Day By Day

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

What To Do About Immigration? -- Dueling Letters

I note the nearly simultaneous release of two "Open Letters" on the subject of immigration.

The first was organized by John Fonte of the Hudson Institute and is signed by several conservative scholars and civic activists including
William Bennett, Robert Bork, William F Buckley, Ward Connerly, Newt Gingrich, David Horowitz, David Keene, John Leo, Herbert London, Rich Lowry, Daniel Pipes, Phyllis Schlafly, and Thomas Sowell among others.
The letter advocates:
...what Newt Gingrich has described as “sequencing.” First border and interior enforcement must be funded, operational, implemented, and proven successful — and only then can we debate the status of current illegal immigrants, or the need for new guest worker programs. We are in the middle of a global war on terror. 2006 is not 1986. Today, we need proof that enforcement (both at the border and in the interior) is successful before anything else happens. As Ronald Reagan used to say “trust, but verify.”
Read the entire letter here.

The second is an open letter organized by David J. Theroux of the Independent Institute and signed by more than 500 economists, demographers, and other scholars with demonstrated expertise in the subject of migration studies. The signatories include five Nobel Laureates.

This second letter argues:
“Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever conceived. Not just because the immigrants are much better off but also because they send billions of dollars of their own money back to their home countries—a form of truly effective foreign aid.”

notes the economic benefits of immigration, but puts them in context. For instance, “Overall, immigration has been a net gain for American citizens, though a modest one in proportion to the size of our 13 trillion-dollar economy.”

Similarly, the signers also acknowledge that “immigration of low-skilled workers may have lowered wages of domestic low-skilled workers,” but also note that the resulting wage reductions for high school dropouts is estimated to be from eight percent to as little as zero percent.

In addition, the Open Letter points up connections that sound immigration policy can make between the political values on both sides of the debate, balancing, for instance, compassion for those low-skilled workers seeking jobs with the power of freely competitive markets to create those jobs: “Immigrants do not take American jobs. The American economy can create as many jobs as there are workers willing to work so long as labor markets remain free, flexible and open to all workers on an equal basis.”

“Public fears of lost jobs are unfounded and most workers will not experience any negative impact on their wages. Congress would do well to recognize the benefits of immigration and pass a reform that allows greater numbers of legal workers into America....”

Read it here.

Three points to note:

1) This is a classic confrontation between political figures and academic specialists. The first group is concerned with how to address a political problem -- the public demand for immigration restriction that might have immense political consequences for both major parties. The second group is concerned with defining the social, economic, and humanitarian context within which political choices must be made. You paid your taxes, now you takes your choices, but both positions need to be heard and seriously considered.

2) The positions advocated by both groups of signatories are not mutually exclusive. A stepwise approach that emphasizes border security before undertaking the horrendously difficult task of rewriting immigration law is in no way incompatible with the eventual emergence of a humane and economically beneficial migration system.

3) On one thing both sides are in total agreement. The current system is a mess and must be replaced. There is a good reason why our immigration laws have been largely ignored for four decades-- they are bad laws.

On a personal note, I am a signatory to the Independent Institute Letter and endorse fully the positions laid out in it.

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