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The futility of anti-illegal immigration programs
Posted by: Jon Henke on Friday, March 31, 2006

While I acknowledge the problems and benefits with which immigration — i.e., illegal immigration — presents us, I'm not terribly panglossian about the prospect of a government policy to "fix" it. That is, I have a lot of trouble envisioning a way to retain the benefits of the influx of immigrants while substantially reducing the concurrent problems. I am even less optimistic that we can do it without very serious infringements on liberty.

Sure, we could begin a supply-side "war on illegals" — round em up, ship em back and secure the borders. But that's a fantasy. We'll never "secure" the borders. We can police it and we might reduce the flow to some extent, but humans ingenuity is a remarkable thing. So long as the incentives are there, people will find a way around any policing effort we might mount. (How's that War on Drugs working out so far?)

And unlike interdiction efforts in the War on Drugs, we just catch and release illegal immigrants to try again the next day. So, no, a supply-side program won't help much at all — and, on net, it will hurt.

And aside from the welfare state problems, I'm not really opposed to the influx of Mexicans into the United States, anyway. Inequality may break the hearts of the Washington Post editorial board; the declining bargaining power of high school drop-outs may get Paul Krugman all teary-eyed; me, I'm happy that more people have more freedom, more economic opportunity and more wealth. As Bryan Caplan wrote at EconLog...
Economists are used to rolling their eyes when people object to better policies on the grounds that some special interest will suffer from the change. It's time to cross the final frontier, and start rolling our eyes when the special interest is low-skilled Americans.

Call me a Non-Bleeding Heart Libertarian, but for once, the shoe doesn't fit. My heart does bleed for people born in poor countries who come here to better their condition with hard work. What about low-skilled Americans? They were born in the U.S. and speak fluent English. Let them count their blessings.
The general position among those advocating better border control is that legal immigration is a net positive and we should encourage it with either a guest worker program, or a streamlined immigration process and much higher immigration quotas. (this tends to confuse the people who believe these concerns must be motivated by racism or xenophobia, so they generally ignore it)

But even this position has an intrinsic problem, which I discussed in a March 2005 post. Under the current economic incentives, they're willing to die to get here, and we're not willing to die to stop them. Advantage, illegal immigrants! The guest-worker plans just don't do anything to change that calculation...
As it is, illegals enter the country secretly to take jobs under the table, because businesses would rather hire low-cost illegals than higher-cost Americans. The White House plan stipulates that these heretofore-illegals would be matched to a US employer "when no Americans can be found to fill the jobs".

But here's the thing: a lot of Americans can "be found to fill the jobs". Yet, businesses still prefer to hire illegal workers, because businesses would rather break the law to get low cost labor than pay the costs (higher wages, health care, payroll taxes, etc) of abiding by the law. If Bush's policy is implemented, nothing about this will change.
If businesses are willing to break the law to avoid the high costs of American labor, then they'll certainly be willing to break the law to avoid the high cost of legal immigrant labor. And if off-the-books work is what employers want, why would illegal immigrants voluntarily sign up for a program that increases their cost to employers?

At the end of the day, guest worker plans look like a great deal for taxpayers, but taxpayers aren't the problem. Unfortunately, it's hard to see how guest worker programs would appeal to the businesses and illegals at whom they are aimed — and it's easy to see how they could create a permanent under-class. As Jane Galt argues "you end up with large clumps of temporary immigrants with little to connect them to the wider society . . . exactly what we're supposed to fear about immigration."

The only possible domestic solution to illegal immigration is to deal with the demand side — i.e., to impose very significant fines and jail terms on people who employ illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, the War on Drugs again gives us some insight into the problems with demand-side enforcement. We'll end up with onerous and liberty-destroying government surveillance of employers, federally mandated IDs and background checks for US citizens, and people going to jail for hiring insufficiently-investigated immigrants. And god forbid you pay an undocumented worker to mow the yard or clean the house.

All that to say — and unless we can drag Mexico into modern, economically liberal society so the people of Mexico could get ahead without leaving home — I'm not terribly optimistic about the net positive effect of more government "solutions" for the immigration issue.
 
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Comments
"But that’s a fantasy. We’ll never "secure" the borders."

Israel has shown that borders can be secured, even if it requires a fence. The flow of illegal immigrants over the southern border could be dramatically reduced if we just spend the money to do it. This requires more feet on the ground, more surveillance equipment, and large sections of fence in some areas.

I don’t think that it is asking too much for employers to check that their employees are citizens. They already have to deal with payroll taxes, income taxes, and Social Security numbers.

The status quo of letting in illegal immigrants, with a wink and a nod, can be dramatically altered if we have the national will to change things.
 
Written By: Dan Morgan
URL: http://www.nospeedbumps.com
Dan, the question is not whether it can be done but whether doing so would be worth the costs. Theory and practice seem to point to no. The Israel comparison is specious; we don’t have Mexicans coming in here and blowing themselves up, and Israel’s border is much, much easier and less costly to monitor than the US-Mexico one would be.
 
Written By: Matt McIntosh
URL: http://catallarchy.net/blog/
The Israel comparison is specious; we don’t have Mexicans coming in here and blowing themselves up, and Israel’s border is much, much easier and less costly to monitor than the US-Mexico one would be.
Then use East Germany.

The fact is, if we so desire, it can be done.

The question, as you and Jon frame it is correct.

Is it worth the cost, effort and liberty to do so?
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
The "War on Drugs" analogy suggests a solution.

Methadone. Or possibly Buprenorphine.

That is to say, provide a SUBSTITUTE the illegal product that is both legal and less damaging.

As I have here mentioned, there certainly exist enough refugees in the world who would be willing to come to the US and be grateful that they could, at least, COMPETE for the jobs Mexican illegal immigrants are now taking. Stealing. Refugees who would prefer to learn English and don’t entertain fantasies of conquering California.

Employing a workforce of Mexican non-refugee illegals who come here to steal opportunities from legitimate immigrants and refugees may be hard habit to crack, but as a first step we should make every effort to facilitate the inflow of OTHER nation’s legal immigrants. In fact, however unfair it may be, we should lower Mexico’s immigration quota to zero until that government gets its side of our border controlled. And we should raise the quotas, and set up those State Department "fast track" programs, everywhere in the world EXCEPT Mexico. Especially if we can bleed Iran, NoKo, Syria, etc of their best workers.

 
Written By: pouncer
URL: http://
Then use East Germany.
I will only note that it was the totalitarian socialist Soviets who built the wall.
 
Written By: Matt McIntosh
URL: http://catallarchy.net/blog/
All that to say — and unless we can drag Mexico into modern, economically liberal society so the people of Mexico could get ahead without leaving home — I’m not terribly optimistic about the net positive effect of more government "solutions" for the immigration issue
Isn’t that was NAFTA was supposed to do?
 
Written By: cindyb
URL: http://
I will only note that it was the totalitarian socialist Soviets who built the wall.
I’m talking about ability, not ideology.

But if you choose to note the above, fair disclosure also demands noting it was built to keep people in, not out.
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
As Jane Galt argues "you end up with large clumps of temporary immigrants with little to connect them to the wider society . . . exactly what we’re supposed to fear about immigration."
And how is that different than with illegal immigrants now?

BTW, I don’t agree with her assessment. If structured properly, a GW program could also have steps toward citizenship. But instead of hiding out and hoping for amnesty, it would give GWs a method of earning it while contributing legally to their own well-being, that of their family and contributing to the cost of the services they consume.

Of course, when bureaucracy is involved, that becomes a huge "if".
 
Written By: McQ
URL: http://www.qando.net/
To Jon and fellow libertarians,

Because (almost) everything comes down to economics, why would you say illegal immigration (or even all immigration) is a net positive? Sure, we have more "free people", but under a welfare state like ours, they become a drain on the system. Non-English speaking immigrants, no matter where they come from, will end up as high school drop-outs (or high school graduates with no more ability than high school drop-outs; see US public education). And, according to a 1997 study, high school drop-outs consume, in their respective lifetimes, about $100,000 more than they produce.

So, the real question is do we want immigrants who are going to be a drain on society (including spreading diseases and comprising (just illegals) 29% of the prison population ), or do we want immigrants who have a high likelihood of contributing to our society (i.e. speak English, are educated and skilled, etc.). I think the answer is obvious.

 
Written By: Nuclear
URL: http://
If businesses are willing to break the law to avoid the high costs of American labor, then they’ll certainly be willing to break the law to avoid the high cost of legal immigrant labor. And if off-the-books work is what employers want, why would illegal immigrants voluntarily sign up for a program that increases their cost to employers?
Excellent observation.
The only possible domestic solution to illegal immigration is to deal with the demand side — i.e., to impose very significant fines and jail terms on people who employ illegal immigrants..
True. However I would add “knowingly employ illegal immigrants”, granted implications not withstanding.
I’ve been hearing this batted around for some time now, which that stiff penalties should be given to employers who hire illegal immigrants. The problem is that is not the job of the businessman to police the workforce. I hire seasonal workers, and if they have a SS card and a picture ID, (and willing to do the work) then they’re hired. But if I unknowingly hire someone who is here illegally or doesn’t have the permission to work here, no matter of country of origin, then I shouldn’t be penalized. The laws are already in place and I’m probably being paranoid. (Isn’t paranoia a prerequisite for a libertarian?)
And god forbid you pay an undocumented worker to mow the yard or clean the house.
Right. Right.
Again, it is not the job of anyone not in law enforcement to police the workforce.
We’ll end up with onerous and liberty-destroying government surveillance of employers, federally mandated IDs and background checks for US citizens, and people going to jail for hiring insufficiently-investigated immigrants.
Exactly.
Good post, Jon.

Cheers.
 
Written By: PogueMahone
URL: http://
And aside from the welfare state problems, I’m not really opposed to the influx of Mexicans into the United States, anyway.
Dan, the question is not whether it can be done but whether doing so would be worth the costs. Theory and practice seem to point to no. The Israel comparison is specious; we don’t have Mexicans coming in here and blowing themselves up, and Israel’s border is much, much easier and less costly to monitor than the US-Mexico one would be.
As I have said before, nearly 70% of the methamphetamine that enters the United States comes from Mexico, where it is produced. Nearly all of it is smuggled into and throughout the United States by illegal immigrants. The Bush administration does not track data that calculate the costs of meth for the nation as a whole, but here are a a couple of examples:
But officials in communities where meth is a problem have a clear idea of what it’s costing them. A few examples:

¥ The meth cost in Portland and the rest of Multnomah County, Ore., was $102.3 million in 2004, according to an economic analysis by ECONorthwest. That amounts to $363 per household in a county where the average tax payment was $355.

"Meth is an involuntary tax dumped on you," said Robert Whelan, co-author of the ECONorthwest report and the single father of an adopted son whose birth mother used meth.

¥ In Crow Wing County, Minn., meth costs taxpayers about $1.8 million a year, or $33.50 for each county resident, said Terry Sluss, a county commissioner and the county’s methamphetamine prevention coordinator.
Yes - that is $100 million dollars in one metro area in one state.

Suffice it to say that the costs associated with meth - incarceration, treatment, police, related crime, emergency room vists, foster homes, brain damaged kids, social service agencies, lost production, probably run into the billions. There is no benefit we get in return from these costs. And yet politicans and pundits never talk about the costs that potent methamphetmaine smuggled into the United States by illegal immigrants and trafficked by them cost the American tax payer.

In Israel, a Palestinian or two comes across the border and blows himself up. They destroy dozens of lives. In the United States, illegal immigrants import ton upon ton of poison that destroys thousands and thousands of lives and cost society billions and billions of dollars.

And yet, you get people like Matt who say there is no comparison. I agree. Thousands and thousands of destroyed lives don’t compare with dozens.


 
Written By: mkultra
URL: http://
I do not agree with you Jon, we COULD slow down illegal immigration quite a bit, but we wont.
 
Written By: Kyle N
URL: http://
A fine post. When laws attempt to restrain supply and demand, economics always wins in the end, via black market effects, corruption, organized crime, etc. See Drug War. The cost of enforcement invariably outweighs the net costs of whatever demand we are attempting to restrict. But then any self-respecting libertarian knows that.
 
Written By: cllam
URL: http://
“If I were the President, I would deal with the border issues & illegal immigration by………”

1. Adding sufficient personnel to close the border within six months
2. Build fences as necessary to prevent entry in remote areas where appropriate.
3. Develop highly mobile teams to intercept any smugglers or traffickers; arrest and convict and incarcerate in foreign prisons.
4. Move all non-American prisoners to foreign prisons and pay for their incarceration at substantially lower costs than here.
5. Offer a path to citizenship to all illegal immigrants living in the US who first must become legal residents. They would have one year to become legal residents. Develop citizenship path with progress checks over a five year period. Failure to become citizen in five years requires return to country of origin. People opting to keep legal residence, but not seeking citizenship, must go before a review board every three years for renewal of residency. Any criminal activity may revoke residency and deportation would occur.
6. Work a deal with Vicente Fox to take back any Mexican national who is not a legal resident after one year. All other illegals caught in the US would go to foreign prisons.
7. Illegal aliens (with no criminal record) that are rejected for return by their country of origin and cannot qualify for US residency will be detained in foreign prisons for one year and then released into that country as residents under agreements that the State Department negotiates.

If we outsource the non-American prisoners to countries like Thailand, Morocco, Tunisia, and Indonesia, we will slow the whole illegal immigraion process down dramatically. If they escape into the foreign country , it will be a long time before they come back here.

 
Written By: Dale
URL: http://
So why not just admit this is a racist thing and get it over with. You would rather have cheap labor from poor countries as long as they are white than help your neighbors.
Actually, I’m not particularly interested in having cheap labor at all, if the price is maintaining a signifigant portion of the population, native-born or otherwise, in helotage. Moroever, I’m not particularly interested in the economic arguments about illegal immigration at all. And, while we’re on the subject, I don’t particulalry feel it’s our responsibility to help "our neighbors".

You don;t actually read this blog much, do you?
 
Written By: Dale Franks
URL: http://www.qando.net
"Old grumpy men sit on their rear ends and moan about the days gone by
While we see the stars and visit bars and curse the politicians who lie."
(Sorry, I just could not resist)
Perhaps we should just annex Mexico and make it the 51st state.
Advantages:
1. Access to cheap labor
2. Many people become legal automatically
3. We will own our second largest source of incoming oil.
4. The length of our southern border shrinks significantly and perhaps we can control it.
5. More waterfront property to retire to.

April Fool
 
Written By: Dale
URL: http://
All that to say — and unless we can drag Mexico into modern, economically liberal society so the people of Mexico could get ahead without leaving home — I’m not terribly optimistic about the net positive effect of more government "solutions" for the immigration issue.
Equilibrium happens. It doesn’t matter whether it’s legal or not, or if anyone cares about economics or not. The legality of the market will determine the level of order and the time frame in which equilibrium occurs, not whether equilibrium occurs. The quickest, most painless, most efficient, most orderly way to achieve this is by freeing the market, and really, that’s pretty much the end of the story.

yours/
peter.
 
Written By: Peter Jackson
URL: http://www.liberalcapitalist.com
Everone keeps referring to the illegals as "Mexicans". They are actually coming from all the countries in Central America. The route takes them through Mexico! Stop putting all the blame on the Mexicans. And, these people from Central America are less educated than the Mexicans who come here. Mexico hasn’t got the money or the means to keep their own borders closed to the illegals. And, we don’t either. Why not encourage them to continue the migration up into Canada. There are lots of places asking for residents in Canada. A friend who lives in British Colombia asked me why the illegals don’t go there to live. They have the room and want people. The United States should not be the end of the rainbow in all situations. Has anyone even contacted the Canadians to see if this is feasible?


















































































































































 
Written By: G. L. Roberts
URL: http://
The Canadians deport illegal immigrants.

Greatest idea of the 21st century - create our own Quebec.
 
Written By: Cutler
URL: http://yankeestation.blogspot.com
Barbara Tuchman wrote "March of Follies" about mistakes that broke nations, often because they were allowed to fester although everyone saw the writing on the wall, at least those who weren’t hyped on ideology.

I fear that one day we’re going to read about this; we’re playing lotto with our national cohesion. One party’s in love with poor ethnic voters and pretending we’re a huge welfare system, and the other one’s in love with cheap labor. The irony for the latter being that there’s plenty of places to look for labor. We’ve got the ability to skim the cream from the rest of world, and yet, we take poor and uneducated citizens from our neighbor, ignoring the fact that they concentrate and are often resentful of the very country that’s allowed them to break the laws. We owe them - right. And if we don’t let them in, we’re selfish. Right. And their homeland is right next door.

Yeah, this is a great idea - nothing can go wrong here.

And we rationalize it as if we can’t even control our borders or enforce our laws. If that’s true you might as well dissolve the government. Penalties on business or the Mexican government, or a wall. Throw them in cheap jails and make them build the wall. As if we’re not create enough to think of anything to fix the problem. Delusions.
 
Written By: Cutler
URL: http://yankeestation.blogspot.com
What percentage of the US military is now hispanic?

I’m not too worried about our national cohesion, since we managed to go from British/German to adding Italians, Poles, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong, etc.
 
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
>>>>I’m not too worried about our national cohesion, since we managed to go from British/German to adding Italians, Poles, Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong, etc<<<<

Not to change the subject, but didn’t the U.S. once give amnesty to two million illegal immigrants in the 1980’s? Now we have 12 new illegals?

I am less concerned about where they come but rather more concerned with our already over-stressed eco-system. Just how many more people could this country hold without it becoming so polluted that "no one" can live in it.

Enough is enough. I am all for building a nice high wall ’a la Berlin.’ I’ll do the labor for free if others will join me....I have three weeks in the summer off. I figure I will save my own job if others aren’t here to take it and save wildlife from overpopulation to boot.

"We speak English here" Bjornstad
 
Written By: Karen B
URL: http://
>>>>Not to change the subject, but didn’t the U.S. once give amnesty to two million illegal immigrants in the 1980’s? Now we have 12 new illegals?<<<<

I meant 12 MILLION new illegals...sheesh.

"We speak English here" Bjornstad
 
Written By: Karen B
URL: http://
Instead of immediately criminalizing the hiring of illegal immigrants, why don’t we try using the tax code first?

Change the tax code to require employers prove that each employee is legally eligible to work in the US before the employer is permitted to deduct as business expenses the wages and benefits paid to that worker.

Employers could still hire illegal workers but their increased taxes would help internalize social costs of their actions.

Over time, I would hope that this would decrease the demand for illegal workers, which in turn would encourage illegal workers to stay home or return home, but without the need to send law enforcement to make sweeps or conduct raids that round up the innocent along with the guilty.

Children of immigrants who watch their legal parents being humiliated during an enforcement action will not forget it. We have enough problems with social discohesion without sowing the seeds for a generation with "chips on their shoulders".


 
Written By: CaliforniaBuckeye
URL: http://
I have another idea ’bout securing our borders. This falls in line with recent discussion about foreign control of our seaports, and with other recent thinking that the U.S. should consider other nations’ constitutions and laws in developing our own.

Let’s ban any Mexican citizens from owning real estate within 100 kilometers — about 62 miles — from the border, or 50 km —30 miles — from the ocean coasts.

This is, after all, what Mexico requires of landowners near their own coasts and borders. Article 27 of their constitution ...

I don’t know if it would work or not. But it would be "fair" and would fall in with not only the U.S. trends cited in the first paragraph, but in the Dream Stealers’ protests regard bring the laws and customs of "La Raza" to "Azatlan" or whatever ...

Something to think about.
 
Written By: POUNCER
URL: http://
Henke,

"The only possible domestic solution to illegal immigration is to deal with the demand side...

Why wouldn’t removing legal barriers to immigration solve illegal immigration?
 
Written By: John T. Kennedy
URL: http://no-treason.com
Why wouldn’t removing legal barriers to immigration solve illegal immigration?
It would eliminate many of the problems, but it’s not possible.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
Why isn’t it possible?


 
Written By: John T. Kennedy
URL: http://no-treason.com
And of course it completely solves the problem of illegal immigration; what other problems do you want to solve?
 
Written By: John T. Kennedy
URL: http://no-treason.com
Why isn’t it possible?
It occurs to me that I might be misunderstanding what you mean by "removing legal barriers to immigration". If I am, please correct me. As I understand your suggestion, though, I think there’s just far too much political opposition to wide open borders for such a bill to even reach the floor, much less be passed.

I do support expanding and streamlining our legal immigration very significantly, and I think that could be possible. Some ’problems’ would still exist — depressed wages at the lower level, increased inequality, border security — but I put the word "problems" in quotes because I don’t have a problem with those issues, per se, but I know that (1) many people in political life do, and (2) such ’problems’ will lead to increased political action to "correct" the purported problems.

Which is to say, I don’t think they are problems, but I recognize that those issues are among the issues that people perceive as problems, and their causes will remain unadressed by that particular solution.

What I’d like to find is the political solution that incurs the least costs, expands the opportunities and liberty of people regardless of nationality and addresses enough of the ’problems’ to pass congressional muster.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
What I’d like to find is the political solution that incurs the least costs, expands the opportunities and liberty of people regardless of nationality and addresses enough of the ’problems’ to pass congressional muster.
Well how is that possible, since Americans overwhelmingly want other ends?

Or maybe that’s exactly what you have right now.
 
Written By: John T. Kennedy
URL: http://no-treason.com
Well how is that possible, since Americans overwhelmingly want other ends?
There’s a spectrum of politically possible outcomes. I’d like to achieve the one closest to my own ends, as described above, rather than the far end of that spectrum. Obviously, the outcome won’t be my ideal, but it’s still undecided whether it will be 25% or 75% of my ideal. One is better than the other.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
How can you improve collective political judgment when there is no incentive to improve individual political judgment?

Anyone can get the exact same political results as you without effort.

What has been your political return on investment of effort?
 
Written By: John T. Kennedy
URL: http://no-treason.com
How can you improve collective political judgment when there is no incentive to improve individual political judgment?
I think the goal ought to be to change the incentives within the system, and — where possible — to apply pressure in specific instances.
What has been your political return on investment of effort?
Do you mean "what positive change have I personally enacted"? None, except that I think I’ve made more people aware of important ideas, valuable facts, etc. Drop in a bucket stuff, but I enjoy it. And it’s one more drop than the bucket would otherwise have.
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://www.QandO.net
The big difference is that the war on drugs does have merit. The war on illegals does.
 
Written By: krastner
URL: http://
I meant to say that the war on drugs does NOT have merit..sorry.
 
Written By: krastner
URL: http://
well what i think about this is. we should let them stay but get to pay taxes that would help the economy and if they make acertian amount of income not be able to get welfare checks and if the get into trouble they should be sent back to where they came from.
 
Written By: frank
URL: http://
The War on Drugs is not as successful as hoped because our borders are as porous as a million sea sponges. Where do you think most drugs come from. They ain’t from inside the country. Not only do illegals bring drugs...they bring crime, disease and a wreckless disregard for American Laws. WE NEED TO ROUND EM’ UP AND SHIP EM’ OUT!

OFFENDED?

1-800-ADIOS
 
Written By: Kevin
URL: http://www.weneedafence.com
true that. securing the border is stupid, so is if we have war aganist it. immigrants ciome to the us look for a better life, not a life in jail. we are all immigrants, the real americans are the native americans way before others came from asia. we the people need some respect.
 
Written By: beatriz morocho
URL: http://
There are so many issues that need to be dealt with, check out the above for some insight into illegal immigration and the future of the US

http:upfrontandcenter.blogspot.com
 
Written By: The Chief
URL: http://upfrontandcenter.blogspot.com
Simply put, if they give amnesty to the law breakers I’m leaving the country. Even Jesse Ventura (you remember him, the x governor of Minnesota) said how crooked this country is anymore.
 
Written By: Don
URL: http://
I think that this is very interesting. I have more to say on this topic at a later time. Thank you
 
Written By: Natasha
URL: http://

 
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