Barone Gets Puerto Rican Immigration Wrong, Again

Michael Barone is an expert on American politics, though persistently wrong-headed on immigration. In his latest Wall Street Journal column, he recalls being in the gallery while a young Senator Kennedy shepherded the 1965 Immigration Act through the Senate.[The Newest Americans, April 11, 2006, (subscription, link MAY work)]

In this piece, he repeats an error I pointed out five years ago, [Wall Street (Journal) Story?, August 8, 2001]

And the experience of Puerto Rico suggests that Latin immigration will taper off when countries there reach an economic level far below our own. In the 1950s of "West Side Story," it seemed that Puerto Rican immigrants would take over New York City. There were no barriers to that migration: Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens and there were cheap flights from San Juan to New York. But around 1961, when per capita incomes in Puerto Rico reached about 35% of the U.S. average, net migration from Puerto Rico to the mainland tapered off to zero, where it has remained ever since.[If you can't get through the subscription wall, the piece is quoted extensively here.]

But net migration from Puerto Rico is not zero; it wasn't in 2001 when I checked, and it isn't now. This year's CIA World Factbook puts the the net migration rate at -1.14 migrants per 1,000 population. If that doesn't sound like a big number, it's a 25 percent of the Mexican rate of emigration.(Figures in 2001, when Barone did his original piece, were higher for Puerto Rico, lower for Mexico.)

Last August, Florida school teacher Jan Hall got in trouble for complaining that there were too many Puerto Ricans moving to Orlando, where her school was 67 percent Hispanic. In the kerfuffle over this, I found out for the first time that the Puerto Rican presence in Florida was large enough that the Commonwealth government maintains what amounts to a consulate in Florida.

If you’ve never heard of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, it’s a Puerto Rican Government organization that acts as lobbying group in Washington, and as a quasi-diplomatic office for Puerto Ricans on the mainland. Your tax dollars at work, to make sure your tax dollars work real hard.

Did Ms. Hall have a legitimate complaint? Well, there are those who would tell you that no such complaint can ever be legitimate, but numerically, yes. According to the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Metro Orlando,

During the 1990s, Florida displaced New Jersey as the second largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. mainland (after New York). Florida’s Puerto Rican population grew from slightly more than 2 percent of all stateside Puerto Ricans in 1960 to more than 14 percent in the year 2000. Furthermore, the number of Puerto Rican residents in Florida rose from 482,027 in 2000 to 571,755 persons in 2003[Puerto Ricans in Orlando and Central Florida]

Puerto Rico is actually experiencing a shortage of people willing to pick coffee beans, and growers there have been thinking of "importing workers from other countries."

I'm afraid Barone is simply repeating a story he was told by someone, years ago, about the effect of Puerto Rican prosperity on immigration, without factchecking it the way those of us for whom Google is a way of life do automatically.

Puerto Rican prosperity is somewhat artificial, in any case. It's supported by the Mainland taxpayer, and by Puerto Rico's anomalous status as a Commonwealth. I quoted this in 2001:

By some economists Puerto Rico's economy is considered somewhat fictitious. Puerto Rico has very few natural resources of economic value and its economy relies mainly on Federal Aid from the United States Government, which depends on the industrialization programs and the tax incentives that U.S. offers.

I also referenced a story from the now-defunct Zola Times, [Puerto Rico: The Imminent Dangers of Statehood, David Martin ] on the subject of food stamps for Puerto Rico, (los cupones) which "rained down upon the island like manna from heaven" to the tune of a billion dollars a year.

Even if Barone's migration figures were right, the economic fact is that it is not possible to turn the entire world into Puerto Rico.

Steve Sailer wrote recently that

The U.S. maintains an open border with its territory of Puerto Rico. One-fourth of all Puerto Ricans live on the U.S. mainland, according to Harvard economist George Borjas, and that proportion is kept down only by paying generous benefits to Puerto Ricans who stay home.

But if you can't turn the impoverished world into a facsimile of Puerto Rico, (annual income $17,000) you could do something different: you could, via Open Borders, turn the United States into a facsimile of Puerto Rico. That would be a catastrophe.