At a basic level, the complaint checks out: the US citizenry have preferred lower immigration levels than their political representatives. Setting aside whether this is a valid argument against open borders, it’s still interesting to ask why there is such a disconnect. My general theory is that when politicians support an unpopular policy consistently, the probable reason is that they know that the medium-to-long-term consequences of supporting the unpopular policy more than compensate for the short term damage. A politician might choose to turn a blind eye to illegal immigration because he/she thinks that the increased economic growth that would result from that, or the goodwill generated with immigrant citizens and their sympathizers, more than offset the unpopularity of the policies. Some of these benefits to the politicians are inherently zero-sum (more votes to one politician means less for the other) and don’t really constitute “benefits” of immigration in a global sense. Other benefits, such as greater economic growth, if true, do constitute benefits of immigration that the politicians may be able to see more clearly than their bosses at the voting booth (i.e., the citizenry).
Below are some of the thoughts I have about the talk and about Vargas’ views. [Caution: Since I didn’t take written notes or tape the talk, I might have misremembered some of Vargas’ statements]
Vargas spent a lot of his time talking about (illegal) immigrant rights, or about the plight of immigrants. But he spent very little time talking about immigration rights. Overall, his expressed moral philosophy seemed pretty territorialist — people don’t have a right to immigrate, but once they’ve done so, they acquire various rights and privileges, and become part of the moral sphere of natives. In Q&A, Vargas did say that he also supports expanded immigration rights for immigrants at all skill levels, but this wasn’t even mentioned (as far as I could make out) in his main talk. As the creator of the Open Borders website, I find the moral imbalance jarring. Of course, it’s possible that, as Bryan Caplan puts it, Vargas was simply engaging in understatement. But I wish he’d openly asked the question: Who’s worse off, somebody who foregoes the huge place premium of migration, or somebody who gets in, then has to put up with a low probability of deportation and harassment?
In fact, the various videos that Vargas showed seemed, to me at least ,decidedly un-sympathy-inducing. He showed the video below (or some variation of it) to indicate the plight of immigrants:
But in a world where large numbers of people are poor partly because of immoral restrictions on their right to migrate, the plight of the people depicted in the video hardly seems the worst thing in the world.
To be fair to Vargas, he did concede that he was better off immigrating to the United States. In fact, he admitted that both his mother and his grandfather agreed to have him sent to the United States, despite the risks of being undocumented, because they felt that even with those risks, he would have a better life in the United States than being documented in the Phillippines. And it seems, judging from his success as a journalist and now as an immigrant rights activist, that their judgment was correct. What Vargas didn’t do, though, was go the next step and say that immigration rights are a bigger issue than immigrant rights.
Restrictionists like Krikorian view the “natural” state of the labor market as one with no immigrants. Thus, if large scale immigration increases the supply of labor in a particular labor market, Krikorian refers to this as an “artificially loose labor market” which he in turn blames for the suppression of wages of natives and slowdown in technological progress. This isn’t to suggest that Krikorian isn’t open to allowing immigration when it is helpful, but rather, he views any immigration as a distortion of labor markets that needs justification. Quotes are included below the fold.
On the other hand, moderate open borders advocates such as Riley, as well as more radical open borders advocates like Lant Pritchett, view local labor markets as inherently embedded in global labor markets, and the “efficient” state as one with relatively unrestricted labor mobility. To Riley, then, it is immigration restrictions that constitute a distortion of the labor market. Again, this is not to suggest that Riley would not be open to immigration restrictions under any circumstances, but rather, he would view them as a distortion of the labor markets that would need to be justified on other grounds. Quotes are included below the fold.
As the titles make clear, Krikorian (director of the “low immigration, pro immigrant” Center for Immigration Studies) wants immigration reduced, while Riley (a Wall Street Journal writer) wants it increased.
Nonetheless, I was struck by the similarities between the books:
Both books consider immigration from a highly US-specific perspective
Both books make moderate appeals to the United States of America’s founding virtues, but not so much as to distract or irritate people who aren’t impressed by these kinds of appeals.
Both book are politically centrist, in that they try to appeal to values held by (US) Americans within one standard deviation on either side of the political center. The books aren’t trying to appeal to libertarians or communists, but rather to people who are reasonably comfortable with the concept of free markets and with government intervention where justified.
The post was originally published at the Cato@Liberty blog here and is reproduced with permission from the author.
Under current law unauthorized immigrant spouses or children of U.S. citizens can gain lawful permanent residency (LPR) status if they return to their home country to apply at a U.S. consulate or embassy. The Catch-22 is that unauthorized immigrants who have lived here are barred from returning for up to ten years once they leave the U.S. The immigrant has to apply for an unlawful presence waiver to remove the bar, a process that could take up to 28 months, including appeals, separating the immigrant from his U.S. family in the mean time. Consequently, many unauthorized immigrants who could regularize their status do not take this opportunity.
The government is now asking for comments on a proposed rule change that would close part of that administrative Catch-22. Under the proposed rule an unauthorized immigrant could apply for and adjudicate the waiver before departing for interviews in consulates abroad, shortening the separation time between the immigrant and his family. Half of waivers are approved in seven days at the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The other half can take years.
The waiver removes the bar on returning if the immigrant can show that “being separated from their U.S. citizen spouse or parent would cause that U.S. citizen relative extreme hardship.” Extreme hardship only applies to the migrant’s U.S. citizen spouse or parent, not to the immigrant himself or his U.S.-citizen children. Extreme hardship is determined by USCIS bureaucrats where relevant factors include the intensity of family ties, health, age, financial impact, and country conditions. Financial problems and the normal hardship of familial separations are not, by themselves, sufficient reasons to grant a waiver.