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Read: Making a case for open immigration

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  • Peter S. Lopez de Aztlan
    Wednesday, April 04, 2007 Read: Making a case for open immigration: 4-04-2007
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 4, 2007

      Wednesday, April 04, 2007

      Read: Making a case for open immigration:



      Gracias Companera Mercedes ~ We need more such good analyses. I would love to see one by you that involved the truth about who are the original legal, moral and natural owners of these lands ~ Aztlan ~ and the dislodgement of indigenous peoples into being labeled immigrants who have now become internal refugees inside the USA. We need a full and complete blanket amnesty for the original inhabitants of these lands and this all ultimately brings into the question the historical legitimacy of U.S. nationalist boundaries. ~ Peta

      Mercedes Castillo <mvcastillojd@...> wrote:
      Making a case for open immigration
      April 4, 2007
      Professor Wayne A. Cornelius is a leading authority on Mexican migration to the U.S. and founder of the University of California San Diego's Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies. This is from his presentation at the Vail Valley Institute's 15th Annual Seminar on "The American Empire: Can It Survive a World Without Borders?" that was held in Vail in June 2006.

      There are plenty of threats to the American empire, but immigration is not among them. On the contrary, the fact that we are so successful in the global competition for labor is one of our greatest strengths.

      Our competitive edge is perhaps most evident in the area of highly skilled immigrants. In our ability to attract and retain high-skilled, professional immigrants, we currently rank fourth in the world, behind Australia, Canada and Switzerland. We could be doing even better in this competition if we didn't set artificially low limits on this kind of immigration. In recent years, we've distributed 65,000 so-called H-1B visas a year for highly-skilled immigrants, a supply that is exhausted on the very first day they become available each year.

      We are also conspicuously successful in attracting low-skilled immigrants. These workers have allowed labor intensive industries like construction, hospitality, and food processing to grow at higher rates than would otherwise have been possible.

      Most economists, and I emphasize most, believe that large-scale immigration, both low-skilled and high-skilled, is essential to assure robust economic growth, dampen inflationary pressures, and finance intergenerational transfer systems like Medicare and Social Security. Because of our low fertility rates, our total labor force growth has already dropped from 5 percent a year during the 1970s to less than 1 percent a year at present. With a national unemployment rate of 4.6 percent (and a mere 3 percent in cities like San Diego, Las Vegas, and Phoenix), we are below what economists conventionally define as "full employment." If it were not for immigration, today's labor force would be contracting by 3-4 percent a year, a figure proving that, without large numbers of immigrants, we'd be seriously overheating our economy.

      The longer-term implications of immigration for the strength of the U.S. economy and our position in the world shouldn't be underestimated. Like all other developed countries, the U.S. has a population aging problem. We are getting our young, entry-level workers largely from immigration. Whereas 35 percent of our male, foreign-born population fell in prime working age categories in 2000, this is only true for 24 percent of the native-born male population.

      Europe and Japan have a huge problem in this regard, not just because their fertility rates fall well below replacement levels, but because, for political reasons, they don't have expansionary immigration policies. And these countries already have very large imbalances in their health care and pensions systems. They're going to end up on the back burner of the world economy, in part, because their immigration policies are too restrictive.

      In recent years, immigrants have accounted for more than 90 percent of labor force growth in the Midwest and the Northeast, regions that have experienced a native-born population implosion both because of their low fertility and high out-migration rates. Newly arriving immigrants increasingly head for these labor-short parts of the country and for cities in the Southwest, the Southeast, and the Rocky Mountain states that all have robust job growth. Mexican immigrants in particular are dispersing themselves to a much greater geographic extent than previous generations did, a very healthy development that keeps immigrants from piling up in already saturated labor markets like Los Angeles.

      Today's immigrants, like those before them, are filling particular niches in the U.S. economy. In recent years, they have accounted for most of the employment growth in low-skilled, manual, repetitive, and dangerous occupations like cashiers, janitors, kitchen workers, maintenance workers, construction workers, and mechanics. In California, immigrants have come to dominate virtually all low-skilled job categories. They comprise more than 90 percent of the state's agricultural workers, two-thirds of the construction workers, and 70 percent of cooks.

      At a national level, illegal immigrants are most heavily concentrated in service occupations, followed by construction and manufacturing. It's actually a common misconception that Mexican immigrants in particular are agricultural workers. In fact, the latest stats and estimates show that only about 4 percent of Mexicans working in this country today are still in agriculture (although they comprise about one-fourth of all farm workers in the country). The vast majority are in urban service and construction and manufacturing jobs (illegal immigrants comprise 17 percent of all cleaning workers, 14 percent of all construction workers, 12 percent of all food preparation workers).

      It's important to recognize that, at this point in time, the demand for foreign-born labor in this country is so deeply embedded in our economy as to have become not only structural, but also almost recession-proof. The studies we've done in San Diego over the last 20 years have shown that, when we have a recession, employers don't shed their foreign workers; instead, they continue to hire immigrant workers. The job applicant pools of firms that depend heavily on immigrants no longer include appreciable numbers of young native-born workers. In most cases, the natives haven't been in those pools for 10, 15, 20 years. That's partly because there aren't enough young, native-born workers coming into the labor market, but it's also because of changing societal attitudes toward manual labor.

      Are established immigrants and their offspring stuck in the kinds of dead-end, low-wage, manual jobs typically held by newly arriving immigrants? The data show that while many first-generation immigrants are stuck, later generations are doing a lot better. From the first to the second-generation, there is considerable movement out of low-wage service, construction, and agricultural work and into white-collar occupations. Even within the first generation, there is significant income improvement over time, as immigrants gain new job skills, improve their English, and gain job seniority.

      Now, it's commonly believed that most illegal immigrants are employed in the underground economy, that they're paid in cash, off the books by employers who are eager to avoid paying payroll taxes on them. But all major studies of Mexican immigrants done in the last two decades have found that a majority of these workers are actually employed by mainstream, formal sector firms. They get regular paychecks and they have taxes deducted from their wages.

      So what's the problem? For most Americans as well as the immigrants themselves, that's the problem. Illegality. An estimated 30 percent of all foreign-born people in the country today are here illegally. Over half of them entered clandestinely, but up to 45 percent of them are visa overstayers, people who entered the country on short-term tourist, student, or even shopping visas and overstayed them.

      Much of this is manufactured illegality. Since 1993, the U.S. government has been seriously committed to reducing the illegal component, mainly through tighter border enforcement.

      During this period of tighter border enforcement, the number of illegal immigrants living and working in the U.S. has more than doubled. Migrants have simply detoured around the heavily fortified segments of the border. It's no surprise that, when we squeeze the border in San Diego and El Paso, it bulged in central Arizona, where for hundreds of miles, the only physical barrier is a three-foot high, barbed wire fence.

      Another generalization that's supported by the cross-national evidence is that the unintended consequences of border enforcement are almost invariably more important than the intended consequences. The key unintended consequences are these: (1) fueling the people-smuggling industry; (2) making borders more lethal; and (3) increasing rates of migrant settlement in the immigrant receiving countries.

      Stronger enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border has been a bonanza for people smugglers. Our research in Mexico found that over 90 percent of illegal migrants are hiring smugglers to get them across. And the fees that smugglers can charge have more than tripled during the period of tighter border enforcement. When President Bush started the deployment of the National Guard [to the border], smugglers immediately raised their prices by $1,000. So some of them are now charging $4,000 a head, rather than the going rate of somewhere between $2,000 and $3,000 a head. That's what the National Guard deployment was worth to them.

      People being smuggled in from Fujian, China are paying $60,000. Mexicans, at least before the National Guard deployment were paying up to $3,000; other South Americans, $12,000; and Indians, $30,000. But even at these prices, it's still economically rational for migrants and often their relatives living in the U.S. to dig deeper into their savings and to go deeper into debt to finance illegal entry. We've also succeeded in bottling up, within the United States, a great many migrants who would otherwise have continued to come and go across the border, just as their parents and grandparents once did. Given the high cost and the high physical risks of illegal entry today, they have a strong incentive to extend their stays in the United States, and the longer they stay, the more likely it is that they will settle permanently.

      There's no evidence that tougher border enforcement is an effective impediment to illegal entry. Our interviews with returned migrants show that a higher percentage of them today are getting caught: 38 percent in the last 5 years, as opposed to 21 percent being caught before we started increasing our border enforcement, but almost two-thirds of them are still getting in on a first try. And, if they are caught, they keep trying until they succeed. Our studies find that between 92 percent and 97 percewnt of migrants eventually succeed in getting in on the same trip to the border.

      In summary
      To summarize, here's what we can say of our 13-year experiment with tougher border enforcement:

      1. We have redistributed illegal entries.
      2. The cost of illegal entry has been greatly raised.
      3. There is more permanent settlement of illegal immigrants in the U.S.
      4. There is a much higher mortality rate.

      There is no evidence that we are deterring people from leaving their homes in the first place, going to the border and trying to gain entry. There's no evidence that once they're apprehended, if they're apprehended, they get discouraged and go home. There's no evidence that the stock of illegal immigrants in the country has been reduced – quite the contrary.

      Is there a better way?
      I have four main recommendations:

      1. Focus less on walling ourselves off from the rest of the world, especially from Mexico, and more on increasing our rate of return on immigration by integrating immigrants more proactively and thereby enhancing the human capital that they bring.

      2. Legalize as many as possible of the unauthorized immigrants already here and encourage them, eventually, to naturalize.
      3. Provide more legal entry opportunities for new immigrants, both low-skilled and high-skilled, temporary and permanent.
      4. Create alternatives to immigration in sending areas.
      Study after study has shown that it's the real wage differential, more than anything else, that drives Mexican migration to the U.S. Only 4 or 5 percent of migrants in most studies report that they were openly unemployed before going to the U.S. Our study of migrants who returned to the Yucatan this year found that only 1 percent had been unemployed before migrating to the U.S. for the first time. Micro-development programs targeted at high immigration areas (e.g., programs to support small business development, create more adequate financial services infrastructure in rural areas, and expand road and telecom infrastructure) have the potential to create better quality jobs in the places where they're needed to reduce unwanted migration.

      I'm well aware that the U.S. is no longer in the business of Marshall Plans, but a creatively-designed, bi-nationally financed program of targeted development, with funds administered by the World Bank or the InterAmerican Development Bank, is an idea that deserves serious consideration. This is, after all, the kind of development assistance that was provided, massively, by the northern European countries to Spain, Greece, and Portugal both before and after those countries entered the E.U. It made possible a step-level increase in GDP in those southern European countries. It cut the north-south wage differential by half. Eventually, it turned all of the southern-tier E.U. countries into net importers of labor. The developmental approach to immigration control worked in Europe and it could work in North America, if we were to get serious about reducing the supply of potential migrants.

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      Peter S. Lopez ~aka Peta

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