The fun thing about the immigration debate is that it never goes away. I started writing on the topic a year ago, firmly convinced that it was a vital issue to address because we might have a new immigration policy at any moment. Now I realize that I can keep writing on it forever, because the anti-immigration ideologues will never come to their senses. So we'll never get any kind of immigration policy passed, and bloggers and pundits can feel free to enjoy the topic forever.
Why this should be the case is a bit mystifying. The facts about the undocumented immigrant population are all there in black and white. Our tradition of welcoming immigrants is indisputable - it's on the Statue of Liberty after all. The benefits of immigration for the country are obvious and undeniable. The ridiculous impracticality of deporting 12 million people we can't even identify has already been clearly demonstrated. Support for a realistic immigration solution crosses party lines and unites people who would normally be enemies but just happen to have good sense.
Yet one political faction prefers rhetoric over reality and would rather hold out for the impossible dream of total interdiction than implement sensible policies which would limit immigration and address the nation's needs. It almost makes you wonder if they would rather not solve the problem so they can keep bitching about it for the next few elections.
Perhaps I can do my part to move the debate along by going over the facts one more time.
Surveys of immigrants show that they actually come with the expectation that welfare and social service benefits will not be available to them. What's more, per capita, they actually use welfare benefits less than the native population. Studies show that only 2% of Mexican immigrants have ever used welfare or social security and only 3% have ever used food stamps. In comparison, 84% pay income tax and none of them file a return. Because so many of them pay into the tax and social security and Medicaid systems without being able to retrieve any of that money or benefits, the government actually makes a substantial profit on each illegal who comes here. This has resulted in a surplus in social security funds of more than $50 billion a year just from payments applied to fictional social security numbers. After factoring in services provided, on average during his time in the US, an illegal immigrant will contribute $80,000 more to the government than he consumes in services. The one negative tax impact is that they act to transfer money from the states who pay most of the services, especially education, to the federal government which gets most of the tax benefits.
• A more open immigration policy will not lead to a flood of new immigrants.
The vast majority of undocumented immigrants return to their home countries after spending a limited time in the US and most (64.7%) come to the US for a year or less to work and then go home. What's more, they don't breed like rabbits as many have suggested. Mexicans have 2.3 children per mother, only slightly higher than the birth rate in the US. Mexico has only a 2% annual growth in population, slightly higher than the US, but low compared to many other nations. All of this argues very strongly for the effectiveness of a guest worker type program, suggesting that most workers would use it if it was available rather than accepting 'amnesty' if offered.
• Undocumented immigrants aren't necessarily the poor refuse of the world.
Mexico is hardly an impoverished nation overall. They have a higher GDP per capita and higher wages than most nations and a relatively low cost of living. The average wage is higher than anywhere else in South and Central America, including fairly prosperous nations like Brazil. Real poor people can't afford to travel to another country to earn better wages - they're too downtrodden. Mexicans can come here because they have the resources and skills to make it practical and worthwhile. What's more, Mexicans like the life they have in Mexico. A peculiar survey conducted in 2004 determined that Mexico is the second 'happiest' country in the world in terms of how satisfied their population is with the life they have. The US ranked 15th.
Despite some highly publicized groups who have come into the U.S. from other countries and gone into organized crime - mostly legal immigrants from countries like El Salvador - immigrants as a whole are no more inclined to commit crimes than our native population. When compared by age, the crime and incarceration rates for Mexican immigrants are roughly equal to the general population and much better than most other legal and illegal immigrant groups. Perhaps if we could get past the issue of illegal Mexican immigration, we could crack down on the Cubans, Dominicans, Eastern Europeans, Asians, and Salvadorans who commit most of the immigrant crime.
Immigrant workers do not take jobs from natives or lower the overall working wage.
While the presence of immigrant workers does reduce the cost of goods and services for consumers, this is not because they lower wages, but, because without their presence, those jobs would go unfilled. According to one analysis, we would end up with 2.5 million jobs which could not be filled, leading to business closures and inflation. It might even ultimately lead to more unemployment among native workers. The skills of natives who are out of work and the skills of undocumented immigrants are different, so natives would not take the jobs which would become available if the illegals were deported. 84% of unemployed natives have at least a high-school education, while most illegal immigrants from Mexico have less than a high-school degree. However, undocumented workers are not necessarily low paid. They may have skills and family connections which can get them well-paid, reliable employment at well above minimum wage. Even for day laborers, the median hourly wage is still around $10. On average, undocumented workers earn about $2 less per hour than documented workers in the same jobs, a difference which accurately represents the added risk and expense of hiring them. They are good at economizing and most send substantial amounts of money home to Mexico to the point where they contribute $20 billion a year to the Mexican economy which is about 3% of the Mexican GDP. Workers used to a third-world lifestyle and earning $10 a day can do very well earning that much an hour in the US.
What all this tells us is that while working here benefits illegals and Mexico, it also benefits the United States and our population in a number of ways. Immigrants are doing jobs which might go unfilled without them, keeping inflation down and contributing disproportionately to our tax and social program revenues. What's more, most of the negatives applied to them by those who'd like to close the borders appear not to be true. They don't want to flood the country and take over. They don't even want to stay here in most cases. They aren't taking jobs that Americans are willing or qualified to do. They aren't committing lots of crimes. They aren't living off of welfare or sucking up social services. They just come here to work and make their lives better.
What's also clear from the evidence is that a straightforward guest worker program would solve most of the problems currently associated with illegal immigration. It's likely that 80% of the currently undocumented workers would be perfectly satisfied with temporary worker status, leaving only a small portion of the population who would need to either be deported or put into the regular channels for immigration, perhaps with a somewhat expanded quota for immigrants from Mexico. Implementing a guest worker program and a somewhat higher immigration quota for Mexico would end the problem of illegal immigration without filling our country with huge numbers of low-skill immigrants or the vast expense of mass deportation and radically increased border security. The lower cost and practicality of this approach to the issue would free up valuable resources for much more serious border concerns like protecting the nation from those who are taking advantage of the current border chaos to enter the country with the intent to do harm.
Find a way to accommodate the illegals who just want to work, and we can focus on the criminal gangs and potential terrorists. Those who think this problem can be solved by building walls, laying minefields, and deploying troops on the border are either ill-informed and bigoted, or they are political opportunists serving some agenda other than actually solving the problem.