Monday, November 03, 2008

Illegal immigrants and MnSCU 

I received last night an email from Joshua Behling, the challenger in the MN House District 15B race against incumbent Larry Haws. There was an on-campus debate of local House races. I've reprinted the email with permission:
We just finished up a debate at the campus of St. Cloud State University. There were 10 questions that were asked by the moderators and then questions from the audience were asked.

A question was asked by a student of SCSU. He spoke with broken English. His question was, "With the large amount of immigrants in this area and state what will you do as a Legislator to make sure that immigrants have an opportunity to succeed?"

Rep. Larry Haws responded 1st by saying, "What kind of immigrants are you talking about?"

The student responded, "Well there are a lot of different immigrants but mostly in this area I guess, Somalians."

Rep. Larry Haws responded, "Are we talking legal or illegal immigrants?"

The student responded, "Legal."

Rep. Larry Haws responded, "Good, because if your talking about legal, then I say send 'um here [SCSU], we'll check you at the door. If you are talking illegal then send 'um over to Tech [St. Cloud Tech College]."

There was about a 5-10 second pause as the ENTIRE room gasped and re-adjusted themselves in their chairs.

You could see that all but a few of the students looked at him and each other thinking, I can't believe he just said that.
The requirements for international student admissions at SCTC are here. The application form does ask you about your status. If you are not in status, you are to provide a written explanation.

However, Rep. Haws has pointed out something interesting. The House Research Department put out a document in December 2004 titled "Noncitizens and Minnesota Law". It reads from page 47:
The application forms of Minnesota�s two public higher education systems�the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and University (MnSCU)�require information on the applicant�s residency, citizenship, and visa status. Application forms also request an applicant�s Social Security number as an optional piece of information. MnSCU requires international students and nonimmigrants to complete separate application forms. Admission to Minnesota�s public postsecondary institutions does not depend on being a legal resident of the United States.
And on page 49:
...MnSCU board policies allow resident tuition for refugees under federal law and authorize MnSCU institutions to adopt policies to exempt nonimmigrant international students from nonresident tuition. Several MnSCU institutions operate under a board-approved tuition waiver programs that authorize a single tuition rate for resident and nonresident students. These campuses can charge resident tuition to undocumented students without being in violation of federal law. The University of Minnesota also has policies providing exemptions to the nonresident classification. None of the exemptions are based on citizenship or immigration status.
Emphasis added in both. My data is a few years old here, but I don't recall seeing this changed. I'll post this with hope that you'll correct me in comments if I missed a legal change.

Now schools might treat the legal status on their own differently -- MnSCU seems to provide latitude to schools to request your I-20 or I-94 forms, which may mean they can turn you down if you don't have them. A campus "may have" additional requirements. So perhaps Rep. Haws has pointed out something about SCTC that we didn't know; they might not have that additional requirement. Perhaps we have something to look at for the next Legislature.

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

A quick note on the state costs of immigration 

My good friend the Lady Logician has posted on True North about the cost of illegal immigration to state budgets. The report she cites from CBO was noted last month by CBO director Peter Orszag on his blog.
Many state and local governments incur costs for services associated with unauthorized immigrants, particularly in the areas of education, health care, and law enforcement. Some of those costs are incurred because of rules governing federal programs, court decisions, and state-level statutory or constitutional requirements. CBO�s review of the literature finds that the amount of spending involved is a small share of total state and local spending on these services, but the tax revenue collected from unauthorized immigrants at the state and local level does not offset the costs involved. The result is probably a modest negative net impact on state and local budgets.
Emphases mine. For the state of Minnesota, a document released by the Pawlenty administration in 2005 put the net cost to the state budget at $148-188 million (including $17 million for public health), out of a budget of $30 billion. Approximately $39 million of that were education expenditures for children who were citizens but whose parents were undocumented. Eliminating ALL those costs would have reduced the FY04-05 state budget by 0.63%. Not exactly an overwhelming figure.

There are enough arguments for controlling immigration without making mountains out of molehills.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

A Xenophobe at The Economist 

xen�o�phobe (n.) A person unduly fearful or contemptuous of that which is foreign, especially of strangers or foreign peoples.

From a blog post today at London-based Free Exchange, "in which journalists from The Economist Newspaper, and the Economist Intelligence Unit post their thoughts and observations":
I am often accused of "elitism" for supporting free immigration, which is completely baffling on its face, since the reason for my support is the welfare of very poor foreigners.

...Poorer Americans, in addition to having less money, are on the whole also more racist, xenophobic, and sexist than wealthier Americans. "The elite", like it or not, is generally a liberalising influence in politics, and populism can and does take savage right-wing forms.
The writer is clearly xenophobic (both contemptuous and fearful) about those strange and foreign "poorer Americans."

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Why would you increase others' demand for a service you buy? 

I fail to understand why our own student governments here in Minnesota think the DREAM Act is such a good idea. This arrived via email this morning through our union:
MSUSA Action Alert! We need your help! Contact your U.S Senators today!

Senate Sets Test Vote on Immigrant Education Bill:

The Senate is going to debate and possible vote on the DREAM Act tomorrow as a test to see if the chamber is ready to support a piecemeal approach to legalization of some of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States.

The bill, sponsored by Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., would allow the children of illegal immigrants who entered the United States before age 16 and lived here at least five years to gain conditional legal status and eventual citizenship if they attend college or join the military for at least two years.

Call Sen. Norm Coleman and Sen. Amy Klobuchar and tell them to support Sen. Durbin's Dream Act Legislation.

What to Say:

Hi! My name is ____________ and I am a student at (your campus). I am calling to urge Senators to vote yes on the Durbin DREAM Act legislation to provide a 6-year path to legal residence for high school graduates who were brought to the U.S. years ago as undocumented children. I support the DREAM Act because it will increase access to higher education for 360,000 qualified high school graduates who are currently denied their dream to an education. Thank you for your time and I look forward to your support.
Now I get why my union likes the idea -- increase demand for my product and it should help push up my wages. And given the decline in high school graduating classes, we need every warm body. That doesn't mean I support DREAM -- I don't; I'm unwilling to do anything until we stop the hemorrhaging of our borders first, lest DREAM becomes a kids magnet that adds further incentives to illegal immigration. But why would students want more crowded classrooms? And why would they support "a piecemeal approach to legalization of some of the 12 million illegal immigrants living in the United States"??

Student governments get to engage in cheap talk - they can take political positions comforted both by the fact that their student bodies pay little attention to their statements and the training they get from their professors who push this. A vote against supporting DREAM in a student government meeting will lead to accusations of behaving in a racist fashion; the cost of voting 'yes' is small since you're unlikely to change the outcome, so nobody squawks about this.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Short and long run effects of diversity 

A summary of reactions to Robert Putnam's research appears in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education (temp link, thanks to loyal reader jw).

Putnam�s study underscores three crucial points:

  1. Ethnic diversity is increasing and inevitable and in the long-run is a valuable asset for advanced countries. The study highlights the economic, cultural, and developmental benefits from immigration and diversity for both sending and receiving countries. Immigrants comprise a disproportionate share of America�s Nobel Laureates and distinguished scholars and artists. Economic productivity is often higher (and crime rates often lower) in places with greater numbers of immigrants.
  2. Putnam�s research indicates that at least initially our fear of what is new and different means that increased immigration and diversity reduce trust, social solidarity, and social capital. (Previous research suggests that where levels of social capital are higher, children grow up healthier, safer and better educated; people live longer, happier lives; and democracy and the economy work better.) Extensive analysis of a large national sample of Americans finds that controlling for many other factors at the individual and community level, people of all ethnic backgrounds tend to �hunker down� in more diverse neighborhoods. Trust (even of one�s own race) is lower, friends fewer, altruism and community cooperation rarer, confidence in local institutions weaker, and TV-watching more frequent.
  3. In the long run, successful immigrant societies like the U.S. overcome such fragmentation by creating new, cross-cutting forms of social solidarity, and more encompassing identities. The study notes that the U.S. has done this through popular culture, education, national symbols, and common experiences. In addition to the successful history of American immigrant assimilation a century ago, Putnam lauds the US Army, many evangelical megachurches, and (as with European immigrants a century ago) the Catholic Church, as contemporary success stories for encouraging shared identities and inter-ethnic ties.
Rod Dreher writes,
I predict this research will have absolutely zero impact on the immigration debate. Why? Because Diversity is a dogmatic secular religion. To dissent from its dogmas is to declare oneself to be a heathen. Seriously, to question its premises is to be thought of as a closet hater by the Establishment. You would get about as far questioning Creationism at a backwoods Bible college as you would questioning Diversity at a US university, corporation or whatnot. In fact, that's a good comparison, because it's the secular left that's always cracking on religious people for ignoring science when it doesn't suit their ends.
I think the reaction to Putnam is overblown. I don't think you'd find many new immigrants throughout history that did not set off the kind of short-run reactions that Putnam describes. Doesn't matter if it's Irish need not apply, or reaction to French-speaking Quebecois in northern New England, or the Italians, or modern-day equivalent.

It's the third point Putnam makes that's key: The cross-cutting cultural experiences of the U.S. Army (where my German-American father-in-law met Jewish and black soldiers for the first time in the Pacific theater, and ended up lifelong friends with some) and large churches (I witness with wonder the Sudanese congregants at a local Lutheran church, getting some early worshiping done before their own native-language service immediately after.) It is the desire to keep those groups distinct these days that is hindering our ability to benefit from diverse immigration, and it is the accidental blending that is giving these groups common ties.

But Dreher makes a good point regarding the American university, and its desire to fight against creating commonality on a uniquely American culture.

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Learning from History 

King, you now say that "[tradeoffs in the moral realm] were the subject of my first post. There are ways to do things that 'get the job done,' like handing everyone an ID card or putting a "status check" marker on a drivers license. And the culture does seem to accept this now. My problem is that this trades off the culture we used to hold, the culture we had not too long ago."

But your first post didn't say that -- it said that �laws are only enforced when they have some basis in the structure of our country�s culture.� I responded with many examples in which the structure of our country's culture does support enforcement of our ID laws. How is it not a shift that your current position is that the cultural change is regrettable?

As for Reagan's endorsement of the positive aspects of immigration, this is what I wrote:

"legal immigration to the US has been and continues to be an enormous benefit to us. People choose to come here, to a greater extent than anywhere else on earth, because we are a beacon of liberty and opportunity. Those who choose to become legal citizens are generally courageous, ambitious, industrious and hard-working. I have been making significant new and ongoing connections with immigrants for more 30 years, including many in my most recent classes. The vast majority are grateful to be here, and play by the rules of our system. I know we are extremely lucky to have their contributions. My knowledge of various nations and cultures has expanded because of them - they share why they came, their hopes, their dreams, and for most of them, the desire to become Americans. We need to expand the opportunities for legal immigration, and to provide funding and personnel to remove the idiotic bureaucratic obstacles and processing delays in our current system."

I think I can fairly claim to agree with Reagan on the positive aspects of immigration.

However, I doubt that Reagan would have said "let's give illegal immigrants a pass on the enforcement of our ID laws," especially after 20+ years of ignoring the requirements in the law he supported. I submit that the persistent refusal of our political and bureaucratic elites to enforce the cultural and legal norms applied to the the vast majority of our populace -- starting after the 1965 immigration reforms, continuing after the 1986 Reagan-Era comprehensive reform, and down through today -- is one of the principal causes of the cultural shift you deplore. As Robert Heinlein said, "A generation which ignores history has no past and no future."

We have consistently supported a legalization program which is both generous to the alien and fair to the countless thousands of people throughout the world who seek legally to come to America. -- Ronald Reagan, 1986
The quality of that generosity is exactly what I am questioning. It's not a positive question.


To step into the sunlight and become Americans 

I want to summarize briefly my reactions to the lively exchange on immigration between Janet, commenter J. Ewing, and me. In attempting to respond to two different critiques, I think Janet is wrong to accuse me of shifting ground. When one fights a two-front war, one is allowed to move material between the fronts. So let me separate them.

I did not like the immigration bill the Senate sent forward. I said so on a show I did with Captain Ed's program a few weeks ago. That does not mean I support the status quo, nor does it mean I prefer a border-enforcement only bill. I support none of those. What I have argued is that the way to a winning coalition in Congress and the White House that strengthens border defense, provides for stronger employer sanctions and provides some means of dealing with those here is most likely through a grand bargain. I do not think you can move two or three pieces of legislation at the national level to get that done.

The state of Arizona, or any other state, can only move on one of the three items in my list, employer sanctions. It cannot effectively act as a border enforcement device as it has no standing army; one cannot become a citizen of Arizona without first becoming a citizen of the United States. This has good and bad consequences. The good consequence is that the states can pass employer sanctions without waiting for the federal government to act (although I have to think there are implications for the interstate commerce clause; I'll let the constitutional scholars figure that one out for me.) The bad consequence is that it removes a chip to be used in the grand bargain at the federal level. You might still have a winning coalition without that chip, but it is evident to me that fewer chips make bargaining harder.

The rest of my argument with JE is that there are costs involved with any solution, not all of which are explicit. Enforcement is expensive; finding ways to elicit cooperation from those you wish to ID would reduce those costs and might be more efficient. My concern in this argument is that there is no concern over efficiency with the enforcement-first types. As an economist I can never stray far from the concept of tradeoffs. There are instead emotional appeals to patriotism or moral appeals to lawfulness and citizenship. We tend to wave those problems away.

But there are even in the moral realm tradeoffs, and these were the subject of my first post. There are ways to do things that "get the job done", like handing everyone an ID card or putting a "status check" marker on a drivers license. And the culture does seem to accept this now. My problem is that this trades off the culture we used to hold, the culture we had not too long ago. Could Lee Iacocca have raised the money he did raise for the Ellis Island project in 2006 like he did in 1986? Would George W. Bush have given the speech at the dedication that Ronald Reagan gave?

If you answer no, what are you saying about the United States as a land of immigrants? To what extent has the edge we've had for the last 75 years come from the economic engine they have provided?

At base, the Reagan argument for immigration still appeals; I thought Janet's response to me was at first very defensive precisely because she understands that appeal. But if others hold that appeal too, then policies that deal only with enforcement will be seen as contrary to that cultural affinity for our immigrant heritage, and will be rejected. Thus again, even though right now many people want sticks, they will be prone to suspicion of motives if a few carrots are not offered. And if that sounds too much like amnesty for your taste, go back and read Reagan again.
We have consistently supported a legalization program which is both generous to the alien and fair to the countless thousands of people throughout the world who seek legally to come to America. The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.

...Distance has not discouraged illegal immigration to the United States from all around the globe. The problem of illegal immigration should not, therefore, be seen as a problem between the United States and its neighbors. Our objective is only to establish a reasonable, fair, orderly, and secure system of immigration into this country and not to discriminate in any way against particular nations or people.
If you want to have an argument where I get Reagan on my side and you get ... well, whomever you get, I like my odds.


Friday, July 06, 2007

Immigration: Back to You, King 

UPDATED by Janet in light of comments, as of the morning of 7/9/2007:

King has taken issue with one of my immigration posts, saying that �laws are only enforced when they have some basis in the structure of our country�s culture.� I think that he and I agree far more than we disagree, so let me try some clarification.

First, like King, both my husband and I had immigrant grandparents who came to this country through Ellis Island. We admire and respect the courage and hard work it took for them to uproot themselves from their native lands, to learn a new language, and to make their way in this strange and wonderful new place. We are proud that they followed their dreams and ultimately became legal citizens of the United States. They, too, said, �I am an American.�

Second, legal immigration to the US has been and continues to be an enormous benefit to us. People choose to come here, to a greater extent than anywhere else on earth, because we are a beacon of liberty and opportunity. Those who choose to become legal citizens are generally courageous, ambitious, industrious and hard-working. I have been making significant new and ongoing connections with immigrants for more 30 years, including many in my most recent classes. The vast majority are grateful to be here, and play by the rules of our system. I know we are extremely lucky to have their contributions. My knowledge of various nations and cultures has expanded because of them - they share why they came, their hopes, their dreams, and for most of them, the desire to become Americans. We need to expand the opportunities for legal immigration, and to provide funding and personnel to remove the idiotic bureaucratic obstacles and processing delays in our current system.

Third, there are valid reasons, such as national security and preserving our cultural identity, for placing limits on the rate of immigration. Totally open borders are an unrealistically utopian ideal, which means that some entry into this country has been, and will continue to be, contrary to our laws.

This background provides needed context for the point I was trying to make.
US culture today routinely expects virtually every person to provide personal identification in a myriad of settings. We are all required to have identification for becoming a student in a school system, starting employment, renting an apartment, buying or renting a car, opening a bank account, cashing a check or money order, buying a cell phone, arranging for utility service, paying our taxes, getting a passport or driver�s license, buying alcohol or a gun, obtaining and using a credit card, a mortgage or other loan, and many other activities in our daily lives. In today�s world, being able to slide through the cracks without identification is almost impossible. Citizens and legal immigrants alike must routinely respond to �May I see some ID, please?�

This de facto cultural ID system is supported and reinforced by a de jure system for issuing IDs, laws requiring such IDs for many common transactions, and laws designed to protect individuals against identity theft. King cannot claim a conflict between �the structure of our country�s culture� and the expectation that we will enforce our laws regarding the integrity and use of our identification systems.

Should we exempt illegal immigrants from these ID requirements? Of course not. One of our core values as Americans is equality before the law.

Thus, one of my base points is: How can we allow continuation of a system in which the same Social Security Number can be used illegally by 42 different people? How can we allow continuation of a system in which the inspector general of the Social Security Administration reports that a single employer encountered 131,191 SSNs which the SSA could not attribute to any known legal worker in the United States? This is just crazy.

For comparison, let's look at VISA and MasterCard, which do a far better job of tracking the use of their credit cards. When they detect an unusual pattern of charges on our card, further use of the card number is suspended while they contact us to verify legitimate use. In the event of a lost, stolen or misused card, further use of that card number is canceled completely, and a replacement card is issued with a new number. Banks have put in place the same procedures with debit and ATM cards. Does it work 100% of the time? No, but it works a significant portion of the time. It is certain that no credit card number would continue to be honored after use under 5 different names, much less 42. And any merchant accepting transactions involving 131,191 invalid credit card numbers would be in serious trouble.

The issue is not the number of people involved, or the number of transactions to be processed. Our society tracks hundreds of millions of legal citizens and legal immigrants through billions of transactions every year, without �tagging them like a side of beef.� I have reread every one of my posts on immigration without seeing the word "tag," which has a far more sinister meaning than "track," the word I did use. We have the technology to track most anything. Should illegal immigrants be tracked differently than citizens and legal immigrants? No. But should illegals get a pass when they abuse the ID systems that have become an ingrained and accepted part of our culture? I don't think so. We can and should do better. That is why Arizona has just enacted a bi-partisan law requiring verification of legal immigration status for employment.

KING ADDS: I would like to know how one gets illegal aliens to accept an ID card, and with what they would be ID'd. If one holds such a card, how is this not a tag? I understand the desire not to use the word "tag", since it recalls what we did to Japanese-Americans in internment in WWII. But I don't see a real difference between a plastic card in the pocket marked "alien" to be required of someone at all times, and those tags. (I'm also quite familiar with markers like those in the Turkish population card. Had Nana not left her childhood home, she'd've carried one of those.)

Moreover, why would the government get these cards right when they can't get the Social Security numbers right? It's not "society" that would track them; MasterCard and Visa can stop me from charging dinner on my credit card, but they cannot deprive me of life and liberty. The ID system needs to have an incentive to get illegal aliens to step up and allow themselves to be counted. Either that or, as Hernando de Soto pointed out once, you have to freeze everyone in place and swarm the country with bureaucrats to ask questions and count noses and hand out cards. Beef doesn't move (after you separate it from the steer.) People do. Just another complexity?


I think you misread the Hernando de Soto interview (He is an author I admire). He says that you need an army of bureaucrats handing out ID cards if you don't have a system of individual property rights. With our current system of property rights and transactions, the incentives to produce ID are already in place.

Saying �make them carry identification cards� in my original post may have been over the top, in that anyone can leave home without ID. But as I pointed out above, we already have in place strong cultural and legal incentives for everyone, legals and illegals, to produce ID on a regular basis. I just got home from returning a small (under $10) purchase; the store required both my receipt and my driver�s license before they would issue a refund. Illegal immigrants have to produce ID, too; they just fake them.

As for stamping �alien,� do you object to the existing requirement here in our own state of Minnesota that

"A status check date that coincides with the federal lawful admission period indicated on the federal primary document presented or on the additional documentation that indicates the duration of the applicant's lawful short-term admission status shall be indicated on the driver's license, permit, or identification card issued. "

(To confirm that requirement, you can use the steps listed below this Minnesota DMV web address: 1 � click on DVS Rules; 2 � click on 7410; 3 � click on 7410-0410, Proof of Residency; 4 � Subp. 8 defines the �status check� portion of the ID)

There are many places where fake IDs can be noted and stopped by the government today. A good first step would be getting the Social Security numbers right. That�s already a matter of law. It can be done (the VISA and MasterCard systems have larger volume). The problem is lack of will and failure to appropriate the resources (money and people) to get the job done.

JANET ADDS (7/9/2007):

It seems to me that King's arguments have shifted. (A thank-you to my "recovered lawyer" husband for pointing this out.)

My post responded to his claim that "laws are only enforced when they have some basis in the culture." I cited many examples to show that there is broad cultural and legal support for enforcing our laws about the integrity and use of our ID systems.

When he asked about labeling people as "aliens," I noted that Minnesota already does the equivalent by putting on driver's licenses and other State-issued IDs the words "Status Check" and the date of expiration of the federal short-term "lawful admission period."

To the claim that we would need an army of bureaucrats to issue IDs, I said that the de Soto interview makes this claim only in a system lacking individual property rights. I said that our system of property rights and transactions already has in place large incentives to produce identification, illustrated by the many examples I have gven.

In the comments below, he offers additional arguments. I'll respond to them here:

"The poor often transact in cash, which makes their transactions difficult to track." Sure, in many (most?) transactions we are not asked for IDs. But there are MANY situations where IDs are required. That's why so many illegal immigrants have fake IDs! Going after the gross abuses of SSNs won't solve all of our problems, but I don't see any valid policy argument that we should ignore such abuses.

What about "matricula consular (for illegal Mexican aliens)?" Exempting illegal immigrants from compliance with our ID system at the whim of any foreign government is a bad idea.

The rest of King's dialog with J. Ewing deals with transition costs (abrupt implementation leads to recession) and whether the level of incentives is right. King acknowledges that "the Z-visa is too much incentive" for him.

We seem to have reached a logical place to end this discussion, for now. Although King argued against the bill that failed, he still believes that a comprehensive immigration reform package is the only way to solve the ID problem. But comprehensive reform is politically dead for the forseeable future. J. Ewing and I say that we can and should require illegal immigrants to comply with our cultural and legal requirement for vaild IDs, which are expected of all other citizens and legal immigrants. Fixing the abuses of Social Security numbers is a workable first step we can take now, even without comprehensive immigration reform.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Immigration (responses to Janet) 

I thought these would be better as a separate post.

As Janet and Michael have both noted, we had on Senator Coleman last Saturday on FW. (Audio here -- he's the first segment.) Whether you characterize the actions on immigration as a coming to reality, capitulation or cravenness, the result was that a combination of forces kept the Senate from passing a bill brought together in a back room and forwarded by people who thought they knew better. Since the bill is dead (seemingly, it's already been resurrected once,) it makes no sense to me to try to dissect it.

But something has to happen, because even if the sentiment on this bill was 20-80 against, the status quo is also a 20-80 proposition.
Regardless of what happened at the Senate today, there are still 12 million illegal immigrants living in the country, and that number is increasing at the rate of about half-a-million a year. And there's no longer any need for the Bush administration to keep playing the charade of "more enforcement" that received wide media attention in the past few months. The economic and social dislocations caused by illegal immigration are not going to disappear simply because the issue is no longer in the political headlights.

Combine this with a legal immigration system that admits about 1 million immigrants a year--most of which tend to be low-skill workers. The economic pressures that both legal and illegal immigrants put on the low-skill labor market are severe, and have been ignored for years. I suspect that the immigration "problem" would have been long resolved had the labor markets for high-skill workers--say, for example, journalists and attorneys--faced the same pressures as those faced by low-educated workers.

Now that the debate is over, perhaps we can return some sanity and honesty into the intellectual discussion of what immigration does to the United States.
I can quibble with Borjas about the elasticities of low-skill wages, but cannot find fault with the premise. Those areas that are most severely affected are going to pass laws without waiting for that debate, like Arizona. There, a Democratic governor considered friendly to Mexico nevertheless signed a bill with strict employer sanctions, bucking powerful members of her own party.

The pressure is undoubtedly there to do something. But laws are only enforced when they have some basis in the structure of our country's culture. Perhaps, as Janet says, "every other country" can tag and issue ID cards to their immigrant population. But we're not those other countries. We are a country that at one time was formed on the principle that all men are created equal and that all men have inalienable rights. The preamble of the Declaration didn't make any distinctions in attributes of humans -- that regrettably came later in the compromise over slavery that led to the signing of our Constitution. is running an old essay by Frank Chodorov, a paleo-conservative before anyone knew any other kind of conservatism, in which he discusses how men come to these rights:

In that respect, they maintained, all men must be considered on a par. This was a brand-new base for government. In all political science hitherto known it had been an axiom that rights were privileges handed down to subjects by the sovereign power; hence there was nothing positive about them. A new king or a new parliament could abrogate existing rights or extend them to other groups or establish new favorites.

The Americans, however, insisted that in the nature of things all rights inhere in the individual, by virtue of his existence, and that he instituted government for the sole purpose of preventing one citizen from violating the rights of another.

It is worth remembering that, 21 years ago tonight, Ronald Reagan stood at a ceremony for the opening of the Statue of Liberty Centennial. There he said,

Call it mysticism if you will, I have always believed there was some divine providence that placed this great land here between the two great oceans, to be found by a special kind of people from every corner of the world, who had a special love for freedom and a special courage that enabled them to leave their own land, leave their friends and their countrymen, and come to this new and strange land to build a New World of peace and freedom and hope. Lincoln spoke about hope as he left the hometown he would never see again to take up the duties of the Presidency and bring America through a terrible Civil War. At each stop on his long train ride to Washington, the news grew worse: The Nation was dividing; his own life was in peril. On he pushed, undaunted. In Philadelphia he spoke in Independence Hall, where 85 years earlier the Declaration of Independence had been signed. He noted that much more had been achieved there than just independence from Great Britain. It was, he said, ``hope to the world, future for all time.''

Well, that is the common thread that binds us to those Quakers [Puritans] on the tiny deck of the Arabella, to the beleaguered farmers and landowners signing the Declaration in Philadelphia in that hot Philadelphia hall, to Lincoln on a train ready to guide his people through the conflagration, to all the millions crowded in the steerage who passed this lady and wept at the sight of her, and those who've worked here in the scaffolding with their hands and with their love...

We're bound together because, like them, we too dare to hope -- hope that our children will always find here the land of liberty in a land that is free. We dare to hope too that we'll understand our work can never be truly done until every man, woman, and child shares in our gift, in our hope, and stands with us in the light of liberty -- the light that, tonight, will shortly cast its glow upon her, as it has upon us for two centuries, keeping faith with a dream of long ago and guiding millions still to a future of peace and freedom.

When they put the names of the immigrants on that island, they included the name Gulenia Hovsepian. Left by her family to an orphanage in Beirut, she had managed to get enough education to work as a nurse there and later in Cairo. When a man came in 1922 that wanted to marry her cousin and the cousin got cold feet, Gulenia said she would marry the man instead, if he was going to America. No Z-visa, no H1B. It was a new life, she thought, streets full of goods and paved with gold. She went on to have six children before her husband -- himself an uneducated man -- died of pneumonia after trying to make money roofing one winter. She took in wash, worked at a textile plant, scrubbed floors and did the best she could. And right after her husband died, she applied to be a citizen and stopped talking in her native tongue.

As you might guess, that's my grandmother. And the picture to the right is my father standing at the Ellis Island Memorial pointing to his mother's name.

She was an inspiration to us that hard work was rewarded here in America. And a reminder that people who get a chance to "keep faith with a dream" "guided ... to a future of peace and freedom" can build prosperous, productive families. And most of all, when you asked her nationality, she said "American."

I wonder how she'd've answered if she had been tagged like a piece of beef.

After Reagan gave his speech and the other dignitaries had given theirs, the torch of the Statue was lit and Reagan spoke a little more. At the end he turned to a choir that sang the last few lines of Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" from which the famous line about poor tired huddled masses. And then Reagan closed,
We are the keepers of the flame of liberty. We hold it high tonight for the world to see, a beacon of hope, a light unto the nations. And so with joy and celebration and with a prayer that this lamp shall never be extinguished, I ask that you all join me in this symbolic act of faith, this lighting of Miss Liberty's torch.
As you enjoy your Fourth of July, perhaps while you light your fireworks or watch those in the sky, try to remember why we make light explode in a night sky every year at this time. Is it to remember Fort McHenry and defending our shores? Or is it a beacon?

Rather than ask, what does immigration do to the United States, the question is, what does immigration do to for the world?

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Thoughts on the Immigration Bill, #2 

Once it became clear that the American people had spoken and that the immigration bill would be defeated, there was some rejoicing but we need to realize we created this mess by ignoring our laws. We have an illegal immigration problem.

One key reason western civilizations have thrived (albeit in spurts) for millennia is that they developed the rule of law, a concept whereby the people choose their leaders and the law applies equally to everyone, regardless of tribe, faith, race, culture, language, etc. This concept began with the Greeks, then the Romans then various western European cultures. No other civilization developed and implemented this way of thinking, none.

Our Founding Fathers took this rule of law concept to a new level. Their ideal, based on the belief that people could rule themselves, reverberated around the world. As Thomas Jefferson wrote....,"that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." (Note, not equality but created equal; not happiness but the PURSUIT of happiness). It took time, revisions, struggles and war to get where we are today, but we're here, the most racially, religiously, ethnically tolerant and freest country on the planet. We have problems but try living anywhere else. America is any immigrants first choice.

Does our system work 100% of the time? No. Is it always fair? No. However, the alternatives are worse. Recall the words of Winston Churchill: "Indeed, it has been said democracy is the worst form of government except all those others that have been tried from time to time."

Our history, warts and all, is the history of a nation's people applying laws across the board and making necessary changes to promote freedom, here (Civil War) and overseas.

If we apply the law to some groups but not others, the system will fail. We want an immigration bill that addresses labor issues but also one that says if you are here, you need to come legally, obey our laws and carry your weight - pay your fair share and not take advantage of our generosity (and guilt).

Congress needs to understand we don't trust them - they are stalling on the fence, not tracking illegals, and ignoring the application of current immigration law. We know there's a problem but we want a clean, basic fix: build the fence, track illegals, require proof of citizenship to vote.

Congress needs to remember, Americans are smart enough. Given the facts, we will do the right thing. Now, we need Congress to act accordingly.


Saturday, June 30, 2007

Immigration Bill Thoughts, #1 - Complexity 

After listening to Norm Coleman on the Final Word, (AM 1280 today (3-5), it appears he finally understands what Americans want regarding immigration. He acknowledged that Congress, in particular the US Senate, has lost the trust of the American people and one way to regain it, is to pass something that enforces border security.

One word used by Congress when dealing with large problems, is "complex." Most problems are not complex, they may be very large as the immigration issue is, but it is not complex. We have 12,000,000-20,000,000 illegals in the USA and borders that leak like sieves. What to do?

1 - Close the borders
2 - Enforce the laws on the books
3 - Find the illegals and identify them and make them carry identification cards
4 - Determine what to do about the situation.

As stated, this is not complex, merely large. If we can track a pound of hamburger back to the cow it came from and when, we can track humans. By refusing to use the term "complexity" as an excuse to perform a simple (but large) task, maybe we can get around to solving the problem.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The brain drain of Mexico 

Frank Stephenson calls this paragraph from the Investors Business Daily "the silliest sentences I've read today."
Illegal immigrants in the U.S. are paying for Mexico's consumer binge. Currently, some 10% of all Mexican households get remittances from the U.S. Foreign workers now make up 16% of the Mexican work force. If they stayed home and worked in Mexico they would be building Mexico's economy � not that of the U.S. Instead, they live in poverty here, overwhelming U.S. social services agencies and making Mexico's economy much weaker than it should be.
I spent time a few years ago in Armenia thinking about remittances, and wrote two papers on the topic with my colleague Bryan Roberts. I haven't thought as much about the question of whether or not they are a burden on the U.S. economy on net (Stephenson says they probably are not, but I don't know that.) What intrigues me is the last line -- do the remittances help or hurt the economy of the home country of the immigrants?

IBD mentions one of the negative effects, the strengthening of the peso due to the inflow of dollars into Mexico. This is a version of Dutch disease, insofar as exports are now relatively expensive, but it's only a problem in my view if the government and central bank are fixing the exchange rate or otherwise mismanaging currency policies. (See this recent FRB Atlanta paper for more.) In short, if remittances are a problem for the peso, it's the fault of the central bank. We did not see there being much of an effect in Armenia.

There are other demand-type impacts of remittances that I could get into, but the IBD quote suggests a brain drain on Mexico. Most often it is the more educated of the sending country that choose to immigrate (as they face the largest wage differentials between sending and receiving countries), but that's not necessarily true for unauthorized immigrants. See, for example, this paper by Mora and Taylor on migration from rural villages in Mexico. When we looked at data for Armenia, we found that over half of emigrants had more than twelve years education (note that there are almost no restrictions on Armenian emigration to Russia, which is where less educated Armenians would seek work in construction, for example.)

There's the possibility of benefits. Emigrants may return home and bring new skills and financial capital with them. They may stay in the receiving country but create trade networks with the sending countries, helping both. But the balance of the evidence I've read indicates that the net effect on Mexico is negative.

Last, thinking about supply a little more, what's the effect of remittances on the work effort of the families receiving them? Imagine the family deciding it will send one of its children overseas to earn money, remit the funds back to the home family, and allow the home family to supply less labor. Is it "nonsense on stilts" to think this is a bad thing? How will Mexican productivity improve to the point that its educated workers will be better employed in Mexico if human capital is continually shipped abroad? The answer depends on whether you think there are positive externalities to human capital development. I don't think that's a settled question.

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Monday, June 04, 2007

Meanwhile, spending down to zero... 

I'll keep as quiet as possible over the debate among my conservative friends on Bush's handling of the immigration question. But I think, when President Bush said he was going to spend his political capital, he did not have this in mind.

Yesterday, Bush headlined a fundraiser for the New Jersey state GOP, where donors could pay $5,000 to pose for a photo with the Commander in Chief. Expensive photo op, right? Well, that's actually cheaper that what donors paid just a year ago for a grip and grin with Bush. Last summer, GOP officials around the country charged at least $10,000 a pop for presidential photo op, a bargain compared to the $25,000-a-flash Bush commanded during some Republican National Committee fund-raisers back in 2000 and 2004.

(h/t: Tyler Cowen.)

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Friday, June 01, 2007

Sorting your thoughts 

If you are still trying to work out where you are on the immigration debate, you probably should take some time to think through issues as Dani Rodrik has. Reading this on guest workers, I realize I do put a non-zero weight on the welfare of immigrants (even though I'd argue it should be less than the weight on citizens). But the issue is whether or not a guest worker program is workable. I wish I had had that thought when I did the interview with Captain Ed. It does in fact clarify for me that, if I want to argue against the bill (as I do) I need to sharpen my own argument about how unworkable enforcement is. In short, we need someone to answer George Borjas' first question: "What guarantee is there that the guest workers will in fact be temporary workers? How can such a guarantee be enforced in the United States?"

Cost benefit analysis often focuses the mind this way.

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