Over the weekend, we had our gazillionth in a series of letters from indignant writers insisting that they are NOT anti-immigration, they are anti-ILLEGAL immigration:
We in the pro-enforcement camp do not oppose legal immigration, and we do not call for discrimination against legal immigrants, no matter their race or ethnicity. All we ask is that our government enforce its immigration laws, secure our borders and deport illegal aliens.
Since when is being in favor of law enforcement on a nondiscriminatory basis racism? Certainly, those who favor illegal immigration and amnesty for illegal aliens have been unfairly labeling us, as they have no legitimate reason for opposing enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws.
And of course, for about the gazillionth time I thought, fine — let’s change our immigration limits and streamline our procedures so that the Mexican labor our economy seems to demand can get in legally. Then, we’ll all be happy. I certainly will, because I don’t like having a shadow, extralegal population either. People in this country from another should be documented. People who are hot about illegal immigration will also be happy. People who just don’t like having a lot of Mexicans around will not be, but you can’t please everybody.
Why not remove the incentive to come in illegally by lowering barriers to legal immigration? I’m not an economist, but it seems fairly obvious that there is a demand for Mexican labor in this country — and a demand for American work in that country — that is greater than the supply we are currently processing legally. Those demands will continue to exist, and those forces will continue to attract vast waves of people to this side of the border, whatever laws we have. So let’s get serious about getting a handle on it.
The people who actually ARE economists disagree with each other on all this, of course. Here’s an interesting, fairly dispassionate piece that was in the NYT Magazine a couple of years back, which examines whether we should let so many unskilled workers into our economy. If you’re looking for an absolute "yes" or "no," you need to look elsewhere, but I found the discussion interesting:
Economists more in the mainstream generally agree that the U.S. should take in more skilled immigrants; it’s the issue of the unskilled that is tricky. Many say that unskilled labor is needed and that the U.S. could better help its native unskilled by other means (like raising the minimum wage or expanding job training) than by building a wall. None believe, however, that the U.S. can get by with no limits….
What the economists can do is frame a subset of the important issues. They remind us, first, that the legislated goal of U.S. policy is curiously disconnected from economics. Indeed, the flow of illegals is the market’s signal that the current legal limits are too low. Immigrants do help the economy; they are fuel for growth cities like Las Vegas and a salve to older cities that have suffered native flight. Borjas’s research strongly suggests that native unskilled workers pay a price: in wages, in their ability to find inviting areas to migrate to and perhaps in employment. But the price is probably a small one.
That last point, of course, is an important one to discuss. And in fact, if these are NOT "jobs Americans don’t want," but merely jobs with conditions and wages depressed by an oversupply of cheap labor from south of the border, then we should reduce the flow northward, and thereby raise wages and conditions for Americans (and the cost of goods and services, but that might be a policy outcome we decide is worth it).
But if, in the aggregate, these millions of Latinos are just a supply meeting a demand without widespread ill effects on the working class, why not let more in legally?