Breaking the Myth: “Immigration is not a threat to culture, the economy, or security.”
Texas Insider Report: AUSTIN, Texas – The flood of children crossing the U.S.-Mexico border has rekindled an already heated immigration debate. But will it prompt politicians to make major changes, or will they play it safe as mid-term elections approach? And what exactly should immigration policy look like in a free society?
In a defining approach to the hotly debated issue, the award-winning book Global Crossings: Immigrations, Civilization & America, by Independent Institute Senior Fellow Alvaro Vargas Llosa (right,) examines the immigrant experience and explores who migrants are, why they move, and who benefits.
And as this powerful story unfolds, Vargas Llosa offers reforms that stand as a powerful and humane solution to the flawed plans being offered by politicians.
- Contrary to sensationalist news reports, Hispanic immigration to the United States does not constitute an unprecedented “takeover.”
- At other times in U.S. history the population of foreign origin constituted a similar or larger proportion of the total population. From 1901 to 1913, an average of one million foreigners — about 2.5% of the domestic population — came into the United States every single year, whereas recent annual immigration has not exceeded 0.5% of the national population.
- The flow of illegal immigration appears be a leading indicator of economic trends.
- From 2007 to 2009, the proportion of undocumented foreigners dropped by 8.4% in California and as much as 25% in Florida, where real estate markets were hit especially hard.
- In the greater Las Vegas, one of the fasted growing areas in the past 20 years, foreign workers began to leave in 2007.
- When Arizona passed its highly restrictive law in 2010, the annual influx of illegal immigrants stood at about one-third of its most recent peak. This is not to say that the flow of workers responds exactly in sync with the demand for labor: border enforcement is a major impediment to smoothly functioning labor markets.
- Fears that immigrants to the United States will resist assimilation and make natives feel like strangers in their own country are misplaced.
- The lure of assimilation in the U.S. is almost irresistible: the 2nd generation in immigrant families typically speaks the language of the adopted country far better than their parents, and the 3rd generation is even more assimilated.
- Even so, the U.S. educational system places onerous obstacles on the educational assimilation of immigrants. Despite the Supreme Court mandate that illegal immigrant children be allowed to go to school, only ten states permit them to go to college paying in-state tuition rates.
- Fears that immigrant workers lead to lower wage rates are drastically overblown.
- The influx of immigrants to the U.S. school education and cut the wages of earlier immigrants by about 10%.
- But it had the opposite effect on native workers with at least a high-school degree: it increased their wages by an average of 2%.
- The net impact was to increase average wages for all native workers by about 1.8%.
- Although many poor immigrants do use the welfare state, this represents only part of the equation.
- For example, although the proportion of immigrant-headed households using at least one major welfare program in the United States is high — 33%, compared to 19% for native households — illegal immigrant men also have higher rates of participation in the U.S. workforce than do U.S. citizens or legal foreigners — over 90% in 2003.
- Moreover, in every U.S. census since 1880, immigrants were more likely to be self-employed than natives.
- Claims about immigrants relying on the American welfare state must also be weighed against the fact that immigrants often bring with them an entrepreneurial spirit, and that immigrants have utilized their work ethic by founding many of the leading high-tech companies in the U.S..
- Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, came from Russia; Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay, is the child of Iranian immigrants from France; Andy Grove, founder of Intel, was born in Hungary; Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo, came from Taiwan; and Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, is from South Africa.
There was a time when the word “immigration” conjured up images of intrepid travelers arriving at Ellis Island, possessing barely a suitcase to hold their meager belongings but embraced by a country that welcomed the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” In recent decades, however, many Americans have become skeptical, even critical of this ideal, preferring instead that the “nation of immigrants” welcome fewer foreigners, whatever their legal status.
Debates about immigration are not confined to America, of course.
Indeed, most of the same concerns that preoccupy immigration critics in the U.S. — worries about immigrants taking away jobs from native-born residents, depressing wage rates, resisting cultural assimilation, and putting undue strains on social services — are common throughout much of Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Africa, explains Alvaro Vargas Llosa, author of Global Crossings: Immigrations, Civilization & America.
Global Crossings is a far-reaching work that will captivate anyone curious about the drama inherit in the age-old quest to make a better life by moving abroad and about the government policies that often thwart that effort.
The Immigrant Experience
An estimated 215 million people live today in a country in which they were not born, the most common destinations being the United States, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, and France.
What motivates immigrants to uproot their lives and begin afresh on new soil? The answers vary, but often there is a common thread: a burning desire to escape economic stagnation, political repression, war, and the like, and to make a living in a country with better socioeconomic conditions.
This quest — the immigrant experience — is a constant theme.
Crossing borders illegally is, of course, a worldwide phenomenon — perhaps as many as 30 million people enter countries illegally each year. Often, the deciding factor in an immigrant’s choice of destination is the historic connection between the two countries. Colonial relationships, for example, shaped the migration of Algerians to France, of Indians to the United Kingdom, and of Filipinos to the United States.
Moreover, extreme poverty is not the main driver of international migration: the poorest people who move tend to seek new opportunities within their own country.
Just as immigration is a universal phenomenon, so it seems is the failure to anticipate unintended consequences of immigration laws. Too often, people forget that barriers inhibit immigrants from returning to their native lands; contrary to widespread perception, migratory flows frequently change direction and have always done so.
Vargas Llosa’s chapters on economics examine the relationship between immigration and unemployment, wages, and the welfare state. They compare the impact of low-skilled and high-skilled workers.
They show how labor markets operate even in the face of major legal obstacles. And they show how the overall health of the economy has had a greater influence on the number of immigrants coming into the United States and other countries than have government policies.
The effect of immigrants on wages is especially misunderstood.
As lower-skilled workers enter the economy, the effect is often to raise the demand and compensation for higher-skilled workers. In time, technological advances make the less-skilled workers more productive, thereby eventually raising their wages.
The economic literature on the impact of immigration on native workers indicates that in a productive, free-market economy, more immigrant workers mean better wages for almost all native workers. What hurts employment and wages are barriers to creating businesses or operating them.
Having cleared away misconceptions about the cultural and economic effects of immigration, Vargas Llosa (left) draws his sights on a dubious assumption often shared by both sides of the immigration debate: the notion that the nation-state is eternal.
In reality, the nation-state and nationalism, its ideological offshoot, are recent inventions — ones susceptible to profound changes as more and more people leave their ancestral lands and intermarry.
What would replace the status quo? For lack of a better term, call it “trans-nationalism.”
Dual-citizenship, a controversial but growing category, is one harbinger of this sea change. If Americanization refers to the adoption not of a “national” character but of a credo — one that embraces individual rights and the entrepreneurial spirit — then Americans may come to view this development as a logical extension of the republic’s founding ideals.
“Immigration is not a threat to culture, the economy, or security. And it is not a welfare program, a corporatist entity, a collectivist ideal, a historical indemnity, or an ethnic claim.
“It is, pure and simple, the right to move, live, work, and die in a different place to that in which one was born—the victory of choice over chance,” Vargas Llosa concludes.
The Independent Institute’s Senior Fellow, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, is a native of Peru who has lived and worked on three continents. Part historical treatise, and part politico-economic analysis, Global Crossings is a far-reaching work that will captivate anyone curious about the drama inherit in the age-old quest to make a better life by moving abroad — and about the government policies that often thwart that effort.