The benefits of open immigration
BY MICHAEL TANNER
America has always been a nation of immigrants. Thomas Jefferson emphasized this basic part of the American heritage, taking note of "the natural right which all men have of relinquishing the country in which birth or other accident may have thrown them, and seeking subsistence and happiness wheresoever they may be able, and hope to find them."
The Libertarian Party has long recognized the importance of allowing free and open immigration, understanding that this leads to a growing and more prosperous America. We condemn the xenophobic immigrant bashing that would build a wall around the United States. At the same time, we recognize that the right to enter the United States does not include the right to economic entitlements such as welfare. The freedom to immigrate is a freedom of opportunity, not a guarantee of a handout.
A policy of open immigration will advance the economic well-being of all Americans. All major recent studies of immigrants indicate that they have a high labor force participation, are entrepreneurial, and tend to have specialized skills that allow them to enter under-served markets. Although it is a common misconception that immigrants "take jobs away from native-born Americans," this does not appear to be true. In 1989, the U.S. Department of Labor reviewed nearly 100 studies on the relationship between immigration and unemployment and concluded that "neither U.S. workers nor most minority workers appear adversely affected by immigration."
Indeed, most studies show that immigrants actually lead to an increase in the number of jobs available. Immigrants produce jobs in several ways: 1) They expand the demand for goods and services through their own consumption; 2) They bring savings with them that contribute to overall investment and productivity; 3) They are more highly entrepreneurial than native-born Americans and create jobs through the businesses they start; 4) They fill gaps in the low and high ends of the labor markets, producing subsidiary jobs for American workers; 5) Low-wage immigrants may enable threatened American businesses to survive competition from low-wage businesses abroad; and 6) They contribute to increased economic efficiencies through economies of scale.
Confirmation can be seen in a study by economists Richard Vedder and Lowell Galloway of Ohio University and Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute. They found that states with the highest rates of immigration during the 1980s also had the highest rates of economic growth and lowest rates of unemployment.
Studies also show that not only do immigrants not take jobs away from American workers, they also do not drive down wages. Numerous studies have demonstrated that increased immigration has little or no effect on the wages of most American workers, and may even increase wages at upper income levels.
Contrary to stereotypes, there is no evidence that immigrants come to this country to receive welfare. Indeed, most studies show that immigrants actually use welfare at lower rates than do native-born Americans. For example, a study of welfare recipients in New York City found that only 7.7% of immigrants were receiving welfare compared to 13.3% for the population as a whole. Likewise, a nationwide study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 12.8% of immigrants were receiving welfare benefits, compared to 13.9% of the general population. Some recent studies indicate that the rate of welfare usage may now be equalizing between immigrants and native-born Americans, but, clearly, most immigrants are not on welfare.
The impact of immigrants on taxes is more equivocal. Most immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in government benefits. However, the majority of immigrant taxes are paid to the federal government, while immigrants tend to use mostly state and local services. This can place a burden on states and localities in high immigration areas.
However, the answer to this problem lies not in cutting off immigration, but in cutting the services that immigrants consume. The right to immigrate does not imply a right to welfare -- or any other government service. Moreover, this is not simply a matter of saving tax money. The Libertarian Party believes that most government welfare programs are destructive to the recipients themselves. Thus, immigrants would actually be better off without access to these programs. As Edward Crane, President of the Cato Institute, has put it:
"Suppose we increased the level of immigration, but the rule would be that immigrants and their descendants would have no access to government social services, including welfare, Social Security, health care, business subsidies, and the public schools. I would argue, first, that there would be no lack of takers for that proposition. Second, within a generation, we would see those immigrants' children going to better and cheaper schools than the average citizen; there would be less poverty, a better work ethic, and proportionately more entrepreneurs than in the rest of U.S. society; and virtually everyone in that group would have inexpensive high-deductible catastrophic health insurance, while the 'truly needy' would be cared for by an immigrant culture that gave proportionately more to charity."
Finally, any discussion of immigration must include a warning about the threat to civil liberties posed by many of the proposals to limit immigration. Recent legislation to restrict immigration has included calls for a national identity card for all Americans. Senator Diane Feinstein (CA-D) has suggested that such an ID card should contain an individual's photograph, fingerprints, and even retina scans. Representative Lamar Smith (R-TX) has proposed legislation that would require employers to consult a national registry of workers before hiring anyone, effectively giving the U.S. government control over every hiring decision by every business in America.
Other legislation has contained provisions penalizing people who fail to "inform" on people they "suspect" might be illegal immigrants. Such Orwellian nightmares have no place in a free society, but are the natural outgrowth of an obsession with restricting immigration.
Source: Libertarian Party