NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

THE REALITIES BEHIND THE IMMIGRATION DEBATE

June 1, 2010

Most of the debate on illegal immigration involves wishful thinking.  The reality is that only four policies can significantly reduce illegal immigration, says Jeffrey Miron, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute. 

Allow more legal immigration: 

  • The United States has an illegal immigration problem because it restricts legal immigration.
  • Large wage differences between the United States and other countries, especially in Latin America, will always encourage migration.
  • Restrictions on immigration are also costly, since they create black markets, generate violence and spawn corruption.  

Expand free trade: 

  • If goods can move freely across countries, the demand for low skill labor will shift from the United States to poorer countries, raising wages there relative to here and reducing the incentive to immigrate.
  • The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the United States-Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), while steps in the right direction, still contain substantial impediments to trade between the United States, Mexico and Central America. 

De-escalate the war on drugs: 

  • Violence generated by the war on drugs forces residents of mostly Latin America countries to cross the U.S. border in part to escape that violence.
  • Full legalization would be the most effective response, but even a major reduction in enforcement would shrink the violence significantly.  

Scale back the U.S. welfare state: 

  • Despite common perceptions, immigrants do not make especially high use of the social safety net or migrate mainly to collect these benefits; most come to the United States seeking work.
  • If immigration were substantially more open, large-scale migration in response to generous benefits would plausibly increase.
  • Therefore, it makes sense to either reduce that generosity or condition benefits on legal residence for a significant number of years. 

Source: Jeffrey A. Miron, "The realities behind the immigration debate," Cato Institute, May 18, 2010. 

For text:

http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=11820  

 

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