Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Illegal Immigration Explained

I just finished watching the GOP Presidential Debate on CNN, and these candidates are falling all over themselves trying to come off as having anything meaningful or logical to say about illegal immigration and immigration reform. Of course, none of these candidates have any clue as to the cause, effect, and solution to immigration, and it's making me sick. These candidates are all trying to hide their xenophobia by wrapping themselves in the flag and championing crappy immigration laws. So I thought that I could shed some light on the topic. Even though I am an anarchist, for the sake of argument in this essay I will discuss immigration under the assumption that the government is legitimate and here to stay.

First, we must identify what an "illegal immigrant" is in the context of US law: An illegal immigrant is a person who lives in the USA but wasn't born there, and therefore the government says, "you can't be here."

Another important fact to note about “illegal” immigrants is that it is not them who choose to be "illegal." The “illegal” label is applied to them by the government; they do not deliberately apply it to themselves. When immigrants come to the US, they do so out of need and desperation. They do not have the money to spend nor the time to waste for the "legal" US hoop jumping process to obtain citizenship. In most cases, if these immigrants went through the US government process for citizenship, they would never be able to obtain it due to the financial and timeframe obstacles that the government sets in their way.

If the government did not set big financial and timeframe obstacles in the way of immigrants, and if the government did not have an annual cap on the number of immigrants that can come over, then the number of illegal immigrants, of course, would plummet. The immigrants would not be forced to stay in the shadows and live outside the system. Immigrants are more than happy to embrace the system and live above the board if the government would just open its arms.

Do immigrants "steal" jobs? No. They make jobs! Immigrants are overwhelmingly hard workers, and most of them work at a lower pay than their born-in-the-USA counterparts. That translates directly to job creation and lower consumer prices. Immigrants stimulate the economy, and that's a fact. One of the big reasons that the USA has been so economically prosperous is because of these immigrants coming here and working at lower wages.

I should note here that the main reason that the low-skilled immigrants get paid less than low-skilled US natives is directly because of these immigration laws. Without such barriers, these low-skilled immigrants would likely get paid the same as their US counterparts. However, even if the low-skilled immigrants got paid the same as the low-skilled US natives (which in all honesty is the only moral possibility), it would still stimulate the economy because these immigrants would then have just as much spending power as their US native counterparts. This means that the immigrants could spend more money on products and services and therefore stimulate more productivity. It also means that the children of these immigrants would be more likely to achieve a higher education and become high-skilled workers, entrepeneurs, and other leaders and pillars of society.

While most immigrants that come to the US are low-skilled, there are some that come here who are high-skilled. And the only reason that they come here is because of all the US companies trying to hard to recruit them! It is well known (perhaps among US companies more than anybody) that the US is suffering a shortage of high-skilled workers in many sectors. This not only limits the quantity and quality of services available to consumers, but it also raises prices for these services, and therefore hurts the consumer and the economy. These high-skilled immigrants are just as valuable to the US economy as the low-skilled immigrants, if not more so.

The fact of the matter is that there is a worker shortage in the US, both for high-skilled and low-skilled workers. If there wasn't, then there wouldn't be so many immigrants flocking here! The main reason that there are so many immigrants coming to the US year after year, decade after decade, is because there are still so many human resource shortages in the US. Natives of the US may have a worldwide reputation as being lazy, but it simply isn't so, and the proof is in the economic numbers. US workers are so productive, both in quality and quantity of work, that they create more jobs than they can fill! From janitors to nurses, from carpenters to computer programmers, the US is experiencing a worker shortage.

The main reason that illegal immigrants have been coming to the US for so long is because our appetite for workers has still not been satisfied. The obstacles blocking legal immigration, combined with the difficulty of illegally moving here (fences, border patrols, etc), has slowed the flow of workers to where it cannot keep up with the demand. That is why, for example, that Mexicans and South Americans have been coming here for over a decade: they keep finding jobs!

One of the concerns among anti-immigrant groups is the "flood" theory. They worry that open immigration would bring a flood of immigrants to the US. This is true, but only to an extent. An open immigration policy would surely cause a huge influx of immigrants initially, but this flooding would not be sustained for long. This is because an open immigration policy would allow the US worker appetite to be satisfied. Once the jobs in the US became adequately filled, there would no longer be an incentive for more immigrants to come here. Instead, the immigrants would have to look towards other countries for job opportunities. Immigrants don't flock to the US because of our culture, or our welfare system, or anything else. They only come here for our job opportunities.

Anti-immigration advocates also claim that immigrants "take our jobs." As I explained earlier, this is not the case. But at this point I would like to point out an additional refutation: In an open immigration country, as soon as an immigrants moves here, they become a "citizen" in every meaningful sense, and therefore they are no more "taking your job" than a person who was born here.

Oftentimes, the same people who attack immigration are the same people who attack job outsourcing. These anti-immigration/anti-outsourcing advocates complain that both immigration to the US and job outsourcing by US companies take jobs from US citizens. Of course, a quick review of the facts shows that their argument is fatally flawed.

We have already seen that immigration does not "take" US jobs. But what of job outsourcing? It is true that outsourcing takes jobs directly from US citizens. However, this is not the whole story. Outsourcing by US companies also lowers prices for US consumers, which indirectly creates jobs. Also, one must look at outsourcing from a cause and effect perspective. One must ask "why are US jobs being outsourced?" And the answer is that these jobs are overpaid in the US. If a man in India can perform a task just as good as a man in the US but for half the cost, why not give the job to the Indian? While the US citizen may lose his job, an Indian citizen gains a job. Is a human being born in the US really entitled to a job more than a human born in India? And what argument can possibly be mounted to justify "job protectionism" in the form of paying a US citizen more money for work that can be done in India for less? And what of the consumer's interests? Is it more important to protect an overpaid job, or is it more important to reduce an over inflated consumer price?

Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company, is famous for paying his employees higher wages than was common at the time, with the rationalization that it would translate to more car sales. Not only was he right, but the same argument applies to outsourcing. For example, US business sell their products and services in China, but they are currently out of financial reach for most Chinese citizens. So what could possibly be more effective at reducing the trade deficit with China than increasing the purchasing power of the Chinese citizen? The products and services sold by US companies are relatively high cost globally, and are therefore out of reach for many global consumers. And as I explained earlier, the main reason that US goods and services are too expensive globally is because it costs so much to pay the US workers that make them. Job outsourcing would do two things to alleviate this problem: first, it would lower the cost of US goods and services, and secondly, it would increase the purchasing power of consumers living outside the US. These two factors would reduce unfavorable trade deficits and broaden the worldwide customer base for US companies.

Anti-immigration advocates fixate their arguments on wages. All they can do is worry about the possibility of jobs being lost and wages declining. Amusingly, they fail to see the flip side: decreased consumer prices. It does not matter that Eddie Punchclock gets paid 25% less if his spending costs drop 35%. The United States is known as a country of consumers, and spending money is a time-honored US tradition, perhaps unmatched by any other society. Us citizens love to buy tons of shit, myself included. But why can we buy so much stuff? Because we get paid so much? Not really, because if it weren’t for foreign products, foreign services, and foreign workers, US consumer prices would be high enough to offset the higher pay that US workers receive. The purchasing power of a consumer does not depend solely on their wages as a worker. What it actually depends on is the gap between consumer prices and employee wages. The bigger the gap, the more purchasing power a consumer has.

Anti-immigration advocates warned us for years about the damage to the US economy that would take place if manufacturing jobs were to evaporate. Well, those jobs have evaporated quite a bit, yet we are still faring quite well as consumers. If you look at the average US home, you will see Japanese electronics, Korean cars, and Chinese furnishings, all in greater quality and quantity than when these products were made in the US. These imported products perform better and cost less, and the average US citizen is better off as a result.

It is clear that anti-immigration advocates are wrong on all counts. They oppose open immigration and job outsourcing to the detriment of both the US company and the US consumer. If we were to stop both immigration and outsourcing, what option is left to the US economy? How is the US company to staff its jobs? How is the US consumer to obtain his goods and services? What possible benefit can economic isolationism provide, other than to pander to the xenophobic fears of its supporters?

The arguments of anti-immigration advocates are, sadly, without merit. Their arguments do not stand up to logical or economic analysis. Immigration is just a phenomenon of economics, and the best thing to do is to just let it happen. The only problem with "illegal immigrants" are the laws themselves that make these immigrants illegal.


Anonymous said...

You did a great job with you thoughts on the subject matter.
Come to my town and Framingham Mass and I will give you the cookies and caviar tour and prove eveything you've said wrong.

Aaron Kinney said...

Why dont you educate me right here and right now, anonymous?

I happen to live in Los Angeles, in the state where whites are the minority. Half my friends werent born here.

I think I know a thing or two about immigration, but Im happy to be corrected by someone from Framingham, Mass who knows more than me about it ;)

David_Z said...


You forgot to mention that by artificially increasing the opportunity for gain (through quotas on immigration, minimum wage laws, &c.), the wages they earn are higher than they ought to be - that is, higher than a free market would bear. As a result, more people want to be immigrants than otherwise would be, if the market for labor was unregulated in this regard.

Aaron Kinney said...

Thank you David Z :)

Francois Tremblay said...

My only objection against your post, is that most skilled "immigrants" are not recognized as skilled by the "system." Their diplomas are not accepted, etc.

Francois Tremblay said...

"Come to my town and Framingham Mass and I will give you the cookies and caviar tour and prove eveything you've said wrong."

How can you prove basic decency wrong?

Aaron Kinney said...

My only objection against your post, is that most skilled "immigrants" are not recognized as skilled by the "system." Their diplomas are not accepted, etc.

Not the immigrants I know. For example, a close friend of mine has a bachelors degree in computer science from a foreign college, and is working for a special effects company on a work visa. The requirements for this visa are that you are sponsored by an employer, and that the employer is unable to fill the job through the US employee pool.

The company she works for employs hundreds of people, the vast majority of whom are immigrants using the same work visa. The company has long complained of not being able to fill positions through local employee pools.

The problem with skilled immigrants, in my opinion, is that the government doesnt recognize enough of them. They have arbitrary caps on the # of work visas they issue anually.

So, while I must actually concede to you that many skilled immigrants arent recognized as such by the government, it is only because they dont issue enough visas to properly identify them all.

Oh and while Im at it, I should mention the financial barrier for a work visa. For example, if you want to come to the US and be sponsored by an employer, there are thousands of dollars to pay in application fees and shit. It aint like applying for a $15 drivers license.

Anonymous said...

Great post. The abundance of cheap labor also creates more managerial jobs for people who have gone to college and such. Should we really give more leniency to lazy Bob who lives off welfare and doesn't look for a job? People, if you really need a job, you can get one. Just don't puss out and blame it on the illegals. Oh, and the illegal immigrants also add millions of dollars every year to social security but do not collect them from fear of deportation from using fake s.s numbers.

Daiichi Kuronama said...

I tried to read the whole article, but I could not get past the inane statement made in paragraph 2. You deliberately misdefined what an "illegal immigrant" is, so that you could cloud the issue in the same way every liberal nutjob is: by insinuating that people who have a problem with illegal immigration have a problem with ALL immigration.

I did make it to your third paragraph, wherein you try to claim that illegal aliens do not "choose" to be illegal. Is some magical unicorn picking them up in the middle of the night and dropping them within our borders without paperwork? If not, then they made a deliberate decision to cross our border in violation of our laws. If they let their visa expire, same thing.
You do a disservice to the title Libertarian with your article. Libertarians believe in respecting the sovereignty of our nation, including our borders. If there is cause to make changes to our laws so we can let in more legal immigrants, so bet it, but rewarding lawbreakers is the dominion of Democrats, and best left to them.