NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Illegal Immigration and Labor Markets

August 1, 2001

The Bush Administration is considering an amnesty and the granting of permanent resident status to more than a million illegal Mexican immigrants. Michael Barone, author of "The New Americans: How the Melting Pot Can Work Again" (Regnery, 2001), argues for granting such people legal status -- including illegal immigrants from countries other than Mexico.

  • An amnesty for illegal immigrants has been part of every major change in the immigration laws since 1965.
  • It is not a good idea to have large numbers of non-citizens living outside the law because it leaves them prey to exploitation, and discourages them from returning home.
  • Stopping "Latino-looking" people would be unacceptable, and Member of Congress have squelched attempts to require documents from those crossing the U.S.-Canadian border.

Restrictionism is statist, says Barone. The restrictive laws of 1921 and 1924 followed World War I, in which the government seized the railroads, controlled war production and imprisoned war protestors. The war gave new powers to the state, and restrictionists used them to block immigration.

Today, we should adjust our immigration laws to the demands of the labor market.

  • Mexican President Vicente Fox has proposed European Union-like open borders, and hopes that economic growth and governmental reform will create jobs and make Mexico more attractive to its citizens.
  • A 1997 Mexican law allows those who become U.S. citizens to remain Mexican citizens (dual citizenship), setting up a benign competition between the two countries for these workers.
  • Mexico's population growth has slowed sharply, so it will probably not need as many jobs or generate so many immigrants in the future.

Thus flows of people across the border may eventually reach equilibrium -- as with Puerto Rico and the mainland U.S. since 1961.

Source: Michael Barone (U.S. News & World Report), "Markets Dictate Liberalization Of Immigration Law," Wall Street Journal, July 25, 2001.

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