The Case for Small Government

A Libertarian Perspective on Economic and Social Policy

April 09, 2006

Immigration "Reform"

Congress appears to have reached an impasse in its attempt to “reform” U.S. immigration law. This time-out is a good occasion to ask what changes, if anything, might be desirable.

Illegal immigration results from two factors: restrictions on legal immigration, and the gap between economic opportunities available in the U.S. relative to poorer countries. These gaps include both differences in wages as well as differences in government benefits.

Reducing illegal immigration, therefore, requires one of the following steps: fewer barriers to legal immigration; more effective barriers to illegal immigration; or a smaller gap between economic opportunities here and elsewhere.

I personally favor expanded opportunities for legal immigration, even to the point of open borders. Political support for even mild relaxation in immigration restrictions appears wanting, however. I also favor reducing the generosity of “welfare” policies in the U.S., although I do not think the “welfare” magnet is the main reason for illegal immigration.

Enhanced border controls or employers sanctions will not reduce illegal immigration substantially, at least not without huge costs. Moreover, there is little support for the draconian measures that might significantly reduce the inflow.

And anything the U.S. might do to enhance economic growth elsewhere (such as promoting free trade) is likely to take decades rather than years.

The prospects for reducing illegal immigration are therefore bleak. So, what should Congress do?

Probably nothing. Most of what has been proposed will have little effect, and some “reforms” might generate substantial costs (e.g., increased employer sanctions). Amnesties that impose few restrictions on illegal immigrants will bring some of them above ground, but this approach also might generate increased interest in immigration. And the amnesties being proposed are bureaucratic nightmares that few illegal immigrants will find attractive in any case.

The only proposal that is in the right direction is the guest worker program proposed by President Bush. Unfortunately, this proposal has not received strong support.


At 9:22 PM, Blogger JasonSpalding said...

Cheap labor at all costs? We have seen in France what happens.

At 10:11 PM, Blogger Publius said...

The majority of Americans do not favor granting these 11 million people amnesty and yet the Senate is trying to go against their wishes. And although there is a deep and even divide on the issue of a guest worker program, look how poorly it has worked in France and Germany. The rioters in France were mostly Muslim guest workers and I have personally seen how poorly it works in Germany where millions of Turks have entered Germany and it has created a deep and volatile divide.
And, shouldn’t you have also added the racist remark that the U.S. needs a guest worker program because white and black people won’t do these jobs but Hispanics will?

At 10:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Congress appears to have reached an impasse"

Gridlock is good.

Almost everything bill our congress passes is, on net, a negative.

One can't help but think our gov't is getting bigger and bigger and worse and worse with each and every passing year. Are we on a one-way trip away from small government?

At 1:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartedly that one of the major causes of illegal immigration is restrictions on legal immigration. As an immigration lawyer, I am keenly aware of the restrictions in current law that make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for a poor person from Mexico to enter the US legally to find work. Even lawful permant residents of the US (people with with green cards) now have to wait six to eight years to bring their spouses and children to join them.

At 5:05 AM, Blogger Al Brown said...

If Mexico didn't exist at all and no foreign labor was available, those jobs would be performed by Americans. Higher wages might need to be paid, some of those jobs woudn't be viable or some would be automated. In any case, the economy would rebalance as it always does.

The key to reforming the employment situation is stop encumbering "legitimate" labor with all the costs of regulation, unemployment insurance, social security contributions, disability insurance and high income taxes. Of course any labor that can avoid those costs is going to try to get in. They become that much more competitive.

We need to stop pushing the costs of our social goals onto employers and pay for them ourselves or rethink them.

Removing that pressure will decrease illegal immigration. A guest worker program is a good idea too. I say we could require people learn about our system, language and values to qualify for that program and limit their stay.

As far as everyone that has already been here for a long time, lets grandfather them in and give them a path to citizenship. But we should straighten things out also so people can come here without risking their lives and we can have greater confidence about our borders (ok, so that would be a complete illusion).

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