Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Unintended consequences of unchecked legal immigration

With estimates that one of the immigration bills under consideration would allow anywhere from 100 million to 190 million new legal immigrants into the country over the next 20 years, both free market conservatives and libertarians, as well as humanitarian liberals and progressives should take pause. Robert Samuelson explains why at Real Clear Politics:

How fast can they assimilate? We cannot know, but we can consult history. It is sobering. In 1972, Hispanics were 5 percent of the U.S. population, and their median household income was 74 percent of that of non-Hispanic white households. In 2004, Hispanics were 14 percent of the population, and their median household income was 70 percent of the level of non-Hispanic whites. These numbers suggest that rapid immigration of low-skilled workers and rapid assimilation are at odds.

The difficulties are obvious. Competition among them depresses wages. Social services are stretched thin. In 2000, children of immigrants already represented a quarter of all low-income students in U.S. schools, reports an Urban Institute study. The figure is probably higher today. The study also reports that immigrant children are rapidly spreading beyond the six states where they had traditionally concentrated (California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, New York and New Jersey). This may explain why immigration has suddenly become such an explosive issue. '

Although we will always see the immigration of the skilled, talented, and/or wealthy to this country, immigration is largely the realm of the poor or oppressed. If we see the huge numbers of legal immigration that reports estimate would be allowed for, we are going to create a crisis at the lower economic rungs of our society. There are going to be only so many low paying jobs, and as competition increases for them, they are only going to pay less in real wages. The rest of the economic ladder can only absorb so much in social safety net costs before the economy as a whole suffers. Bringing in that many legal immigrants is anything but compassionate for poor legal immigrants looking for a better life. If anything, it is going to keep them buried at the bottom of society. I'm all in favor of robust legal immigration at the skilled and unskilled ends, but let's do it at sustainable numbers, shall we?

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