Immigration to the United States

A large issue in American political debate, dominating much discussion of economics, is: It is extremely hard for low-skilled laborers to make ends meet. How are we to better their lot? A number of solutions are proposed:

  1. Increase minimum wage. This raises the price of labor-intensive goods, which makes things more expensive for everybody, including low-income people. It is especially potentially problematic, because obviously there is some level at which minimum wage will kill jobs. Democrats generally say this will never happen because the law of supply and demand is magically suspended in the low-skilled labor market.
  2. Promote more collective bargaining. American law on trade unions was written during the Great Depression as part of the New Deal, and it sets up a very combative, hostile relationship between management and labor that is very destructive to the task being done, making unions very unpopular in this country. Few unionized companies can compete and survive in the private sector, and most persisting unions are in the public sector where organizations survive no matter how inefficient they become. Unions might be a good solution if we were to overhaul our collective bargaining laws to be more like they are in Germany, which exports goods manufactured by union labor, something we basically can’t do.
  3. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC, or EIC), where the government just outright takes money from people who pay income tax (mostly rich people) and gives it to poor people. This is probably the best solution, but it has a lot of enemies:
    • Conservatives criticize what they see as “growth of the public sector”.
    • Some liberals, like Bernie Sanders, object to the government providing money that they feel should come from the employer (he seems to prioritize screwing employers as an end in itself).
    • I suspect many object to it because it’s a blatant handout (even though it’s euphemistically named), while options 1 and 2 give the illusion of the extra income being honestly earned.

The basic problem is that we have a glut of low-skilled labor in this country. If we didn’t, low-skilled labor would command a living wage without any of the above interventions. So how did we wind up with such a surplus?

The elephant in the room is immigration, legal and illegal. We have at least 11 million illegal immigrants in this country, most of them unskilled, and some estimate the number as much higher. In addition, our immigration system is so focused on family reunification that only about 25% of legal immigrants get in on skills — the rest get in through family ties. Norway, unlike the US, lacks a lengthy, unenforceable border with the third world, and they don’t even have a minimum wage, yet the market value of low-skilled labor there is $20 an hour.

It is blatantly obvious that a society with a decent social safety net is fundamentally unsustainable in the presence of inadequately-enforced borders with other countries that lack such a safety net.

American liberals frequently claim that immigrants aren’t in competition for American jobs. They base this claim on two principles:

  • They cite “studies” that show, that, as mentioned before, the law of supply and demand is magically suspended in the low-skilled labor market. This goes to show that, in the social sciences, you can rig a study to come to any conclusion you want.
  • They claim that illegal immigrants “only take jobs that Americans don’t want”. But even in the case of the stereotypical fruit-picking jobs which are, in reality, a very small part of the whole job market, many Americans would be a lot more interested in those jobs if they paid $20 an hour.

The whole immigration debate is absolutely dominated by liberals claiming that anyone who makes any argument against immigration must be a “bigot”. Low-skilled Americans look around them and see jobs in waiting tables, cooking food, landscaping, and construction, jobs they want, being done by Hispanics who are obviously foreign born. So the left is telling these low-skilled Americans “Don’t believe your lying eyes, and if you do, you’re a bigot.”. This invitably leads to a feeling that political correctness and liberal name-calling are intolerable obstacles to realistic public debate.

The percent foreign-born in this country is currently the highest it’s been in a century. It is natural at some point for people who like their own culture to feel encroached upon and threatened, to feel that the country is losing its sense of identity. Many on the left would argue that either:

  1. There is nothing especially good about the culture of those who feel threatened. Good luck with convincing them of that, and if WASP culture is so pathetic, why is it that countries founded and settled predominantly by English Protestants (the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand) generally wound up being countries that so many people want to migrate to?
  2. That multiculturalism is the core of the true American identity. Recent immigrants particularly feel that way, as do people from traditionally persecuted demographics, who see the primary reason for existence of the United States as to serve as a safe haven for refugees.

But the last time the percent foreign-born was this high, we shut the door in the early 1920’s. It is unrealistic to expect people to react all that differently this time.

There a couple of billion people in the world living in countries where the quality of life is bloody awful, so much so that most people in those countries would be individually better off were they to become unlawful immigrants to the US. Many of them are from cultures that have been train wrecks in every country dominated by them, and the intention of many immigrants from such countries is to preserve and perpetuate those dysfunctional cultures. Unless we exercise some control over how many of them come here, they will overwhelm our safety net and destroy the country. The most ethical thing for the US to do, for the greatest good of the greatest number of human beings on the planet, is to enforce the borders and preserve ourselves as a cultural example of how to run a country well.

In 1999, Norway suspected that there was a lot of immigration fraud being done by Somali immigrants, so they instituted DNA tests on Somalis immigrating on the basis of family ties. They found that 25% of children being “reunified with parents” were unrelated to the parents, and 40% of “spouses” were in fact genetic siblings. Of course, this leaves the percentage of sham marriages between non-relatives an open question. Norway started applying DNA tests to all family-reunication immigrants. Perhaps this is something we could learn from Norway, since there is no reason the same thing isn’t going on here.

There was some enforcement of the border under Obama. Those who try to make this case frequently point to high numbers of “deportations” in his adminstration relative to preceding adminstrations. But under George W. Bush, apprehending someone crossing the border and returning them to Mexico (to try again the next day) did not count as a “deporation”, only removing someone settled within the country did. Under Obama, this changed, and both groups counted as “deportations”, inflating the numbers. Some go on to assert, incredibly, that having at least 11 million illegal aliens in the country, and a market value of unskilled labor below $7 per hour, is what effective border enforcement looks like.

In the late eigthies, the Republicans organized an “amnesty”, with citizenship for all the illegals living in the country. The understanding was that there would be effective border security after that. The Republicans got royally shafted: 80% of the amnestied immigrants voted Democratic, and then the Democratic Party renegged on funding adequate border security, and the amnesty drew in millions of more illegals, hoping for the next amnesty.

This led to a great reluctance on the part of Republicans to agree to any form of amnesty, especially unless it included a credible plan for future border enforcement as part of the deal. In addition, the prospect of at least 11 million new voters, 80% of them voting Democratic, is hardly palatable to any Republican.

In the meantime, the Democrats have evolved as more and more hostile to any form of border enforcement, eager to pack the voting booths with these 80% Democratic-voting newcomers. They have been turning any locality they control into a “sanctuary” where laws against hiring illegals are not enforced and sometimes where local laws even forbid cooperation with federal authorities trying to enforce the borders.

Normally, the basis for a bipartisan deal on illegal immigration would be a path to citizenship for the illegals in return for effective future border enforcement. But the Republicans would demand that the “path to citizenship” for illegals be a “path to permanent legal residency without any prospect of citizenship”, a proposal that leaves the Democrats cold. Furthermore, the Democrats know that as long as there is no deal, they can just wait for a steady stream of 80% Democratic-voting anchor babies and family-reunification immigrants, and the prolonged misery of low-skilled American workers can be used to justify various far-left economic policies that some Democrats like.

A lot of the basic difference between the two parties is that the Republicans believe that a country has the moral right to decide who can come and live there, while, if the Democratic presidential debates are any guide, the Democrats currently feel that we as a country have no such prerogative.


In light of the fact that many of our biggest cities and in some cases entire states are “sanctuaries”, and this is a fact about which the Republicans can do nothing. perhaps a border wall is the best that can be achieved. Through some miracle he’s finally gotten funding for it. But it will not solve the low-skilled legal immigration problem, nor will it solve the problem of the 50% illegal immigrants who fly in on tourist visas and overstay.

Furthermore, he has shown appalling leadership on this issue, saying things that appeal to only his narrow base but utterly inflame the opposition. While there are sound arguments to be made for border enforcement, he fails to do it, and just reinforces the ever-increasingly deep conviction that liberals have that anyone who wants the borders enforced is a horrible person.