foreigners as if they were criminals, as if the peaceful exchange of values to mutual benefit were an act of destruction.
To take an actual example, if I want to invite my Norwegian friend Klaus to live in my home, either as a guest or as a paying tenant, what right does our government have to stop Klaus and me? To be a Norwegian is not to be a criminal. And if some American business wants to hire Klaus, what right does our government have to interfere?
The implicit premise of barring foreigners is: “This is our country, we let in who we want.” But who is “we”? The government does not own
the country. Jurisdiction is not ownership. Only the owner of land or any item of property can decide the terms of its use or sale. Nor does the majority own the country. This is a country of private property, and housing is private property. So is a job.
American land is not the collective property of some entity called “the U.S. government.” Nor is there such thing as collective, social ownership of the land. The claim, “We have the right to decide who is allowed in” means some individuals–those with the most votes– claim the right to prevent other citizens from exercising their rights. But there can be no right to violate the rights of others.
The rights of one man end where the rights of his neighbor begin. Only within the limits of his rights is a man free to act on his own judgment. The criminal is the man who deliberately steps outside his rights-protected domain and invades the domain of another, depriving his victim of his exclusive control over his property, or liberty, or life. The criminal, by his own choice, has rejected rights in favor of brute violence. Thus, an immigration policy that excludes criminals is proper.
But what about the millions of Mexicans, South Americans, Chinese, Canadians, etc. seeking entry who are not criminal and not bearing infectious diseases? By what moral principle can they be excluded? Not on the grounds of majority vote, not on the grounds of protecting any American’s rights, not on the grounds of any legitimate authority of the state.
/mark “rizzn” hopkins
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