Immigration crackdowns: federal versus state

Note: This blog post is a little blase about the stock versus flow distinction, namely, the distinction between immigrant numbers (the stock) and net immigration levels (the flow). I didn’t belabor the distinction because I don’t think the distinction was particularly relevant to any of the points I was making, but others might disagree.

Here’s a plausible theory that has emerged from recent blog posts and comments on this site, as well as other material I’ve read, regarding the effect of immigration crackdowns on illegal immigration at the federal and state levels:

  • Ceteris paribus, if a single US state cracks down on illegal immigration in that state, illegal immigrant numbers and proportions would tend to fall in that state. Most of this, however, would be to the detriment (from a restrictionist perspective; open borders advocates might call it “benefit” instead) of other US states: immigrants would move to the other states, and potential immigrants would find other states more attractive to settle in.
  • If, however, all states were to crack down on illegal immigration simultaneously, or if a federally coordinated crackdown were initiated, then the net downward effect on illegal immigrant numbers would be much lower than the effect for any single state, because the immigrants are less likely to leave the country than they are to move to neighboring states. In other words, estimates of the success at a national level of strong immigration enforcement based on their “success” in individual states are likely to lead to overly optimistic (from a restrictionist viewpoint) estimates of the decline in immigration levels and/or total immigrant numbers.

My main criticism of economic determinism (which says that immigration numbers are determined by economic trends rather than immigration policies), at least in the US context, has been that states that embraced immigration crackdowns saw their illegal immigrant numbers decline. At the same time, the numbers regarding overall cross-border migration flows seem to suggest that state-level immigration crackdowns were relatively insignificant in their effects on these flows. The above offers a possible reconciliation.

My co-blogger Nathan Smith, in his book Principles of a Free Society, says something similar in the context of a border fence to what I’ve just said about crackdowns (you can download the PDF or DOC of the immigration chapter from which I quote):

Experts like Douglas S. Massey insist that all the increases in immigration enforcement since the 1980s have failed not only to stop, but even to slow illegal immigration, and even that they have increased permanent illegal migration by making the alternative of seasonal migration more difficult. I find it hard to believe that enforcement has been that ineffective; yet there is an easy way to make sense of the claim. Border enforcement increases the cost, in money and hardship, of migrating, but that cost is still small compared to the value of migrating.

If U.S. GDP per capita is $46,400, while Mexico’s is $13,500, and if we assume the economic growth rate in both countries is about the same and the discount rate is 1% more than economic growth, the benefit of living in the U.S. rather than Mexico for a typical migrant might be on the order of $1.3 million. The rewards, then, may just be too large for the border enforcement measures applied so far to make much of a difference in the incentives for migration. […]

Economically, the United States is rather homogeneous: GDP per capita differs from state to state by a factor of two or less. For a prospective illegal immigrant, one way into the country may be about as good as another; but there is a strong incentive to get in somehow. If there is a fence at one point on the border, a rational migrant will go to another part of it. If there were a fence along the whole border, it would be time to go over or under or around. A person can get over a fence with ladders, or tunnel under it, go around it by boat through the Gulf of Mexico or up the Pacific Coast, or fly over it in a small plane, or perhaps even as a human cannonball with a parachute.

Although the thesis outlined above sounds prima facie plausible, I’m ambivalent about its truth. On the one hand, the substitution effect between states is closer than the substitution effect between countries, so that does point to a plausible reason why the “success” of enforcement measures in individual states would overstate their success if adopted simultaneously by all states, or if adopted through a federally coordinated initiative in which all states participated actively. On the other hand, if the measures were adopted in all states simultaneously, this might deter potential migrants to each individual state more because they know they have fewer fallback options. If Arizona alone had strong enforcement, a person might still migrate to Arizona, knowing that he/she could always escape to California if things got tough. If, however, Arizona and California both have strong enforcement, this makes Arizona even less attractive.

These conflicting effects mean that looking at state immigration crackdowns to predict the effects of an “all-state” or federal immigration crackdown is fraught with uncertainty both ways.

PS: Just to be clear, I think that measures being “successful” in the sense of reducing illegal immigrant numbers does not make them worth enacting (obviously, or I wouldn’t be posting this on an open borders blog). In fact, the very “success” of these measures might cause an adverse economic impact. Also, I think that the morality of many strong enforcement measures is questionable, though this is not the place to voice those concerns. The questions above are more about empirical predictions, not about prescribing a particular course of action.

Open borders advocates and private charity

This post is about an accusation of hypocrisy leveled at open borders advocates. For the philanthropic possibilities towards open borders, see possibilities for philanthropy towards achieving more migration and/or open borders.

Restrictionists have attacked open borders advocates in a number of ways, but one recurring theme in many attacks is the hypocritical private behavior of open borders advocates. Do open borders advocates donate their money to starving children in Africa? If not, what right do they have to advocate open borders, which, in the restrictionist view, impose costs on natives for gains to foreigners? For instance, john oester:

So following your own children analogy, do you feel it morally appropriate to hold back any funds to allow your own children to live at anything more than the basest subsistence level, including a lack of all luxuries from shoes to a college education, while other people’s children are starving throughout the world? If so, then your actions and irrational favoritism of your spawn, are allowing equally deserving children throughout the world to starve just so your children can have central air conditioning, a new winter coat, or other trapping of such a wasteful American lifestyle. I find you to be a monster that you can possibly sleep at night knowing how many children in Sudan could be saved today if you simply signed over your full paycheck to USAid without delay….the clock is ticking.

It would be tempting for open borders advocates to dismiss this as an ad hominem attack and choose not to reply. However, I think that the concerns raised about open borders advocates’ private hypocrisy need to be addressed, particularly given that many open borders advocates rely on their personal credibility to support their arguments.

Let me begin by pointing out that there are radical utilitarians who argue for affirmative moral obligations to give, not just some, but a lot of, one’s wealth to alleviating poverty and its ill-effects, including to people you may never see or know and who live in far-away lands. And they argue this seriously, not as a reductio ad absurdum or to accuse people of hypocrisy. The utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer has used the drowning child analogy to argue that we are morally obligated to donate a substantial amount of wealth toward poverty alleviation. Singer begins with an observation that most people would sign on to: if your donation can directly save a life for a minor inconvenience to you, you should make the donation. He then goes on to observe, however, that even after you have made the donation, you can make a further donation to save a life, and so on, and therefore you should keep donating until the overall inconvenience to you is sufficiently substantial that donating more is comparably inconvenient to letting a person die. This apparently simple logic has radical implications for how much individuals should donate to poverty alleviation, as per Singer.

Libertarians like me take issue with this consequentialist utilitarian analysis, primarily on the grounds that donating to charity is supererogatory, so even in cases where it saves lives, it is not morally required (for more on my reasoning, see here and here). I would also add that there are a lot of local knowledge and information problems with figuring out what charities do how much good and why. Continue reading “Open borders advocates and private charity” »

Deportation, assimilation, and Piers Morgan

I recently came to learn about a petition to the White House to deport UK citizen Piers Morgan from the United States. The petition has been the subject of news articles on BBC (UK), Business Insider (US) and has even earned a mention on Piers Morgan’s Wikipedia page (permalink to current version of page).

In case you’re wondering what this is about, Piers Morgan is a UK citizen currently working in the United States for CNN (a news network). On a show that he hosted, he made some disparaging and deprecatory comments about gun rights. The petition argues that these comments constitute an attack on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and that Morgan should be deported for this hostile action. Here’s the full text of the petition:

British Citizen and CNN television host Piers Morgan is engaged in a hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment. We demand that Mr. Morgan be deported immediately for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights and for exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens.

Although some might dismiss the petition as a mere publicity stunt, I think it’s illustrative of a number of things related to immigration and restrictionist concerns about immigrants’ failure to assimilate. The stereotype of the “failed to assimilate” immigrant in the minds of many is an unskilled worker who doesn’t know English and doesn’t have the right skin color. Even VDARE, which tends to oppose immigration in all shapes and forms, can be sympathetic to the plight of English-speaking immigrants from the UK who are pursuing higher education — Lauren Bell is a case in point.

But the deportation petition for Piers Morgan, a person who meets all the outward criteria for assimilation — English-speaking, well-educated (with a college degree according to Wikipedia), high-skilled, high-earning, and looks just like an ordinary American (in terms of skin complexion) — reveals that concerns about assimilation and the foreignness of immigrants are more than just skin deep. Despite the outward markers of assimilation, Morgan’s hostility to the American tradition of the Second Amendment is reason enough for him to be deported, the First Amendment notwithstanding.

To see this, consider what would happen if a US citizen (of any race or ethnicity) had made statements similar to those that Morgan did. Morgan’s opponents would likely have called for his employer to fire him, for advertisers and viewers to boycott his shows, or even for people to flood CNN with angry letters against Morgan. But one thing they wouldn’t have suggested was deportation. And, in fact, there are lots of US citizens who have expressed sentiments similar to Morgan. Angry denunciations of gun rights in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting have been quite common.

Despite the fact that most Americans’ commitment to free speech is largely lip service (see the State of the First Amendment surveys and judge for yourself), it is still true that Americans, generally speaking, accept (resignedly) that their opponents, however abominable these opponents may seem, have legal rights to free speech and the only legitimate tools to counter them are by peacefully urging their employers, advertisers, supporters, and viewers to not give them a platform — i.e., by more speech, and by the exercise of the rights of association and exclusion. When it comes to foreigners, however, disagreement is a sign of failure of assimilation and of not being fit to live in the country, and there is a tool to deal with dissident foreigners that would never be used to deal with equally obnoxious citizens — government coercion in the form of forced deportation.

PS: For those wondering whether constitutional protections such as the First Amendment apply only to citizens, the answer is that these protections apply to all people in the territory of the United States. Here’s a quote from a paper discussing the issue (quote from Page 370, HT: Chris):

The Constitution does distinguish in some respects between the rights of citizens and noncitizens: the right not to be discriminatorily denied the vote and the right to run for federal elective office are expressly restricted to citizens. All other rights, however, are written without such a limitation. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection guarantees extend to all “persons.” The rights attaching to criminal trials,including the right to a public trial, a trial by jury, the assistance of a lawyer, and the right to confront adverse witnesses, all apply to “the accused.” And both the First Amendment’s protections of political and religious freedoms and the Fourth Amendment’s protection of privacy and liberty apply to “the people.” [emphasis mine]

PS2: Anti-immigration site VDARE has a piece by Washington Watcher on Piers Morgan titled Deport Piers Morgan—Along With About 8 Million Hispanic Immigrants?

PS3: I forgot to mention this in the main post, but I’ve written previously about the morality of viewpoint-based immigration restrictions in a blog post titled free speech absolutism versus viewpoint-based immigration restrictions.

PS4: A legal expert offers an opinion, saying that Piers Morgan’s remarks cannot be used to deport him as per US law.

Legal and illegal immigration: complements or substitutes?

The question of predicting what will happen under open borders involves trying to make predictions both about legal (authorized) migration flows and about illegal (unauthorized) migration flows. In this post, I’ll be discussing immigration mainly to attractive immigrant destinations such as the US. Also, for simplicity, I will gloss over the distinction between temporary and long-run migration, although your predictions may differ for these two categories.

Open borders advocates, restrictionists, and economic determinists would be led to different predictions by their different theoretical frameworks for understanding migration:

  1. The hardline economic determinist holds that migration levels are determined, not by the laws for and against migration, but by economic conditions. According to the hardline economic determinist, then, the total amount of migration under open borders would remain roughly the same as under the status quo, but probably a lot of currently “illegal” migration would become legal. In this view, there is one-to-one substitutability between legal and illegal immigrants. While I doubt that too many people are hardline economic determinists, this is a plausible reading of some of their writings, such as this post by Hein de Haas and this article by Jagdish Bhagwati.
  2. Most open borders advocates, as well as moderate economic determinists, hold that under more open borders, the total amount of migration will increase, and the level of illegal immigration will decrease (to near-zero levels — i.e., in the few thousands — under open borders), but the increase in legal immigration levels would more than offset this decline. In other words, legal immigration does substitute for illegal immigration, but it’s not a one-to-one substitutability and total levels of migration are affected by migration policies. For those who take double world GDP estimates as serious, this is the position that is most consistent with such estimates.
  3. Some restrictionists, however, have argued that increases in legal immigration could lead to increases in, or at any rate are unlikely to lead to decreases in, illegal immigration. An article by Washington Watcher for VDARE titled Legal Si, Illegal No? The Treason Lobby Says Immigration Is Inevitable So We Should “Relax And Enjoy It” makes this kind of argument (though it is not central to the post). Washington Watcher first concedes that under truly open borders, illegal immigration would drop to near-zero levels, but still argues that for a halfway solution (considerably expanded, but not unlimited, legal immigration) the quantity of illegal immigration would increase. Washington Watcher identifies two relevant phenomena — camouflage (whereby large quantities of legal migration make illegal migrants less conspicuous) and chain migration (where legal migrants are able to assist friends/relatives in migrating illegally, something that would not be possible if the legal migrants weren’t in the destination country in the first place). The relevant paras:

    A writer I know once had the chance to ask Griswold just how many visas we should give out. He replied that we should give the same number of additional visas to the total number of illegal aliens and that would satisfy demand.

    But this would not stop illegal immigration—in fact. it would increase it.

    Why? One reason is “Say’s Law” , one of the classic economic doctrines. It states that supply creates its own demand. With an unlimited supply of cheap labor, many jobs that would not exist in an advanced economy exist anyway. For example, in Third World countries, someone making what would be considered a middle class income in America can afford several servants. Because labor is more expensive in the U.Ss, servants only work for the very wealthy. But if labor prices went down, more people would hire servants. For the same reason, cheap labor undercuts the development of labor-saving technological innovations.

    Legal immigration also makes it easier for illegal aliens to live in America without detection. In 1960, 99% of the population outside of the Southwest was White or African American. Were it not for the fact that we admitted legal Braceros, then a farmer with hundreds of Mexican laborers would obviously be hiring illegal aliens. But the legal Braceros allowed for the illegal alien Mexican workers to blend in.

    Most illegal aliens would not even think of coming here to begin with were it not for legal immigration. When a Third World peasant sees that a friend or family member who came here legally can live a relatively extravagant lifestyle, they are going to want to come too—regardless of whether they can get a legal visa.

    Finally, there are a lot of people who have no intention of coming into this country illegally, either because they come from law-abiding societies and respect our laws too and/or they are falsely concerned that they might be deported or be unable to get a job.

Which of these comes closest to reality? I’m inclined to support (2), but then, that’s where my bias lies. I think that the phenomena observed by Washington Watcher in support of (3) are real and genuine phenomena, but I don’t think that these would be quantitatively sufficient to override the effects of (2). Particularly in the context of the United States, considering that the US already has large numbers of people of different ethnicities, camouflage is already almost fully operational, and so the marginal gains in camouflage through additional legal migration are probably not too high.

That being said, the phenomena observed by Washington Watcher might be important in the context of a country that has extremely closed borders, like Japan, to the point that there could be a significant increase in camouflage effects through increases in legal migration. If, for instance, Japan allowed substantially more legal migration from Vietnam, then the camouflage and chain migration effects might lead to more illegal migration from Vietnam as well.

How opponents of immigration on the left and right differ: territorialism versus citizenism

Post by Vipul Naik (regular blogger and site founder, launched site and started blogging March 2012). See:

Alex Nowrasteh recently tweeted criticisms of open borders from two fronts: Daniel Costa of the progressive Economic Policy Institute in a blog post titled On International Migrants Day, remember that guest worker programs aren’t the solution for immigration reform and Mark Krikorian of the center-right Center for Immigration Studies in a piece on National Review titled Black Unemployment: Just Don’t Mention the Immigration!

So I read both pieces. What struck me (and I also tweeted this) was that a quick reading of the articles wouldn’t reveal clearly which one was coming from a progressive/left-leaning perspective and which one was coming from a right-leaning/conservative perspective. Superficially, both arguments fell under what Bryan Caplan might dismiss as the master race argument — the idea that low-skilled natives are the ultimate interest group who should be given special preference in any policy discussion. It’s not my place here to critique this line of argument (though, if you’re interested, Nathan Smith blogged about teens and immigrants a while back, and Alex Nowrasteh had a critique of a related CIS study several years ago).

The point I want to make is that, despite the superficial similarity in the two pieces, there is one important difference, which I think is the key difference between the left-wing/progressive segment of opposition to open borders and the right-wing/conservative segment of opposition to open borders. Namely, progressive opponents of open borders tend to be influenced by a mix of territorialism and local inequality aversion. Their sphere of moral concern includes everybody who is within the geographical territory of their country, including citizens and non-citizens, and including both legal and illegal immigrants. And, in addition to being concerned about the absolute status of these people, progressive opponents of immigration are also concerned about inequality within the territory. As Arnold Kling notes in his three axes theory, the distinguishing feature of progressives (compared to conservatives and libertarians) tends to be their tendency to give more importance to the oppressor-oppressed axis (I’ve also written about why I find this sort of folk Marxism unconvincing, even when it is ostensibly pro-open borders). Combining a focus on the oppressor-oppressed axis with territorialism and local inequality aversion produces the kinds of proposals and concerns that Costa raised in his EPI blog post. Explicitly, it generally involves a combination of a path to citizenship, stricter enforcement, strong laws against worker exploitation, and an immigration policy designed to benefit currently low-skilled natives.

Anti-immigration individuals on the center-right, which probably includes all the hardcore restrictionist groups from CIS to VDARE and anti-immigration voices in more mainstream conservative outlets, are more likely to favor citizenism instead of territorialism. They are more likely to favor policies that explicitly discriminate in favor of current citizens. Immigrants and non-citizens who happen to reside within the geographic territory do not get the special status that citizens do, and in so far as they crossed borders illegally, it is considered moral to deport them. As per Kling’s three axes, center-right individuals are likely to be more focused on concerns of civilization versus barbarism, and while the alien invasion metaphor is probably an exaggeration, basic concern about how illegal immigration undermines the rule of law adds to the general worries about the harms created by immigration. Thus, center-right restrictionists are more likely to favor reform proposals that include attrition through enforcement and stronger border security while simultaneously reducing future levels of legal immigration, and while they are not completely averse to a path to citizenship, they would probably insist that it be restricted to a very special subclass (for instance, Mark Krikorian has expressed support for a version of the DREAM Act, but not the current version being passed around).

All in all, the main difference between progressive restrictionists and center-right restrictionists lies in how they want to deal with the illegal immigrants already here. Generally, restrictionists in both camps agree that future immigration levels need to be cut down or tailored to the interests of low-skilled natives, that enforcement (both at the border and in the interior) needs to be stricter, and that large-scale guest worker programs create more problems than they solve. Nonetheless, the differences between these two groups present unique challenges to those who are trying to come up with keyhole solutions. A keyhole solution that denies a path to citizenship, or walls off eligibility to the welfare state, might appeal somewhat to some (but not all) center-right restrictionists, but would be taken very negatively by progressive restrictionists.

A quick final note: I don’t mean to suggest that anybody who subscribes to citizenism or territorialism must necessarily be a restrictionist. Open borders do benefit many citizens, and keyhole solutions can be devised that help make them a win-win for the vast majority of citizens and those living in the geographical territory (as an example, see Nathan Smith’s DRITI proposal, or his blog post the citizenist case for open borders). Progressive restrictionists concerned about a path to citizenship might nonetheless come to the conclusion that expanded guest worker programs, despite their ills, and despite the lack of a path to citizenship, are still an improvement over the status quo. While I personally think of both citizenism and territorialism as morally flawed, there is no prima facie inconsistency between adopting these stances and supporting considerably freer migration than the status quo allows.