Editor’s Note: The following remarks are taken from a debate between Jameson Taylor and Jim Johnson that took place during the November 2007 Conference on Public Administration at UNC’s School of Government. To hear the other side of the debate, please see the study coauthored by Johnson on the economic impact of Hispanics in North Carolina.
Thank you for inviting me here today to discuss how North Carolina can begin to move from gray to green, can begin to move forward with positive ideas, regarding immigration.
Before we start, I have to make a confession. I do not want to debate Jim Johnson. This is not only because Jim is a brilliant thinker, an eloquent speaker, and a sharp dresser – but because I think what we need today is not so much a debate about illegal immigration, as a dialogue.
We need dialogue because our current immigration policy is broken. It lacks transparency and credibility. To some extent, we have no immigration policy. Better put, we have two policies. We have a formal policy codified by law. We have another de facto policy that encourages employers and immigrants to break the law.
Given the complexity of this issue, we must remain open to new ideas regarding immigration. Most important, we need to begin to ask more deeply what should be done about immigration. Here, let me make three points:
1) The current system is not working. It undermines the integrity of our government, promotes dishonesty and fraud in business, and fuels resentment among both illegal immigrants and legal residents.
2) Immigration has both costs and benefits. We will be looking at some of these costs and benefits in just a minute.
3) In order to begin to evaluate current U.S. policy regarding immigration we need to look not so much at what the law says our policy is, as what we are actually doing or not doing.
As far as that goes, please join me in considering the following five questions:
1) Why do we favor the immigration of unskilled labor over skilled labor?
2) Even if we decide that we simply cannot survive without a large pool of cheap labor, why do we favor the immigration of laborers willing to break the law over laborers not willing to break the law?
3) Why do we encourage immigration, yet discourage native population growth through family planning policies? If we think we are experiencing a labor shortage, wouldn’t it be cheaper simply to “grow” our own labor, instead of importing it? Indeed, some 12.9 million Americans are currently unemployed. These people already live here, have housing here and want to work here.
4) Many American businesses claim they can’t survive without illegal immigration. In effect, they are saying they have to buy labor on the black market. Is this black market being fueled by price controls on labor and by overly burdensome labor laws? At the same time, does not this black market also pose a threat to the well being of illegal immigrants themselves?
5) As a nation, do we have a right to secure our borders? Related to this, do we have a right to self-defense and self-preservation? If so, why do we favor an open borders policy when we know this policy poses a security threat? Related to this is a final question: Should U.S. immigration policy primarily benefit the people who are already in the United States or those people around the world who want to come to the United States?
While I am going to touch upon as many of these questions as I can today, my primary aim here is to provide a context for understanding U.S. immigration policy and to begin to provide the groundwork for authentic dialogue regarding comprehensive reform.
Question 1: What would happen to local economies if we did not allow illegal immigrants to work in our communities and on our farms?
Response by Jameson Taylor
In order to properly answer this question, we need to step back and see the big picture.
In order to do so, please allow me to divide this question into two parts.
1) Should we eliminate the black market for illegal labor that currently exists in North Carolina?
2) Should we foster policies that encourage the legal migration of unskilled and low-skilled labor?
I will address the first part of this question here, leaving the response to the second part for another time.
I am addressing this question in two parts in order to emphasize that we have a choice here. This is not a zero-sum game between obeying the law and preserving the economy. We can choose both: to obey the law and to enact a labor policy that will better serve our economy.
Indeed, we have no other choice. Whatever short-term benefits are to be gained from hiring black market labor will be more than outweighed by the political and economic costs of breaking the law.
This is because a productive economy, at bottom, requires a stable political system. Political stability, at least in a democracy, requires certain virtues. Above all, our political stability requires respect for the law.
There are essentially two ways to convince a people to live at peace with one another. The first is to cultivate a reverence for the law that leads people to obey the law even when no one is looking. The second way is to use force and terror, accompanied by near-constant surveillance, to make people obey the law.
Imagine coming to a stop at a red light at 2 a.m. on a deserted street. Do you wait for green or just go? Or do we erect cameras to make people stop? A better example, can we trust that when someone shows a driver’s license or a social security card they are who they say they are?
Increasingly, no. During a recent raid at Smithfield Foods in Tar Heel investigators found that 86 percent of workers arrested for immigration violations had also stolen identities from American citizens. Imagine if 80 percent of the U.S. workforce was using forged documents. The social and economic consequences would be devastating.
As opposed to force and surveillance, teaching people to revere the law is necessary to the preservation of our democracy. Doing so is also necessary to economic well-being in the sense that a law-abiding culture is one in which contracts are secure, property rights are respected, and laborers and consumers are treated fairly.
Yes, there will be economic costs for some people if we begin to enforce current U.S. labor laws. There are always economic costs and benefits associated with doing the right thing. We often hear the American economy will shut down without the workers illegal immigration provides. We heard similar arguments from plantation owners who said they could not survive without the cheap pool of labor slavery provided. Northern factory owners who opposed child labor laws voiced similar complaints.
In reality, during those periods when our labor supply contracted – such as after the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 – tight labor markets stimulated capital investment and operating efficiencies that raised productivity by 40 percent.
Once we decide as a country to eliminate this black market for labor, we can begin to discuss just what type of legal laborers we want to invite into the United States.
Question 2: The Constitution grants citizenship to persons born in the United States, including the children of persons here illegally. Should the Constitution be amended?
Response by Jameson Taylor
It is often said that the Constitution grants automatic citizenship to children who are born in the United States, but whose parents are here illegally. For this reason, advocates of comprehensive immigration reform have sometimes called for an amendment to the Constitution that would clarify the practice of birthright citizenship. Instead of an amendment, I suggest we simply begin to enforce the laws we already have.
Our current policy regarding birthright citizenship is governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (also articulated in Title 8 of the U.S. Code).
The Immigration and Nationality Act stipulates eight different conditions under which a person may become a U.S. citizen:
For our purposes, the most relevant is that: “a person born in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” is a citizen.
This language is taken directly from the 14th Amendment. The first part of this sentence – person born in the United States – is clear; the second part – “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” – is not. And herein lies the debate as to whether the 14th Amendment grants citizenship to the children of illegal aliens. The Supreme Court has not ruled on this issue directly, but a strong case can be made that the Court tacitly assumes that U.S.-born children of illegal aliens are, in fact, U.S. citizens. A stronger case, I think, can be made that Congress, as provided by Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, is responsible for determining the conditions under which immigrants may become citizens.
All this raises an interesting point. The same U.S. law that grants citizenship to children born of illegal aliens also forbids illegal immigration.
Under Title 1, Section 103, for instance, the U.S. Attorney General has both “the power and duty to control and guard the boundaries and borders of the United States against the illegal entry of aliens.”
Under Title 2, Section 211, no immigrant shall be admitted to the United States unless he applies for admittance and possesses an unexpired visa or passport. Moreover, the law requires registration and fingerprinting of every alien who applies for a visa.
Under Title 2, Section 212, the following immigrants are not eligible at all for admittance:
Persons likely to become a public charge – that is, go on welfare
Persons with a communicable disease
Persons who have not been vaccinated; and
Persons with a physical or mental disorder that threatens the safety and property of others
Under Section 274, the following activities are also illegal:
Encouraging or inducing an alien to come to, enter, or reside in the United States, knowing or “in reckless disregard of the fact that such coming to, entry, or residence is or will be in violation of the law.”
Bringing or attempting to bring to the United States “in any manner whatsoever” an illegal at “a place other than a designated port of entry.”
Once in the United States, to transport, conceal, harbor or shield from detection an illegal immigrant.
And, finally, to hire or continue to employ an illegal alien, knowing that the person is not here legally.
All of these offenses are punishable by imprisonment and a variety of fines. In other words, all of these actions are against the law.
All of these provisions are part of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Thus the exact same law that provides for birthright citizenship is the same law that forbids illegal immigration and the employment, transport and harboring of illegal immigrants. Why do we recognize and enforce only one part of the law while neglecting the rest?
Today, an estimated 10 percent – some 420,000 children a year – of all U.S. births are children of illegal aliens. If we enforced the laws we already have, this number would plummet.
Before we start talking about whether we need to amend the Constitution, we need to decide to enforce the laws we already have.
Who is responsible for this enforcement?
Ultimately, the president of the United States. A more interesting question than whether the 14th Amendment permits birthright citizenship is whether President Bush – and before him, Presidents Clinton, Bush Sr., Reagan and Carter – should be impeached for neglecting to enforce a law that was passed by Congress and is supported by a majority of voters in the United States. Namely, for “encouraging or inducing” illegal immigration “in reckless disregard of the fact that this entry” violates U.S. law.
Question 3: What important topics about illegal immigration are not being discussed as part of the public discourse on this subject, but should be?
Response by Jameson Taylor
An important topic that is not generally discussed regarding illegal immigration can be summed up in the following question: Who is U.S. immigration policy supposed to serve?
In order to begin to address this question, I want to introduce a concept economists refer to as an opportunity cost.
An opportunity cost is the cost of that which you have to give up in order to get something else; it is a lost opportunity. Last week, I had to pay $800 to fix my car. I could have bought a share of Google for that $800. Hence, the cost of fixing my car is not only $800, but that lost opportunity to invest in my future.
As the attached handout suggests, there are several opportunity costs related to illegal immigration. Here are a few:
1) Lost productivity owing to capital investments and operating efficiencies
2) Lost jobs for native workers
3) Lost tax revenue
4) Increased use of government services
As an example of what I mean, consider what happened in the United States following the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924. Writes UNC historian Otis Graham:
Tight labor markets in industry stimulated capital investments and operating efficiencies that raised productivity 40 percent across the decade of the 1920s. … Economist Paul Douglas found that annual manufacturing-wage growth in the United States was 0.32 percent from 1890 to 1914 but an astonishing 3.3 percent from 1919 to 1926, strong evidence of immigration’s wage-depressing effect.
In short, limiting immigration helped poorer wage earners enter the middle class. In particular, the 1924 Immigration Act helped black laborers enter into certain industries – for instance, the steel mills of Pennsylvania and Ohio. In this way, restricting immigration indirectly gave impetus to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
This is not to say that the Civil Rights Movement would never have happened had the Immigration Act of 1924 not been enacted, but the timing of these two events raises an important point:
Part of the opportunity costs of illegal immigration entails lost opportunities for our own people.
In order to place these lost opportunities within the proper context, I want to encourage you to ask just who U.S. immigration policy is supposed to serve?
Mexico enjoys the 12th largest economy in the world. Some 4.9 billion people live in countries poorer than Mexico. Even if we accept that U.S. immigration policy should be devoted to aiding the poor, this requires limiting immigration from relatively wealthy countries like Mexico – in short, it requires securing our borders.
So, who then should U.S. immigration policy serve?
How about the poor in the United States, who will be able to get better paying jobs.
The working poor in the United States pay a heavy price for our open borders policy.
According to Andrew Sum of the Center for Labor Market Studies, between 2000 and 2004, 100 percent of the net increase in the number of employed civilians went to new foreign born workers. During the same period, the number of employed natives declined.
Similarly, Harvard economist George Borjas found that between 1980 and 2000 immigration reduced the average annual earnings of native-born men by $1,700. During the 1980s, the poorest of workers saw a 14 percent drop in wages while those in the top percentile saw a 1 percent increase. Another study by Borjas found that from 1960 to 2000 black high school dropouts saw their employment rate drop from 88.6 percent to 55.7 percent. For black dropouts in their twenties, employment rates are even lower: 28 percent for 2004. This is compared to 66 percent for whites and 81 percent for Hispanics.
So, who should U.S. immigration policy serve?
How about middle-class working families?
According to Jeffrey Williamson, a Harvard economist, the greatest periods of economic inequality in America correspond with the two great waves of immigration occurring between 1820 and 1860; and 1890 to WWI. As immigration has increased, the wage gap between the poor and the rich in America has also expanded. Reports the CIA World Fact Book, “Since 1975, practically all the gains in household income have gone to the top 20% of households.”
By contrast, the periods in which we have limited immigration – in which we have given new immigrants time to assimilate into U.S. culture – correspond with rapid advances in economic productivity, as well as an increase in the number of middle-class families.
Who should U.S. immigration policy serve?
How about the citizens of the United States?
In asking this question, we also need to ask ourselves why limiting immigration – even illegal immigration – makes us so uncomfortable.
Perhaps we all sense that our participation in this unique experiment is something greater than ourselves. In many ways, America is a gift to the world, a shining city upon a hill, as Ronald Reagan put it.
For this same reason, though, we have to ask whether our current immigration policies are undermining the very promise of America itself.
If our citizenship is a gift, don’t we also have a responsibility to preserve this gift? Yet, how are we to preserve this gift if we don’t also preserve our national sovereignty by securing our borders?
Perhaps you think national sovereignty is a terrible idea. Perhaps like the former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, you think that U.S. immigration policy should have as its aim the unification of Mexico, the United States and Canada – replete with a single currency, much like the European Union.
Nevertheless, if this is the true aim of those who want open borders, then we need to engage in genuine dialogue about these aims – about whether we want to enter into a transnational union or whether we want to retain our identity as an independent constitutional republic. We owe at least this much to those who came before us and have given us this gift of U.S. citizenship.
Editor’s Note: Please see the attached "Opportunity Costs of Immigration" for graphs and data relevant to Dr. Taylor’s debate.