Thursday, May 24, 2007

Immigration on The Exchange

I participated in New Hampshire Public Radio's program, The Exchange, this morning to discuss the immigration bill passing through Congress. Audio will shortly be posted here.

For the details, I relied a lot on my archive and on some posts by George Borjas at his new blog. There were four questions I wanted to raise on the show:

1) Is immigration from Mexico just like any other wave of immigration?

The historical success of immigration in this country has been based on immigrants who left the old country behind, to assimilate and to blend their culture with the existing American culture. Mexico is right next door. The presumption that most immigrants will assimilate is much weaker, if not plain wrong. We should be very wary of absorbing so many immigrants, even legal immigrants, from a neighboring country whose objectives may not coincide with our own.

2) Is a guest worker program a good idea?

I regard a guest worker program as a form of second-class citizenry, and I do not support the creation of a second-class citizenry. Citizenship to me is not incidental to an economic relationship. Once we legitimize a second-class citizenry, their pleas to be elevated to first-class citizenry will be difficult to ignore, particularly given our national history of inclusion and equality. Once we legitimize frequent border crossings, we take ownership of the social problems that result from explicitly transitory populations NOT rooted to family relationships in a particular place. Show me the shining examples of guest worker programs in other large industrialized countries and I'll change my mind.

3) Are there jobs that Americans won’t do (this one is straight from an earlier post)?

There are no jobs that Americans refuse to perform. There may be jobs that Americans refuse to perform at the prevailing wage rates. This simply means that the wage rates should rise and the number of jobs should fall, until the number of jobs matches the number of people authorized to work in the country who are willing to perform them. If it turns out that with these higher prevailing wage rates, the employer can no longer operate at a profit, then the employer should cease operations--or relocate to a place where labor and other costs are sufficiently cheap as to allow a profitable business.

4) Is there a link between immigration and terrorism?

When discussing immigration from Mexico, this link appears to be tenuous at best. I have not seen any evidence that a porous southern border has contributed to greater vulnerability to an attack like 9/11. The way terrorists from 9/11 (or the recent episode at Ft. Dix) was to overstay visas--that's very different. The southern border may be contributing to law enforcement problems in the Southwest, to which I am not indifferent, but that’s a very different problem.

For the rest, you will need to listen to the podcast. Enjoy!

2 comments:

MMG said...

The problem is not whether Americans do not want to perform certain jobs. Of couse they would do them at higher wage level.

The problem is if Americans are willing to pay a premium (higher prices) on their the goods they consume so that other Americans get higher wages.

Also, I don't know if the fact that Mexico is close to the U.S. means immigrants will not adapt to the U.S. culture. Maybe, the geographic proximity means there is also more cultural proximity (through tv, movies, etc) specially in certein regions of Mexico.

Just trying to be the devil's advocate here.

Patrick R. Sullivan said...

'Show me the shining examples of guest worker programs in other large industrialized countries and I'll change my mind.'


Western Europe, now known as the European Union, was the Common Market or European Economic Community in the 1970s when I was a youngster roaming that continent. Europeans my age could support themselves waitressing, changing bedding in pensiones, working as tour guides, translating. Crossing borders with no one saying 'boo' to them.

As an American, I was shut off from that opportunity.