Why Control The Borders?
Published on VDARE.com on December 10, 2003
National Review, February 1,93, Vol. 45, Issue 2
An Immigration Debate
Julian L. Simon
George J. Borjas
Ben J. Wattenberg
Robert L. Bartley
The first difficulty in the immigration debate is to decide just what is being debated: Is it all a matter of economics? Or is it a nation`s racial composition? Or its cultural direction? Five leading writers on the subject comment on Peter Brimelow`s article, and Mr. Brimelow responds.
Julian L. Simon
IN HIS anti-immigration broadside [June 22, 1992], Peter Brimelow makes two general arguments against current immigration: a) that it is economically hurtful, and b) that it alters the nature of American life.
For many people, both of these arguments are nothing but a facade for anti-foreigner and racist feelings. Mr. Brimelow disclaims that his message is based on his own racial preferences. I will take him at his word.
Brimelow`s main theme is part of a very old tradition. Thomas Jefferson worried that immigrants would not “harmonize“ with natives “in matters which they must of necessity transact together.“ He believed that the immigrants “bring with them the principles of the governments they leave . . . or if they throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness . . . These principles, with their language, they will transmit to their children.“
The nightmare vision is of “us“ being overwhelmed by “them,“ and it has taken on new life in the last few years. Pat Buchanan has written that aliens alter “the ethnic character of California and the United States.“ He quotes with approval the magazine Chronicles: “High rates of non-European immigration . . . will swamp us all.“
When Margaret Thatcher closed the door to the people of Hong Kong –British subjects—who wanted to leave before the Communist takeover in 1997, she used the same wording as Buchanan: the British fear “being swamped by people of a different culture.“
People across the political spectrum think that immigrants change our country. The “liberal“ Arthur Schlesinger writes: “In the twenty-first century, if present trends hold, non-whites in the U.S. will begin to outnumber whites. This will bring inevitable changes in the national ethos.“
Anti-immigration advocates such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) lean heavily on the idea that the country should restrict immigration in order to maintain our customs and institutions. Immigrants, they say, will not “make an irrevocable commitment to the language and political system of America.“ And the American Immigration Control Foundation distributes scary pamphlets warning about “whites becoming a minority group in America.“
People like Us
SUCH NATIVISM is psychologically understandable. It is like wanting our own children to resemble us. But the supposed facts used to justify it are quite disproven by the history of immigration—into the United States, at least. Immigration does not substantially alter American institutions and culture. Rather, the immigrants absorb American ways and are absorbed into them.
For starters, ask yourself: Which state is more quintessentially “American“ now—Hawaii, with its majority of non-European stock of fairly recent immigration, or Louisiana, with little recent immigration?
Let`s consider our distinctive central institutions one by one. We`ll see that our ways are little different from what they would be if no immigrant had arrived in the past half a century, though of course immigrants have contributed many American-type innovations.
Law. U.S. law clearly is an organic growth from its Anglo-Saxon beginnings. The only state whose law is noticeably different is Louisiana, a result of its origins two centuries ago.
Language. Every child born here now (though not in the nineteenth century) speaks English as a first language, no matter what his parents speak. The only exception is Puerto Rico. Its original Spanish continues to dominate despite immigration of English-speakers from the mainland. Words like chutzpah and Mafia creep into the national language, but they are at most a light spice on our native tongue.
Customs. We all shake hands, and we don`t embrace much, just the way Americans have always done. Yes, we high-five on the basketball court in imitation of Magic Johnson. But no black or white yuppie high-fives at a business lunch, except perhaps with a basketball buddy. And we continue to play American football no matter how many people come from soccerplaying lands or are better fitted by physique for European football than for American football or basketball.
Politics. We still have the same old two-party political system, even after Ross Perot. We have not descended into an anarchic national system imported by foreigners, despite the hysteria that contributed to the convictions of Sacco and Vanzetti and the expulsion of Emma Goldman. Nor have immigrants imposed an “alien“ mode of government onto any of our states.
Holidays. Lots of our forebears came here without a Christian tradition—from Moslem and Jewish religions, and from African and Asian ways. But are the department stores of any city in doubt about whether Christmas is our national holiday? Yes, there is some variation in religious holidays celebrated in various states—Good Friday, for example. But the relative insignificance of this variation in our national life emphasizes how little effect immigration has.
The only religiously based holiday that affects public life markedly is Mardi Gras in Louisiana. This illustrates the power of origins to set the pattern, and highlights the imperviousness of institutions to change by minority immigration.
Of course the WASP settlers swamped the religious traditions of the Native Americans. But that was because the immigrants quickly became the majority, and because their material culture was superior to that of the earlier residents.
Same Theme, New Variations
THE PREVIOUS two paragraphs contain the seeds of a general theory explaining why immigrants have had so little noticeable effect upon American life patterns. The pattern of civic life remains what it was before a wave of immigration, unless the immigrants are greater in numbers or riches than the prior residents. The chance that any immigration into the United States will meet these conditions is nil.
Notice how I, the grandson of immigrants, naturally write “us“ and “our,“ and how you—whether a descendant from the Mayflower folks, or almost fresh off the boat yourself—feel it natural to use these same pronouns while you discuss with me this or other issues. What greater proof could there be that, rather than altering our national life, immigrants intensify it and make us more like ourselves?
Immigration does increase diversity in a variety of ways—foods eaten, ethnic festivals celebrated, types of schools operated privately, foreign-language newspapers published. But this is variation around the main line, rather than an alteration in the central tendencies of national life. Nativists confuse the one with the other, in error or purposely for its scare power.
NOW BRIEFLY about Brimelow`s arguments with the economics and demography in my The Economic Consequences of Immigration, which he does me the honor of addressing.
Brimelow writes like a man in the tentacles of an octopus. He has the intellectual honesty to acknowledge the research that has been done. He then struggles mightily to free himself of the coils of facts and theory.
I reproduce standard data showing a) that immigration is not at record levels even in absolute terms, and b), more important, that the rate of immigration is only about a quarter of what it was at the turn of the century, considered as a proportion of the population. In response, Brimelow points to a single year—1990—when there was a huge jump in absolute numbers to 1.5 million. But the 1990 number was only a paper adjustment, the result of many illegal residents becoming legalized in that year through an amnesty. There were fewer than 700,000 actual immigrants in 1990.
Brimelow refers to my making a “crucial theoretical concession,“ when I speculate that at some levels of immigration—far, far above what the U.S. now experiences—it is conceivable that there would be new and unknown sorts of problems. This is like a physician telling a patient: “Your mild diet and five minutes of daily exercise are fine, but you could certainly benefit from more of both. Don`t jump into a wild regime, though, exercising six hours a day and starving yourself. Just increase the levels gradually and monitor your progress.“ Similarly, a gradual increase in immigration is simple prudence, not a “theoretical concession.“
Brimelow asks: “Is immigration really necessary to the economy?“ I don`t claim to show that it is “necessary“; we can live nicely without it. But the standard of living of natives will be higher if immigration increases. This is like asking whether a second car or toothpaste is “necessary.“ You can get along quite well without these things—but you can live even better with them.
Brimelow argues that immigration may be increasing as a proportion of total U.S. population growth. So what? This is of interest only if racial composition interests you. It has no economic meaning, except perhaps to constitute an argument for immigration as a substitute for the children that natives are not having.
A last desperate maneuver for Brimelow is to say that “Simon`s data are old.“ Only a journalist, whose business is “news,“ could think that human nature is different now from what it was a decade or two ago. Just for the record, Ather Akbari of St. Mary`s University in Canada has, with Canadian 1981 and 1986 data, done the same analyses I did for U.S. immigrants concerning taxes from and transfers to immigrants; his results are practically the same as I reported for U.S. immigrants. And though George Borjas argues that immigrant “quality“ has been declining –which other scholars dispute—nothing in his data conflicts with anything I report. He does not show that any group of immigrants, of any skill or education level, does not contribute more to the public coffers than it takes.
If you don`t enjoy seeing foreign-looking faces on the street or subway—and Peter Brimelow says that this is so for him—neither economics nor demography proves you “wrong“ or illogical. But you must accept that you and I pay a price for not allowing in more immigrants—a lower standard of living than otherwise, a bigger federal deficit, and poorer international competitiveness. And the facts cited above disprove the argument that keeping out non-Caucasian immigrants preserves those ways of public life that Americans consider “American.“
Many of us care more about making the United States a “shining city on the hill“ than about the origins of the people who help attain that goal. For those who care about the strengthening of American values of liberty, constitutionalism, and democracy so that they will spread throughout the world, the most effective step is to bring persons from the rest of the world here, so that their light can go back to where they came from, and make those places more like “us.“
PETER BRIMELOW`s thoughtful construction of a new conservative approach to immigration is long overdue. I am pleased to see NATIONAL REVIEW use some of the facts reported in Friends or Strangers to buttress this new perspective. Only two years ago, the conservative reaction to my book was typified by William McGurn`s review in The American Spectator. He panned the book because it supposedly ignored many of the gains from immigration, as exemplified by the benefits accruing to journalists who frequented an efficiently run Korean-owned deli in the National Press Building. That sort of benefit, he concluded, “doesn`t show up in the statistics.“
To many conservatives, Mr. Brimelow`s encouragement of government regulation of the “immigration market“ must seem odd. Nevertheless, a conservative position that encourages free trade and restricted immigration is not contradictory. Simply put, importing tomatoes is not the same thing as importing people.
Mr. Brimelow argues that conservatives should care about immigration policy because of its effect on the nation`s ethnic makeup. Many Americans (including myself) find offensive the notion that the government should consider the spelling of a last name or the facial features of an applicant in awarding entry visas. But to ignore the “ethnic problem“ at a time when long-dormant ethnic conflicts are being rekindled around the world is simply to bury one`s head in the sand. Ethnicity matters, and it matters for a very long time.
Even if one sets aside the long-term implications of ethnic diversity, the case for unregulated immigration collapses when the host country is a welfare state. The financial benefits received by U.S. welfare recipients greatly exceed the per-capita incomes of many source countries. Our income-redistribution policies, which tax the skilled and subsidize the less skilled, distort the incentives of potential migrants (the skilled want to stay behind, the unskilled want to come); reduce the work incentives of immigrants in the U.S.; and diminish the incentives of immigrants who fail in the U.S. to return home (why go back when the safety net here is cushier than opportunities elsewhere?).
My book documented that more recent immigrant waves are less skilled than earlier waves. Consequently, current immigration policy has an important fiscal impact. I`ve estimated that welfare expenditures on immigrants are $1 to $3 billion more per year than the immigrant contribution to the welfare system. Isn`t it ironic that the liberal policies responsible for the welfare state dismantled the strong economic argument for providing millions of people the opportunity to try out the American dream?
Mr. Brimelow`s discussion also stresses that not all immigrants contribute equally to the U.S. economy. Some are extremely productive and generate many beneficial externalities. Others are less productive, and Americans do not benefit as much from their presence. There are great benefits to be gained by admitting those who can contribute most. Canada and Australia have realized this and often sell visas to those who have the most to offer.
Finally, there is a strong link between the skills of immigrant parents and the skills of second-generation ethnic groups. This link arises not only because highly skilled parents invest more in their children, but also because of the beneficial externalities accruing to children raised in more advantaged ethnic environments. Current immigration policy alters the skill endowment of the U.S. labor force not only in this generation, but also in our children`s and grandchildren`s. As a result, the large-scale importation of unskilled workers since 1965 has already had a huge influence on the productivity of the U.S. workforce in the next century.
Ben J. Wattenberg
I AM, OF COURSE, pleased to have Peter Brimelow certify that my “romantic vision“ of America as “The First Universal Nation“ has actually “entranced quite a few conservatives.“ I live for that. I am also pleased that Brimelow has pried loose my secret: I do not favor “unlimited immigration,“ but only “designer immigration.“
Thus unmasked, I have a deal for Brimelow: I`ll solve his big problem, if he solves mine. And we`ll do it with “designer immigration.“
His problem is that he thinks America is de-Europeanizing. At slower rates than he suggests, that is indeed happening. I think non-Hispanic European-descended Americans will still probably be in a majority by the year 2080, but the proportion is shrinking.
He thinks that de-Europeanizing will harm America. I think we are the first universal nation, that the melting pot is working, and that we are creating—through immigration and intermarriage—a new folk that will be the model for mankind.
My problem concerns America`s role in the world of the twenty-first-century. Without immigration, and with our very low fertility rates—below the “replacement“ level for the last twenty years—America would stop growing; indeed, would actually start shrinking. This at a time when global population will be growing substantially, possibly more than doubling.
A large and growing country is not necessarily a great and globally influential country—look at China and India. But it is unlikely that a small country, or a shrinking country (absolutely or relatively), will be a great and influential one in this day and age. (Rest assured, the twenty-first century will not be known as The Dutch Century, or even The English Century.) Because I believe that a great and influential America has much to offer the world, and because it is good for America, I want America to grow, albeit at a moderate rate. (That was the theme of an earlier book of mine, The Birth Dearth.)
As fate would have it, there is now a way to satisfy both Brimelow and me.
Flash! The cold war is over. The former Communist nations are struggling desperately to enter the modern world. A civil war is raging in the Balkans. Smaller conflicts are savaging areas of the former Soviet Union. And the people involved in these horrific situations are—Europeans!
Not only are they Europeans, but they are formerly-behind-the-Iron-Curtain Europeans, folks who, for many decades, were not allowed by their totalitarian masters to emigrate. American policy during that time was to say, “If you can get out, we`ll take you in.“ When the walls came down, however, we said, “Too bad. Now that you`re not oppressed by Communism, you have to wait your turn. The line is long, the slots are few –go somewhere else.“
Nice policy: “If you can`t get out, come in; if you can get out, don`t come in.“
Suppose we now adopted a more moral immigration policy, and said that former Iron Curtain detainees didn`t get a fair opportunity to emigrate during all those dark years. And that we would now like to offer a stated number of “Liberty Visas“ to those people—say, 300,000 per year for the next ten years, about 40 per cent of our current legal immigration. And that we would do that without cutting back on any existing legal immigration streams, from Asia, the Hispanic nations, the Moslem nations, or Western Europe. (Like Brimelow, I think we ought to get tougher on illegal immigration—for lots of reasons, particularly because we won`t be able to keep a consensus on legal immigration unless we do.)
Three million additional Europeans in a decade, and their descendants, would change the rate of de-Europeanization—Brimelow`s bogeyman. Those three million new immigrants would be subject to the same “designer“ criteria that are now in place—which include skills and education. We would do well to add English-language proficiency.
Additional moderate demographic growth, via immigration, is good for America for a variety of reasons, including deficit reduction—to aid native-born young workers in paying off fixed costs like defense, debt, and, for several generations, Social Security.
In these recessionary times it is particularly useful. For example: we have this real-estate problem. It is said that the root of it is that America “overbuilt“ in the Eighties. There is a synonym for “overbuilt.“ It is “underpopulated.“
IN THOSE heady days of the collapse of Communism, Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history.“ Now, three years into what would have to be described as “post-history“—as we witness parts of Europe unravel, tensions in the Middle East escalate, and Africa sink deeper into destitution—there is good reason to believe that Mr. Fukuyama jumped the gun. As Winston Churchill might have cautioned, 1989 was not the end of history, or even the beginning of the end. It was, at best, the end of the beginning.
“Post-history“ presents us with a whole new set of challenges. More and more, people across the political spectrum are recognizing human migration as one of those thorny issues that stand between us and post-historical bliss. Waves of desperate migrants seeking relief from hunger, poverty, or tribal warfare may prove to be a more formidable challenge to the West than Soviet missiles or tanks. We knew how to deter the Soviets, but how do you dissuade people who have nothing to lose from attempting to migrate?
Among the seminal pieces that have appeared on this emerging issue is Peter Brimelow`s article. In fact, Brimelow is so far ahead in his understanding of where this issue is going that the magazine`s editors got left behind. The magazine`s cover asks, “Tired? Poor? Huddled? Tempest-Tossed? Try Australia.`` Don`t bother. Almost simultaneous with the article`s publication, Australia cut its immigration rate in half.
What Australia, Canada, and most of Western Europe have grasped is that, when it comes to dealing with migration, their very nationhood is at stake. Australia has come to recognize that in a world where billions of people would like to migrate, their nation of 17 million would soon cease to exist in all but the geographical sense without severe curbs on immigration. As Brimelow astutely points out, a nation is more than a collection of people who happen to live in close geographic proximity (see Yugoslavia), and nations do not have an unlimited capacity to absorb immigrants without irrevocably altering their own character.
In the United States, however, the ideological Left has never met a Third World culture it doesn`t feel we have to accommodate, while the gung-ho free-marketeers of the ideological Right have never met a cheap worker they wouldn`t want to exploit. The Left cannot bring itself to admit that our culture, for all its faults, is what has made this country a desirable place to live and is therefore worth preserving. The libertarians cannot seem to understand that free-market capitalism does not include selling your birthright.
However premature some were in declaring the end of history, it is clear that the world is entering a new phase. In a world of 5.5 billion people, which is growing by a billion a decade, either large-scale international migration will be history, or countries that attempt to absorb the immigrants will be.
Brimelow has stepped forward to declare that he is willing to make that choice. It may be the most important post-history choice we, as a nation, will make.
I FEEL UNIQUELY qualified to comment on Peter Brimelow`s call for more restrictive immigration policies, since at one point in his career I was instrumental in getting him permission to immigrate. I have decided that if I ever help bring anyone here from Canada again, part of the bargain will be that he go down to the Rio Grande and look.
This border barrier is routinely forded by cows and pigs. The guards on the American side of the border are indistinguishable from Mexicans. The immigration authorities once built a ditch and a fence in downtown El Paso; it`s known as the Tortilla Curtain. For those not inclined to leave Manhattan, just read “Month on the Border“ in P. J. O`Rourke`s Holidays in Hell.
I would have thought that in a 16-page discussion of the pros and cons of immigration, there might have been room for a few words on precisely how we are to regain the “control of our borders“ that we supposedly have “lost.“ Are we talking here about a 2,000-mile Berlin Wall with free-fire fields and land mines? Or is this lengthy discussion merely, in the worst sense of the word, academic? There is only one practical way to end illegal immigration, which is making it legal.
This is not so farfetched an idea as Mr. Brimelow and his like believe. He celebrates the “lull“ in immigration from 1924 to 1965. Back in the 1930s, he tells us, “there was virtually no illegal immigration.“ Under the new law, Mr. Brimelow complains, 44 per cent of legal immigrants come from Latin America and 20 per cent from Mexico alone. The suggestion is that we should go back to the halcyon days before 1965.
But before 1965, immigration from Mexico and the rest of Latin America was unlimited. The system of “national origin“ quotas did not apply to the Western Hemisphere, except for Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Immigrants did have to meet criteria about literacy (in any language), health, and the likelihood of becoming a public charge, but there were no limitations on their numbers.
There were still those, of course, who forded the Rio Grande without bothering to apply. Apprehensions of undocumented aliens rose after World War II, only to plummet with the Bracero program of temporary Mexican workers, then to soar again as that program ended. Immigration was indeed less of a problem before 1965. But not, as Mr. Brimelow and others seem to think, because laws were stricter then. Rather precisely because on the southern border they were more generous.
Today`s world of instant communication and cheap transportation of course means more immigration, just as the law of gravity means apples fall. These pressures dictate immigration patterns that closed, or open, borders affect only marginally, especially in a vast and diverse nation like the United States. The vaunted solution of employer sanctions has not stemmed the flow, nor will any measures the American conscience will allow. The alternative is to learn to like it, which is why the Wall Street Journal proclaims the ideal of open borders.
But of course, the new “conservative“ movement (or at least mini-movement) that bobs in the wake of the failed Buchanan candidacy is not in any practical sense about stopping immigration. It is about not liking it. Or liking, for that matter, change, diversity, or modernity. This kind of conservatism is not going to be politically viable in this country. It may have intellectual virtues that appeal to some, but at the expense of copping out of the age in which we live.
Pro-immigration conservatives are innocent of “little things like tradition and history,“ Mr. Brimelow says. Yet he`s honest enough to concede, “The American experience with immigration has been a triumphant success.“ Precisely. Despite the short-run problems, in the long run immigration is good for us. That is the lesson of our tradition and our history.
FOR NEW READERS: My June 22 article demonstrated that U.S. immigration policy since the 1965 reforms has been a grand accident. The resulting influx has been vastly larger, more unskilled, and more overwhelmingly Third World than was ever envisioned. There is no positive economic rationale for this influx—essentially because labor is far less important than innovation as a factor of production. But if continued it must have radical political consequences, displacing and dissolving the American nation as it had evolved by 1965. NOW READ ON
JULIAN SIMON graciously deigns to take my “word“ that I am not a racist. But I did not give it. Since the modern definition of “racist“ is “someone who is winning an argument with a liberal“ (or, too often, with a libertarian), I could hardly do so.
Nor do I feel obliged to bother with this smear now. As I pointed out in my article, Professor Simon has the issue exactly backward: the onus is on those who favor the major change in the ethnic balance entailed by current immigration levels to explain exactly what they have against the American nation as it had evolved by 1965 (90 per cent white, primarily from Italy, Germany, Ireland, and Britain). While they`re at it, they can explain just what makes them think that multi-racial societies work.
Professor Simon claims to be aware of the recent evidence of low and deteriorating skills among the post-1965 immigrant influx. But readers who study Professor Borjas`s contribution here can see that Professor Simon has still not grasped the argument, irrelevant references to Canada notwithstanding. By contrast, the unimpeachably free-market Gary Becker wrote in the Wall Street Journal, on the very day his Nobel Prize for economics was announced last fall, that contemporary America`s massive transfer payments made open immigration impractical.
Professor Simon does not respond at all to other points: for example, that American immigration history has been marked by pauses, allowing digestion; or that the current influx is reducing the income levels of unskilled Americans, notably underclass blacks. He does assert a “general theory“ that “immigrants have had so little noticeable effect upon American life patterns“ because their numbers have been so low. But I showed that immigration has had consequences, which I traced, and that current numbers are high—relative to American birth-rates, the key index of demographic impact.
Professor Simon does, however, make what I regard as (another) crucial concession: “I don`t claim to show that immigration is necessary: we can live nicely without it.“ (He still says that immigration means a higher “standard of living,“ but presumably this is gross, not per capita.) This is a consensus among economists that haggling over technical issues has obscured. If the current immigration is not necessary economically, it must be justified politically. Again, however, the onus is on Professor Simon to make this case.
Perhaps we should sort this out over dinner (at NATIONAL REVIEW`s expense). I will bring along my copy of Professor Simon`s The Economic Consequences of Immigration, so that if he wishes he can amend the kind inscription he was good enough to place there.
I am happy to forgive Ben Wattenberg his teasing tone. I take it to be camouflage for what, in the present political climate, is a fairly courageous proposal: that the U.S. should assert control over the immigration influx and shift its ethnic composition back toward Europeans. Admittedly only moderately—but he also quietly slips in a general “designer immigration“ English-proficiency requirement. Wow!
It would be nice to think Mr. Wattenberg knew something not vouchsafed to the rest of us when he announced he was voting for Bill Clinton. But I don`t think so. I suspect a Clinton Administration just makes it more certain that any such rebalancing would be blocked by the ethnic lobbies. Which is why I believe that the only practicable strategy may be that proposed by the Federation for American Immigration Reform: an outright immigration moratorium.
Mr. Wattenberg refers to “Brimelow`s bogeyman“—the “de-Europeanization“ of America. This was a common misreading of my article. I do think Americans are perfectly entitled to be concerned about de-Europeanization. But I also think that massive unskilled immigration is a problem regardless of race. (In 1986, for example, 36 per cent of male immigrants had less than 12 years` education, v. 15 per cent of native-born Americans.) Just as economic growth is caused by ideas, not raw labor, so U.S. pre-eminence in the world is based on the quality, not the quantity, of its population. Unskilled immigration can`t help much. And, by causing economic distortion and social stress, it may actually hurt.
This brings me to a more fundamental disagreement with Mr. Wattenberg. He thinks the U.S. population must keep growing. I think a stable population is just fine, so long as its skills keep improving. The very facts Mr. Wattenberg cites mutiny against his thesis. India and China are not more important than the United States. And anyway, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States is now the third most populous country in the world. Is an obsession with population growth Wattenberg`s will-o`-the-wisp?
Bob Bartley is quite right that he was instrumental in helping me get back into the U.S. after a sojourn in Canada. I remain deeply grateful. Under the circumstances, it is nice of him to require me to go no further south than the Rio Grande! On the other hand, perhaps the experience might convince him that immigration has consequences. And they aren`t always welcome.
Mr. Bartley is also quite right that the 1924 Act`s national-origin quotas did not apply to the Western Hemisphere. But nobody came anyway. In the 1931-40 decade, for example, there were only 22,319 immigrants from Mexico, and only 160,000 from all of the Americas. There were only 299,811 and 998,944 respectively in 1951 – 60. The Western Hemisphere participated fully in the forty-year Great Immigration Lull.
The reasons were partly the Depression and World War II, partly the absence of an immigrant pipeline—and partly those other “criteria“ for immigration to which Mr. Bartley fleetingly refers. These usually meant that Western Hemisphere immigrants had to have a job offer. Thus, as a practical matter, U.S. policy was simply not as “generous“ as it is today, when legal immigration is a sort of entitlement based on “family reunification.“ There was certainly in no sense of the term an “open border.“
Which, of course, was why the Bracero guest-worker program was eventually invented. And why, since breaking immigration law was cause for exclusion from the program, it moved workers in and out of the country with such comparative smoothness. It is most interesting that immigration enthusiasts who invoke alleged labor shortages never suggest reviving this perfectly rational option.
I am surprised that Mr. Bartley is surprised that I didn`t bother to discuss the mechanics of policing the border. After all, this can hardly be much of a trick for a country that put a man on the moon. Still, if Mr. Bartley cares to look into the question further, he will find that, because of terrain, illegal crossings can only occur at a relatively small number of choke-points. FAIR estimates they constitute about 250 out of 2,000 miles. And apart from choking off the supply of illegal immigrants, much more could be done on the demand side by regulating those already here. What`s lacking is not the way. It is the will.
As for Mr. Bartley`s idea that open borders are desirable and inevitable, I strongly recommend that he consult more carefully Professor Simon`s The Economic Consequences of Immigration. In a curiously unnoticed passage—which Professor Simon now apparently wishes to gloss over—this dismisses free immigration a) because no one knows how many people would come (and the Third World demographic overhang is, as Dan Stein notes, enormous); and b) because of “negative human capital externalities“—the phenomenon where large numbers of low-skilled immigrants overwhelm the effectiveness of the high-skilled natives. Sounds like Manhattan (or Southern California) to me.
Mr. Bartley, sir, meet Professor Simon. Professor Simon, meet Mr. Bartley. Go sort it out. And may the most diverse, modern, etc. person (see below) win.
But why are we talking about illegal immigration anyway? It is still only a fraction of the legal influx. Mr. Bartley`s emotional peroration about “change, diversity, and modernity“ is all very well, although better done any day in the New York Times. But even here the question is: Why this change and not that change? Why (illegal) Hispanics and not (legal) Koreans? Why Koreans and not Chinese? Why Chinese and not Europeans? Why one million immigrants and not ten million?
Each of these issues is determined by public policy, currently via default. All should therefore be submitted to the American people. Even if the political elite—Left, Right, and Neo—doesn`t want them to ask: Why any immigrants at all?
Many thanks to Dan Stein and George Borjas.
By Julian L. Simon , George J. Borjas , Ben J. Wattenberg , Dan Stein , Robert L. Bartley and Peter Brimelow
Mr. Simon is Professor of Business Administration at the University of Maryland, and most recently the author of The Economic Consequences of Immigration and Population Matters: People, Resources, Environment, and Immigration
Mr. Borjas, a professor of economics at the University of California at San Diego, is the author of Friends or Strangers
Mr. Wattenberg is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
Mr. Stein is executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform
Mr. Bartley is editor of the Wall Street Journal
Mr. Brimelow is a Senior Editor at Forbes.