Immigration as Class Warfare
One issue seldom discussed in polite society is the role current immigration policy plays in exacerbating class cleavages. There is a clear academic consensus that while immigration plays a surprisingly small role in creating prosperity, it does dramatically redistribute wealth from workers to employers and users of immigrant services.
The unbridled insanity of America’s immigration “debate” is dissected in a recent book, Heaven’s Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy, by Harvard economist George Borjas. Borjas is widely recognized as academia’s leading scholar on the economics of immigration. Moreover, he is an immigrant himself, having arrived here from Cuba penniless in 1962.
Nonetheless, as a scholar he is deeply troubled by the consequences of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act and the progeny it has spawned. Before 1965, immigration was shaped by the national origins quota system, which granted visas primarily based on an immigrant’s country of birth. As a result, 70% of visas went to three countries--Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany. However, modifications to the 1965 law established family reunification, and to a lesser extent employment preferences, as the new criteria for admission.
The resulting demographic shifts and subsequent economic costs are summarized by Borjas who exposes the puerile pabulum, senseless clichés, and economic illiteracy underpinning the arguments of immigration enthusiasts.
One myth Borjas explodes is that immigration adds substantial wealth to the American economy. In fact, as Borjas says: “All the available estimates suggest that the annual net gain is astoundingly small, less than .1% of GDP.” In real terms, that translates into approximately $10 billion dollars added to the overall economy, just $30 per person. It has also been estimated that between $6-$10 billion dollars is remitted to Mexico by immigrants working in the U.S.
But that’s not the end of the story. The relative skills and economic performance of successive waves of immigrants has continued to decline. Immigrants arriving on American shores in 1960 had more education and earned more money than natives. By 1998, the newest arrivals earned 23% less than natives. They also had acquired two fewer years of education than natives.
As low-skill immigrants have flooded the labor market, opportunities for the least skilled among us have markedly decreased and the most vulnerable Americans have seen their wages decline as a result. Indeed, Borjas estimates that immigration is responsible for half the decrease observed in the wages of high-school dropouts.
The obvious implication of these facts is that immigration policy as currently constituted has become little more than a wealth redistribution program, shifting resources from the poor to the wealthy without creating aggregate economic growth. The primary beneficiaries are social, economic, and political elites who manage to reap the benefits of mass immigration while insulating themselves and their families from the consequences. America’s verbal elite is essentially importing a servant class at no cost to themselves in terms of increased competition. The lawyers, politicians, business executives, journalists, and editorialists who drive the immigration debate don’t have their livelihoods, not to mention their children’s education, threatened by mass immigration, but they do acquire the cheapest pool guys, house-keepers, and roofers in the Western world.
Support for the current policy encompasses both “competing” ideological camps and spokespersons from virtually every elite institution. Even leftist political constituencies, who regularly mouth mindless bromides to the god of egalitarianism, have come down on the side of continued mass immigration despite overwhelming evidence that it primarily harms the poor.
For example, the AFL-CIO recently embraced a proposal to grant amnesty to an estimated 6 million illegal aliens, thereby shepherding scores of unskilled workers into the labor market to compete with the most vulnerable Americans. Doug Dority, head of the United Food and Commercial Worker International Union, said, “We don’t care about green cards, we care about union cards.” Apparently Mr. Dority is not terribly concerned about the wages of his membership, either.
Black Americans, another prominent part of the Democratic Party’s coalition, have long been the most prominent casualties of open immigration. For generations, they have been passed over by countless immigrant streams striving to reach the American Dream. Hence a long line of black statesmen and intellectuals from George Washington Carver and W. E. B. Dubois to A. Philip Randolph have been immigration restrictionists. Yet today there is a conspiracy of silence among African-American leaders who have sold out the black working class because more immigration insures additional fodder for the identity politics and multiculturalism propagated by the black elite.
Even local elites are in on the act. My local paper, the Louisville Courier-Journal, rhapsodized in a September 7, 2000 editorial that “immigrants do a lot of jobs that most native-born Americans don’t want to do” and “are enriching everything from our cuisine to our school curriculum.” Evidently the editor’s primary concern is having a plethora of ethnic eateries that they can frequent along Bardstown Road, our local hot spot.
Among political conservatives and libertarians the debate is nearly as sterile. The Wall Street Journal, mouthpiece of America’s business establishment, has consistently editorialized on behalf of open borders, a policy supported by its corporate patrons. No need to worry though; after all, the average bloke thrown into dog-eat-dog competition with cheap immigrant labor probably is not a subscriber to the Journal, anyway.
George Bush’s original labor secretary-designate Linda Chavez, another right-wing ideologue who had to step aside after it was revealed she had housed an illegal alien in contravention of the law and “misled” the FBI in the process, wrote last April that, “Next time you’re wondering whom to thank for this booming economy, thank an immigrant.” Ms. Chavez’s preposterous and cartoonish depiction of recent economic history would be laughable were it not so infuriating. She has nary a word of praise for the entrepreneurial class or the amazingly productive American worker. Like so many members of the American elite, Ms. Chavez enthusiastically endorses mass immigration as a ready remedy for her servant problem. Hey, why should she be expected to clean her palatial Bethesda home?
President Bush himself was asked repeatedly about immigration during the Republican primaries and responded wistfully and solemnly that “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande River.” Unfortunately the “education president” did not see fit to expound further on his brilliant formulation of public policy.
Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has also endorsed mass immigration as a “safety valve” to keep inflation (wages?) at a “manageable” level. Greenspan seems to have forgotten Milton Friedman’s maxim that inflation is “everywhere and always a monetary phenomenon.” In other words, if St. Alan sees inflation in the economy he need look no further than his bathroom mirror to finger the culprit and should cease scapegoating native Americans for his policy failures.
America is indeed a generous country with a remarkable ability to absorb and assimilate new immigrants. But there are limits, and those limits necessitate tough choices. During the 1990s, ten million immigrants came to the United States legally. That doesn’t even take into account the millions more that arrived illegally, flagrantly violating American law and sovereignty. Reducing that number by half, or even three-fourths, where historic levels of immigration have been, while putting a premium on attracting highly-skilled immigrants would still make the U.S. the largest recipient of immigrants and would represent a return to a sane and moral policy.
July 23, 2004
Darrell Dow writes from Jeffersonville, Indiana where he works as a statistician. A misanthropic Paleoconservative, Darrell is the husband of Kathy, and the father of Joshua and Andrew. To see pictures of the boys and get a small glimpse into the Dow house, visit the family website. Darrell also maintains a website and a new blog. Darrell can be contacted here.