The Hidden Costs of Immigration

Article author: 
Christopher Caldwell
Article publisher: 
Claremont Research Institute
Article date: 
2 February 2017
Article category: 
Our American Future
Article Body: 

... For a generation, mass immigration has held a place of honor in each party’s political theology. It fits Democrats’ anti-racism and Republicans’ supply-side economics. There is a bipartisan magic about open borders. When the needs of immigration conflict with those of democracy, it is democracy that gets pushed aside. Federal and state authorities have left unenforced, and even flouted, the laws that govern employment, deportation, access to public services, and voting rights for non-citizens. In a 1994 referendum, five million Californians sought to deny welfare benefits to illegal immigrants, giving the state’s Proposition 187 a 17-point landslide at the polls. But District Court Judge Mariana Pfaelzer decided they were wrong. And that was that.

... Since 2008 it has become clear that what had looked like a boom was actually a bubble made of $45 trillion in government, household, and business debt... The costs of immigration, by contrast, are discussed only within a Losers’ Corner of poisonous internet comment threads and drive-time radio shows... The liabilities were mostly “off-balance-sheet,” and have yet to be settled. The welfare state’s responsibility for the swelling ranks of the aging poor is barely nodded at in the budget. The adaptation of the U.S. Constitution to fit immigration, rather than vice versa, is a huge cost, too. The adaptations required by mass immigration are so large that it can be judged a success only if the compensating economic benefits are vast. The best recent economic research indicates that they are not...

... [George Borjas's] new book, We Wanted Workers, shows that much of what we think we know about immigration is, therefore, dubious or false...

And despite the assurance of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that there were 11.4 million illegal [alien] immigrants in the country in 2012*, that number is probably bogus, Borjas shows. The DHS arrives at it by using census surveys of foreign-born, subtracting the number of legal immigrants who have spoken to interviewers, and assuming the count has missed 10% of the illegals. That assumption, in turn, is based on the suggestion of one junior researcher regarding the counting of Mexicans in Los Angeles County in 2000...

Borjas’s criticism of the standard immigration narrative thus carries no political agenda at all... Several are laid out in We Wanted Workers. Let us examine three:

1. Immigrants are more welfare-dependent than the most frequently quoted statistics indicate, and far more welfare-dependent than the population at large...

2. Competition from immigrants dramatically reduces the wages of the workers whose qualifications most resemble theirs...

3. The primary effect of immigrants on the country receiving them is a massive regressive redistribution of income and wealth among natives...

If, as George Borjas has shown, immigration suppresses the wages of workers, and transfers much of their wealth to elites, then liberalized immigration is a policy that cannot be carried out without simultaneous injuries to democracy. For why would native workers favor a system that makes them poorer? Perhaps they have somehow been hoodwinked out of an accurate assessment of the effects of the system. Perhaps they have lost their purchase on democracy itself. Either way, in exchange for a nickel here and a nickel there, we appear to have created a political problem of considerable gravity.


Related article

Harvard's George J. Borjas - Adding up the cost of uncontrolled immigration, by Robert VerBruggen, American Conservative, January 2, 2017.

CAIRCO Research

* How many illegal aliens reside in the United States?

Economic costs of legal and illegal immigration