March 29, 2006

Immigration Debate Time

I don't have a whole lot of really novel things to say right now about the immigration debate. I'll pretty much stand by two longish posts I wrote back in December, the first making the case for more-or-less opening the borders completely (which would never happen, granted), and the second looking at the United States' experience with immigration restrictions between 1924 and 1965. Both of those were pretty good, I think, if disjointed and longwinded, as usual.

But I did want to comment quickly on David Neiwert's suggestion that in order to stem the tide of immigration, we need to help, say, Mexico develop economically and "ameliorate the wage disparity between the two nations." In one sense, that's surely right. I'm all for helping Mexico develop; what with all we've put the country through, from helping trigger the peso crisis of 1982 to the various bad effects of NAFTA that persist to this day, we certainly owe Mexico quite a bit. On the other hand, I'm not so sure the right way to think about immigration policy is: "Make Mexico richer and Mexicans will stop coming here en masse."

For one, it's very unlikely that anything the United States could offer Mexico would help the country develop nearly as much as remittances do. In 2002, Mexican workers in the U.S. sent home $9 billion. I doubt Congress would ever pass a $9 billion aid package for Mexico, and even if it did, it wouldn't be nearly as effective as remittances. Last year, Raghuram Rajand and Arvind Subramanian of the IMF released a paper showing that foreign aid could help countries grow under the right conditions. But what the paper also noted was that remittances were very, very good at avoiding most of the adverse effects of foreign aid. In many ways, immigration is one of the best ways to help Mexico develop—far better than aid or "free trade". (That's not to say nothing else should be done, obviously.)

It's also not necessarily true, at least not in the short and medium term, that making Mexico richer would curtail immigration. There's evidence that as developing countries get richer, they start sending more, rather than fewer, immigrants abroad—partly because as incomes rise, more people can afford to make the journey to, say, the United States. Another thing to consider is that in the medium term immigration from Mexico will presumably begin to taper off naturally, as its population continues to age. I don't really know the numbers on this, though.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to read a left-leaning immigration proposal that has at least a miniscule chance of influencing the debate, Tom Barry's short policy paper for IRC Americas seems pretty good to me. I'll put the quick summary below the fold:
A comprehensive overhaul of our immigration system would include these components:

  • Occurs in the context of a national economic policy that encourages full-employment at livable wages and with respect for basic rights to organize.

  • Prioritizes the entry of political refugees.

  • Legalizes the presence of the large sector of unauthorized immigrants that have established roots in U.S. society and economy.

  • Leaves open the possibility for guest-worker programs that do not endanger the jobs of legal U.S. residents and guarantees respect for the rights of these temporary workers.

  • Determines a sustainable level of legal immigration that benefits U.S. society and economy.

  • Reduces immigration visas for family reunification to ensure that any earned legalization program does not lead to large increases in legal immigration flows.

  • Deemphasizes border security, and instead places the emphasis of controlling illegal immigration on institution of a worker ID system.

  • Reforms U.S. foreign policy in ways that promote broad development and job creation in "sending" countries.

  • Protects the human rights (with special attention to labor rights and conditions) of all U.S. residents—whether legal or not.
  • Like I said, I'd agree with pretty much all of that, I think.

    Continue reading "Immigration Debate Time"...
    -- Brad Plumer 6:08 PM || ||