April 04, 2006

More on Immigration

Steve Verdon has an interesting post in Outside the Beltway that reflects a lot of my concerns on the question of "illegals." Please note that I do not regard all those who advocate sealing the borders as racists, but I have yet to hear a conversation about this on the radio that doesn't accommodate at least a few racists. Very often, callers on talk radio will say the most disgusting things about Mexican-Americans without being checked whatsoever by the host. After all, we're "all on one side in this thing." Which presumably means we should tolerate the racists. It makes me queasy, to tell you the truth.

Verdon's focus, however, is on the cost-benefit aspect of illegal immigration, regarding which Darleen and I have been playing verbal volleyball for some time. (You'll want to note here that Darleen's non-racist credentials are impeccable, though I wonder if her saturation exposure to the Latin underclass occasionally informs some of her views.)

I continue to believe that in order to address the problem, we must 1) secure the border; 2) streamline the legal immigration system for those who truly want to come here and assimilate; and 3) offer some sort of guest-worker program for young people who simply want to be here temporarily to make a few dollars, and then go home.

Typically [this morning's radio] discussion was about little Juanito and how much money it costs to educate this illegal child in the U.S. school system. Nothing was said about the work that Jaunito’s parents do and the value such works adds to the economy. Nothing was discussed about the taxes paid. The true measure of the costs here should be the net costs, not the total costs.

So how much are the net costs of illegal immigration? This report from the GAO from 1995 (pdf) put the net costs at anywhere from $2 billion a year to $19 billion a year with an illegal population of 3 to 5 million. So even if we take the worse case scenario of 3 million immigrants and $19 billion in net costs and scale it up to today’s estimated population (say 12 million) we are talking about $80 billion in net costs. A middle of the road estimate would be around $50 billion. Either way I see this as chump-change for the most part.

First we have to remember that the U.S. economy is well over $12 trillion dollars in terms of GDP. Or in other words illegal immigration is equal to about 0.64% of GDP. By contrast the U.S. budget deficit is ten times larger as a percentage of GDP. Spending for the Medicare Prescirption Drug plan is going to cost $18.2 trillion.1 And Medicare, aside from the prescription drug program, has a shortfall in the range of $50 to $60 trillion over the next 75 years. But here we are worried about chump-change due to illegal immigration.

This leads me to, “Why?” The only thing I can think of is that things like Medicare shortfalls are boring and dull. After all it requires reading actuarial reports, figuring out what the taxable wage base is, and looking at projections which brings in things like statistics and already 48.3% of the audience is on the verge of a coma.

Nice, Steve. Some of us were paying attention, there.

Illegal immigration on the other hand seems to touch off some sort of fear of people who are different. They don’t look like “us”, the don’t talk like “us” and they eat all that weird food and dammit I can’t read the signs over the stores that cater to their consumption! So illegal immigration gets lots of attention, but the complete shambles that things like Medicare are in are just ignored. If we could just stem the flow of illegals why economic nirvana would result. Americans would go back to hanging drywall, mowing their own yards, and chopping up chickens. I’m even sure that controlling the U.S.-Mexico border would reverse the global downward trend in manufacturing employment.[/sarcasm]

In short, I see all this handwringing about the U.S. becoming part of Mexico as nothing more than misplaced priorities by people who seem deathly afraid of people who are different than them. The response to the charge of racism is often, “It isn’t racism! We just oppose illegal immigration. And the costs are real.” Sure the costs are real, but they are much smaller when compared to other issues such as Medicare funding. And sure illegal immigration isn’t a good thing, but instead suggest a guest worker program (i.e. make those illegal immigrants legal) and you still get the howling. So both objections, IMO, while technically true are just rhetoric to deflect criticism and hide the rather disquieting aspects of the illegal immigration movement.

Okay. So he's just as turned off by the Latino = bad thing as I am, and it looms large in his argument.

But the cost-benefit thing is relevant, and the huge resistance to guest-worker programs does set off a lot of red flags in terms of some of us feeling that there's a huge xenophobia out there, and/or a huge willingness to ascribe the recession we just went through (over the past five years) to a phenomenon that's been going on in one form or another for decades.

Tag, boys and girls. You're it.

Posted by Attila Girl at April 4, 2006 06:47 PM | TrackBack

Atilla Girl,

Hey thanks for the link and interesting read. I agree with your points 1 - 3. I think a national security approach to immigration works better and without the racist undertones that all too frequently I hear.

There is an interesting "literature survey article" from the Dallas Fed that I'm probably going to link to and blog about in regards to this issue. It looks at the costs as well as other issues (e.g. unskilled migrant labor might be a complement for skilled non-migrant labor thus raising the latter wage rates).

Basically the cost/benefit issue is complicated and it isn't something I hear many talk show hosts even scratch the surface of. Instead they go with the borwn = bad rhetoric that is all too common.

Posted by: Steve at April 5, 2006 01:15 PM

Or the "how DARE they?"

Or the "these people are ilLLLEEEEEGGAAAALLL!" (Yes. We knew that: hence the term "illegal immigrant." Pot's illegal, too, but plenty of people smoke it. Now what?)

Posted by: Attila Girl at April 5, 2006 03:56 PM

How much would it cost to not educate little Juanito?

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at April 6, 2006 05:57 AM

I haven't been up to anything these days. So it goes. I can't be bothered with anything these days.

Posted by: Kaka59614 at April 20, 2006 01:52 AM

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