Three Reasons Why We Can’t Have An Honest And informative Debate About Immigration Policy


You already know Reason 1: both sides of the issue have resorted to the lowest level of debate, appealing to fear, name-calling and emotion as a substitute for general principles of law, ethics and common sense. The pro-illegal immigration forces engage in cynical sentimentality, romanticizing of law-breakers, and false characterizations in order to demonize principled opponents of open-boarders (Hate! Racists! Xenophobes! Children in cages!) Those who believe immigration laws must be enforced resort to fear-mongering, stereotyping illegal immigrants as disproportionately populated by dangerous gang members, felons, killers and rapists.

Reason 2: Nobody reads all the data, and few are interested in the factsA 2016 report by the National Academies of Science (NAS), a generally progressive-biased but fair and non-political organization, since this is the tilt of academics generally,estimated that the cost to American workers. For example, on page 171 of its September 2016 report, the researchers  suggested that immigration, legal and illegal, imposes a 5.2 percent income tax on Americans:

Immigrant labor accounts for 16.5 percent of the total number of hours worked in the United States, which . . . implies that the current stock of immigrants lowered [Americans’] wages by 5.2 percent.

NAS panel member George Borjas, a Harvard economist, calculated the value of the tax at $500 billion a year. The NAS also found that immigrants (legal and illegal) currently create a net fiscal deficit (taxes paid minus services used) that is as large as or larger than the economic benefit to the nation. The immigrants themselves do benefit by coming here. Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, said at the time the study was released,

“The new NAS report provides invaluable insight,. Immigration is primarily a redistributive policy, transferring income from workers to owners of capital and from taxpayers to low-income immigrant families. The information in the new report will help Americans think about these tradeoffs in a constructive way.”

Well, yes, if Americans know about the study, read it, and the news media and politicians fairly and honestly describe it rather than hiding conclusions that undermine their agendas. Let’s see now: No, no, aaaand…no. Strike three.

Reason 3: Opponents of illegal immigration are often just as dishonest in their arguments as illegal immigration defenders, even to the point of imitating their foes’ deceit of confounding illegal immigration with legal immigration. For example, here.s popular conservative blogger Don Surber on the NAS study:

[T]he true cost to American workers for allowing illegal aliens to work here [is] $493.9 billion annually, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine….illegal aliens lower wages by that amount. It is a 5.2% payroll reduction, a tax if you will on workers. And unlike federal income taxes that hit the 1% hardest, this payroll tax hits lower wage workers the hardest.

None of the sources Surber cites, including the study, make that claim about illegal immigration.

9 thoughts on “Three Reasons Why We Can’t Have An Honest And informative Debate About Immigration Policy

  1. Also, it’s interesting to note there seems to be some popular narrative about our nation’s historical welcoming of immigrants, i.e., that’s “who we are” as a nation. What’s generally not noted in this narrative is that our nation, at the time, found immigration as a useful tool for displacing indigenous populations.

  2. This is exactly the same as the pro-2nd Amendment v. anti-gun debate… very little rational discussion in media reports or with the political factions. But in this case, the no action option is probably much better than a politically forced “do something” option.

  3. You’ve got 2 Reason 2’s.

    I don’t have to worry about falsifying anything in these arguments. Because it shouldn’t be an economic argument at all. It should be a principles and values argument.

    Reducing this to economics reduces this to a “do we need these people here to enrich us” or “do we need to keep these people away to enrich us” argument. And that I think violates Kantian ethics.

    Now, there is a sort of “economic” component here but it’s best described in market terms, which opens up the discussion on values and principles.

    1st Value that needs to be addressed and supported is Rule of Law. Regardless of what we decide to do, we must enforce the Law. Doing what we please in violation of the Law undermines far more in our Republic than just immigration policy.

    If we really ought to be allowing many many more people into this nation (and I am amenable to arguments FOR this), then what must change before allowing many many more people in is the actual law or regulation that governs that quantity. But until then, we have to enforce the number the law permits.

    The Left has already lost me at this step. Because they don’t believe in America or it’s values, they don’t believe in America’s laws or enforcing them.

    After that, let’s have a discussion. In market terms, America produces thousands of jobs that a lot of people don’t want to perform for what the market would naturally pay, but plenty of currently non-Americans would love those jobs. But current laws engage in several forms of nativist protection, such as minimum wage laws, occupational licensing, etc.

    Majorly increasing legal immigration is a *free market* principle. But it CANNOT be done without simultaneously free-ing up the current market internally for those new immigrants to compete against natives.

    America also obligates itself to subsidize inactivity. Maddeningly at this point. Immigrants in the past came here knowing they had to swim or sink. Immigrants now? They come here for the largesse. That has to stop. America is about work, innovation, dedication, entrepreneurship. And the great disbursement of largesse must be reformed for the natives as well. While, of course, there should be, as all healthy communities possess, a certain level of helping out when it is needed…our current system, born of that good impulse…has morphed well beyond.

    Majorly increasing legal immigration, when the source nations are often dismal socialist nanny-states, seems to bring more people who are really just looking for a new source of freebies because the home source is running dry. America’s MAGNET has historically been *liberty from political oppression* and a *market opportunity to make your own way*. America’s current magnet, while still possessing shades of the old, is increasingly *we’ve got free stuff to give you, come here for it!* and *don’t surrender your origin culture’s belief in socialism when you get here*.

    Between not addressing the two poles of anti-free market protectionism and the psychologically debilitating effects of giving away our wealth for no effort…I can’t get on board any discussion of solving the immigration crisis. Because it isn’t an argument to be had in a vacuum.

  4. I’m lazy and haven’t read the full report. I do wonder at the economic impact of illegal immigrants who regularly send money to their families outside the United States. Yes, I purchase goods made outside the US. The transaction does pass through US merchants, so a portion of my dollar does remain in the US. Not so for the money wired directly to other countries. My presumption is that local economies and the larger US economy takes a big loss. Other countries have an incentive to encourage illegal immigration. Their economies are propped up by the regular flow of money from the US.

  5. Surber is WAY too high on Trump for my tastes, but I don’t think he needed to cite those studies to assume that an invisible “payroll tax” hits working people harder. Any percentage-based economic benefit or harm affects lower income people more, simply because they can spare a smaller percentage of their income. Being charitable, perhaps he meant that.

    That’s also why it’s bogus when people bewail “income inequality” or the “wage gap.” Sorry, but prosperity is always going to INCREASE the wage gap, and that’s a good thing. If I make $50,000 a year, and my boss makes 5 million, and both of our incomes go up 10%, the wage gap between us increases by $45,000, almost the amount of my entire previous income. But I benefit MUCH more from that extra $5,000, in terms of standard of living. On the other hand if we both LOST 10%, I’d be scrambling to pay rent every month, but hey, look how much the wage gap went down!

Leave a Reply to Michael West Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.