EspañolThe discussion on immigration to the United States has been long dictated by policy makers and pundits with little or no understanding of economics.
When I say economics, I mean individual men and women, their personal aspirations, and how their private interests shape their actions, ultimately benefiting those who are part of that community.
Members of both sides of the predominant political spectrum tend to create sham arguments based on passionate, yet shallow assumptions. One side perpetuates an emotional and naïve picture of the humanitarian crisis at our borders, while often lobbying for full amnesty. The other side claims immigrants pose a risk to the homeland, its sovereignty, its people’s culture, and the country’s economic health.
Both sides have been making these arguments for decades. The tensions associated with the debate, and lack of reasonable perspectives, have seldom accomplished anything of worth. As we stand, each illegal immigrant apprehended by border control costs US taxpayers US$40,000. President Reagan’s personal views on immigration have turned into nothing but a faint memory in the minds of several mainstream conservatives, mostly due to the discrepancy between his words and his legislative legacy. Meanwhile, President Obama is fighting to unilaterally ensure all non-Mexican immigrant children caught at the border crossing illegally are sent home in a speedy fashion.
Hurting Others, Hurting Ourselves
But what if I told you the immigration debate has little to do with homeland security but a lot to do with foreign policy?
When President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the Iraq war on March 19, 2003, his words offered a glimpse into what he believed to be the true rationale behind the invasion:
My fellow citizens, at this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people, and to defend the world from grave danger.
Freedom is always a great, honorable goal, but what does it say about the United States when its government uses freedom as an excuse to invade other countries while sealing its borders to the most persecuted peoples of the globe?
Harsh immigration policies, targeted at individuals whose only offense is to have been born in some of the most violent countries of the Americas, have not been protecting US jobs. Nor are they helping taxpayers to save money, so what do they accomplish? Nothing, but worsening living conditions for migrant workers, soaring national debt, expanding the US police state, and increasing hostility amongst Americans from culturally diverse backgrounds.
Seeing Opportunity in New Arrivals
A cold, realistic analysis of the immigration trend indicates that the overall sentiment behind most immigrants’ desires to come to the United States is related to active participation in the economy.
Immigrants do not face tremendous risks only because they heard the grass is greener in the United States. They want to work.
Immigrants want to trade, peacefully, be better off by it, and participate in the US economy. It too will flourish with a greater number of workers actively making use of their unique attributes to interact with other businesses.
Children then want to be united with their parents or other loved ones, who are often already living and working in the United States — illegally or not. They are not pursuing citizenship, or looking for a handout. As a matter of fact, low-income immigrants tend to use public benefits at a lower rate than native-born citizens.
Raising the Immigration Discourse
What US Hispanics, progressives, and conservatives of varied backgrounds must equally learn to comprehend is the scope of the dehumanizing effect of the arguments used by both sides.
When economic effects are ignored, lawmakers of various ideologies and their supporters also ignore the migrants’ personal goals and the personal goals of those who want to trade peacefully with them. They ignore the importance of trade, and how only free exchange leads to cooperation between previously reluctant parties.
Looking at the immigration standoff from the economic perspective, and understanding it as a product of bad foreign policy, can help us to arrive at policies that would benefit everybody. Whether you’re an open borders or enforce-the-law advocate, there’s something for everybody in a more open, free-trade-oriented solution.