Facing the immigration question

Andrew Samwick had an extremely thoughtful post this weekend.

Samwick’s comments (which I’ll get to shortly) called to mind an incident that occurred to me a quarter century ago. I was on a vacation trip from Denver to Hawaii, which required me to change planes in Los Angeles. While walking through the terminal at LAX, I passed a group of twenty people who were trying to help a very frightened woman. The woman was tearful and quite distressed, but spoke no English. The group was trying to find out what had happened to her. A man from the group called out urgently to those in the terminal, “does anyone here speak Spanish?” I went over and offered to help.

The woman told me she was from Guatemala, and had been with a group on a plane that wasn’t even supposed to disembark in L.A. She had decided to make a run for it to seek a life in the U.S. She’d only been able to escape from her group by abandoning literally everything– she had no coat, no handbag, not even shoes. What did she want, I asked? “To work,” she answered. She could clean, anything for anyone who would help her live here.

The group of people all looked at me, waiting for the translation. “What did she say,” they asked. “What happened to her?”

I honestly did not know what to do. The woman was in fact trying to enter the country illegally, and was seeking my help to break the law. On the other hand, she was taking tremendous risks to try to find a better life– who could fault her for that? On top of all that, I myself had a plane to catch in half an hour, so it’s not clear how much I could do, even if I knew what I should do.

I’m curious whether any of my readers have a clearer notion than I did of what is the moral thing to do in a situation like this. Do you turn her in? Do you help her find somebody’s house to clean? Or do you do what I in fact did, shrug to the group, tell them she wants a job, and walk on to my own plane?

Source: VoxBaby

I bring this up now because, even without a plane to catch, I’m still not sure what is the right thing to do. Although I understand the controversies about the economic costs and benefits about immigration, I am personally persuaded that the recent magnitude of the immigration into the U.S. has had some undesirable consequences, such as depressing the wages of lower-skilled native-born Americans and raising the costs of social services. But even if you are convinced of that, it’s not clear where you tackle the problem. Like Andrew Samwick, I have no desire at all to punish the baby in this picture.

So where do you begin? Here are Samwick’s suggestions:

I would start with extreme fines for employers caught violating the law–fines that are several orders of magnitude greater than any economic benefit that could be gained by hiring illegals at a lower wage than citizens. This applies to large employers and household employment of domestic workers alike. My next targets would be the smugglers who bring illegals to this country and anyone found forging documents that establish citizenship. Jail time, severe and mandatory. I think that laws to deny illegal immigrants access to driver’s licenses and other non-essential benefits of citizenship are generally a good idea….

There are two more steps we can take. The first is to work on the border. I have no problem with fences. I am willing to pay taxes to support the increases in border security required to keep as many illegals out as possible. Let the problem get no worse than it currently is. The second is to increase the limits on legal immigration.

Some thoughtful proposals from Professor Samwick. Maybe he also knows what I should have done with that poor woman from Guatemala.

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56 thoughts on “Facing the immigration question

  1. Outsider

    A Walmart in Arizona reports a 70% drop in sales when the boarder is tightened. Mexicans could no longer cross the boarder to shop.
    7,000 tons of produce was left unpicked in North San Diego County because not enough legal labor was found (The area is next to a Marine base, and some illegals may be terrorists.)
    For the past 150 years, most economists are said to agree that immigration benifits both countries.
    While true that some social services are rendered by the U.S. most of the money would be spent anyway staffing the hospitals. The staff works harder and spends more on tests and sutures etc…a seemingly minor concern though I have no data to back this up.
    As I was trained in such a setting to be culturally competent, the short version of treating people of Mexican descent was to assume that their pain was higher than they would report, and their injuries also worse. Also to hammer to them the necessity to complete the medical program (treatments, antibiotics etc.} since you had to prepare for the “I’m strong. I only need half the treatment” attitude. This may train the infecting organism to withstand the antibiotics given due to truncated use. This implies they would not abuse our system.
    Add the cost of a growing bureaucracy to build walls, the growing violence and danger of boarder crossings, the bad will of “us vs. them” that can only create police problems.
    So, Hey! leave alone.

  2. Joseph

    James, that was a very poignant story. There are no easy answers when you are personally confronted with the contradictions in a complicated political issue.
    Certainly fines or even prison sentences for illegal employers would be the most logical solution. It is a lot easier to police some thousands of illegal employers than 10 million illegal immigrants and the deterrent effect of even a few prosecutions is much higher. But the fact that politicians won’t take this logical step indicates that the latest immigration law proposal is just cheap demagoguery.
    A guest worker program is no solution as Europe has found to their dismay. It just creates a permanent class of disgruntled, low paid workers who have few rights and no stake in the community. For the government to codify such a caste system would be a drastic change in the sensibility of the American spirit. It would be a step backward toward the inequality of the pre-Civil War South.
    If America has such a compelling need for people to grow their food, clean their toilets and build their homes then they should be willing to offer them citizenship. Increasing legal immigration quotas can also ameliorate the economic effects of an aging population.
    The federal government should also provide more economic assistance in the border states for the social costs of immigration. Immigration should be a federal issue not a state issue.

  3. Anonymous

    (…)and raising the costs of social services(…)
    i pick that up….one should try as much as possible to look at the whole picture, perhaps accounting for the long run consequences in term of demographics.
    it is known that immigration in the US (including the greater birth rate of immigrants from latin amercia) clearly supports america’s population growth.

  4. Davey

    They come to find work, mostly, and some surely come for medical care. It is, largely, a business decision that leads them here. We need to increase the cost of being captured. Currently, if we catch an illegal, they are picked up and sent back across the border. It costs them a few days and whatever they paid the coyote to lead them into the U.S.
    If we caught them and sent them, including the woman with her baby, off to a “processing camp” and basically held them there for 6 months, that would go a long ways towards deterring illegal entry. They would be taken care of; fed, given medical care, sanitary facilities and a nice tent in the desert, but no wages or Telemundo for six months. Six months without money to send back home to the family would raise the cost considerably and hopefully slow the influx.

  5. jim miller

    The debate ignores the root of the problem: Mexicans leave their homes because Mexico sucks. Mexicans do not want to leave their country, culture,friends and family. They do it because they want to eat,have a job,and send their kids to school.
    How is it that the country with the most billionaires per capita (except for Switzerland), with one of the world’s largest oil production, silver,gold, phosphates, fishing grounds, cannot educate their children? Why do people live in garbage dumps and ride donkeys for everyday transportation?
    The U.S. needs to be much more assertive in getting Mexico to clean up its act. When Mexicans believe they have a satisfactory life in Mexico they will remain in Mexico.
    This is a long term approach but once done it will end the problem. Then,the U.S. and Mexico can turn their attention to Guatemala and the others.
    We live in Guadalajara. I know of what I speak.

  6. Fred

    Samwick says: “There are two more steps we can take. The first is to work on the border. I have no problem with fences. I am willing to pay taxes to support the increases in border security required to keep as many illegals out as possible….. ”
    As I heard some comedian ask, who is going to build the fence?

  7. Rick

    We should legalize the illegals that are currently here. We should open our borders further and encourage more immigration. We should scorn the racist, arrogant, entitlement minded individuals who would keep them out. Immigrants are good for the economy. They can only pay taxes if they are legalized(and we can sure use a little extra tax revenue). And it’s the right thing to do. If we’re so worried about low skilled/income immigrants hitting the social welfare payrolls maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at how those programs work.

  8. T.R. Elliott

    If life were simple, I suppose there’d be nothing to do all day long. Everything would work perfectly. Nothing would happen. It would be boring.
    Regarding immigration: I’d start with a few basic principles. First, an individual story or case, such as the woman in the airport, is saddening. Unfortunately, one doesn’t even know if the story is true. In other words, citizens cannot and should not willy-nilly work to grant or support illegal immigration. A process for immigration must be defined. And followed.
    So I guess that’s my somewhat heartless once removed (since I wasn’t there) reaction to the woman in the airport: procedures must be followed. There are a million sob stories when you walk out of the airport in Bangalore, for example. Hordes of children lined up waiting for help. I can’t help them all.
    Granted, we could live in a Kafka-esque bureaucratic nightmare in which the only way to achieve any good end is to deviate from the rules. But I think we have to follow the law. And then there should be penalties for those who don’t follow the law. Defining the border is also important. Globalization may be increasing, but the nation state does and will continue to exist. Borders must be controlled in all senses of the word. The more I think about it, the more I think that trade should be controlled. Not prevented. But whether it be immigration, or trade of goods and services, I think the unregulated market can produce imbalances that can be reduced through regulation (the intent to prevent imbalances from developing in the first place). I think the cureregulationis better than the diseaseimbalances. Except I don’t trust these idiotic politicians to implement a cure. That’s a whole different issue. (I believe without sensible cure’s though, in times populism will lead to irrational “cure”s that will lead to greater imbalances).
    So I’m all for regulating the borders. Immigration is an imbalance problem. The border must be regulated, and from a probabilistic sense, we need to take measures that meet cost, effectiveness, and humanitarian objectives to regulate the border. Perhaps it will take the form of a fence. I’m not sure.
    Second, I agree with the idea of penalties for those who draw upon illegal immigrants. I’m increasingly unwilling to believe that the US can export a standard of living to the rest of the world. I’m just not sure that the law of supply and demand will work in our favor, or perhaps in anyone’s favor. I’m not sure. But the idea that the US should accept illegal immigrants because it might export a standard of living to the rest of the worlde.g. sending money back homeis not tenable in my mind. Immigration should be based upon need in this country, based upon inflationary expectationsunemploymentand similar matters. I think the populations of the world, including Mexico and the USmust learn to live within their means. Trade (e.g. comparative advantage) and immigration and capital flows can be used to help this process. But I think countries must help themselves. And define paths towards sustainability in some sense.
    I agree with the posters who say that the incentives for illegal immigrants outweigh the penalties. The answer is not to create a humanitarian nightmare of human cattle in the desert. It’s ugly. And it’s just a buffering mechanism. Either you make it to the US, or you hang out in camp “free food and health care” for whatever time period. I understand the need for penalties. I just don’t agree that this particular penalty will work.
    We might consider creating incentives for the countries that are the source of the immigration to take action on their side. I’m not entirely sure this would work. But if the elite in other countriespolitical or otherwisedetermine that there are costs to them personallye.g. financial coststhen it’s possible the source of the problem can be addressed.
    But as with the drug war, the problem is demand. Supply will always find a way to meet demand. In the case of illegal immigration, we should be working on the demand side right now. The supply of potential immigrants is endless in principle (e.g. just consider the population of India and China), though limited by practical considerations (the open border to the south is a major problem).
    Finally, the question about those who reside here now. By and large, I think those who have been here for a while must be grandfathered in. Perhaps certain principles will be taken into account and some exclusion will hold. Commit a crime and you are an illegal? Across the border you go.
    In summary, the demand must be addressed. And when I consider the supply and demand of labor, I can’t but believe that illegal immigrants, the world’s poverty in general, would overwhelm the supply of jobs and thereby push wages lower than we find acceptable in this country.
    I think illegal immigration, and more generally this idea of a race to the bottom in terms of outsourcing, is currently a means to sweep under the rug imbalances and non-sustainable practices that will not work in the long run. I think they rely on economic growth to metaphorically clean up the loose ends. If energy costs continue to escalate, as I see possible, real economic growth will suffer and I think these imbalances will no longer be sustainable–at least at the political level.

  9. Robert Cote

    It is profoundly immoral for the US to continue to tolerate the constant dimunition of the very best, brightest and most productive human capital our neighbors to the south can offer. By allowing these people to contribute their efforts to our quality of life we are condemning yet another generation in the lands they leave behind to lives of squallor and oppression. The only moral thing to do is to say no to these illegal activities and help prevent these people from making things worse in their homelands.
    Allowing our neigbors to dump, excuse me, export, their social unrest institutionalizes their dysfunctional governance and economy. The only morally supportable course of action is stop out current exploitive worker policies and complicity in propping up corrupt international practices.
    Our moral course is clear but there exist powerful undercurrents of racism that wish to allow the current situation to persist.

  10. ken melvin

    Mexico is long since a failed state. Now, their failure is bringing down the US. If the US employment to population ratio is ~65% and 11 million of these employed are illegals then the employment to population ratio of US citizens is ~62% and the real unemployment rate of US citizens is ~12%. In a sense it began with the replacement of unionized meat packers in the 80s. For the ~11 million illegals holding jobs 11 million US poor are unemployed and those who do have a job are working for about half what they should be paid. Illegal immigration has the same effect as off shoring.

  11. T.R. Elliott

    Another point: I think the rhetoric of this issue should drop the racist terminology which is used to pretend some moral edge in the argument, which doesn’t exist. We find people on both sides of the aisle–pro and con immigration–who use the language of racism to make their points.
    The language of racism is a tool in the rhetorical toolkit that is often pulled out but is not part of the solution. Racism does exist, and I think there is a racist component to the arguments against immigration into the US.
    But it should be addressed as an economic issue, which I think does include issues of class. The world is not and never will be ready for open borders. Whether for political or economic reasons, there are motivations for large numbers of people to immigrate if given the opportunity. In the present case, it is the open border on the South that gives an unfair advantage to those from Latin America. I think this unfair advantage–a distortion–should be removed.

  12. pgl

    My personal experience was teaching abroad in a nation that never quite got my immigration status quite right nor seemed to care. And at the time, this nation faced higher unemployment that we do today. I returned to Calfornia just in time for that nasty Prop 197 garbage, which I opposed. If foreign nations can treat me as an asset and not a criminal, maybe we can do the same for Latin Americans who want a better life.

  13. Robert Cote

    “…nasty Prop 197 garbage, which I opposed.
    Prop 187 and it wasn’t “nasty.” From the text:
    …to prevent illegal aliens in the United States from receiving benefits or public services in the State of California.
    This wasn’t about denying emergency medical or obviating protection of their individual rights, just benefits bestowed upon citizens. An example of those kinds of abuses abound in Mexico where their treatment of even suspected illegal aliens involve clear human rights abuses.
    Prop 187 was no more odious than Disneyland requiring you show a ticket at the entrance.

  14. Rick

    T.R. makes a good point about the racist tagline. I’ll happily remove it from my commentary but allow descriptions like entitlement minded and arrogant to remain. I’ll add fearful to the description of those who oppose open immigration. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.” If that doesn’t make you proud of your country, what will? The fact that so many outsiders see great opportunity here is encouraging to me when clearly so many who are already here are seeing things so dismally.

  15. Tom

    To answer the lady with the sign:
    The real question is that when the United States government enforces its laws and sends you back are you going to take your baby with you or will you leave your baby here?

  16. dryfly

    This issue is a lost cause… its time to face the realities & ‘merge’ the two countries… its happening defact so might as well be recognized… Viva El Anschlus.
    BTW I am NOT Latino – don’t speak a lick of Spanish but I’m done living this lie. Its time to face the realities & manage it rather than just let it happen.

  17. tom

    What is James “security at our ports” Hamilton’s position on security at our borders when thousands can cross the border illegally with zero percent inspection?

  18. Anonymous

    Robert – thanks for noting it was 187 not 197 (guess I’m too deep in tax code nonsense today or whatever). I’ll concede that Prop 187 is not as bad as what just passed the U.S. House, but it really turned off a lot of folks here in Los Angeles. Of course, not enough to get 500,000 to march into the downtown district at the same time.

  19. Robert Cote

    Oil wealth, tremendous natural resources, varied climate, diverse population, nominal democracy, motivated workforce, international ties and respect, Western values and rich history. Why isn’t Mexico a leading nation? The only reason I can think of is lure of the North. IOW it is the US’s fault. I am ashamed and think it is long overdue that we stop our explicit and implicit polices that result in the dimunition of their workforce and fracturing of their society.

  20. Z

    Prof Hamilton,
    If it were not for dollar hegemony and overvaluation, will the living standard of the US population be so high? Will people from outside US be tempted to come here?
    The number one driving factor in immigration is “same labour, disparate living standards”.
    Why is immigration control not an immoral thing? Like slavery? If there is a buyer and seller of labour, why should they be not able to transact across boundaries?
    All the reasons about security and depressing wages are in fact about one unspoken thing – the rentier status enjoyed by some, which allows for an inflated wage and living standard.
    Someone that enjoys unfair advantage is not going to give it up easily – they’ll fight tooth and nail to preserve it. So politics will channel their fight. Thats expected.
    Re: depressed wages, the question should not be “Why is walmart paying low wages?”. It should be “Why are the services needed by a Walmart employee – attorney, doctor, professor, dentist – so expensive relative to his wages?”. Restricted immigration of doctors, professors, etc.

  21. Andrew Samwick

    Thank you for the kind comments about my post.
    Given the usual statements we economists make about economic efficiency being achieved when resources are allocated to their most productive uses as measured by their marginal revenue products, I think you made the right choice to catch your plane–and also to wonder about it 25 years later.

  22. Rick

    Robert Cote: I’m not insightful enough to determine whether you are being facetious in your description of Mexico. If you’re not, it’s worth looking at the role of overwhelming corruption as a contribution to their lack of world economic leadership. If your ambition is to deny individuals the right to improve their current state in order to accomplish the overarching improvement of their birthplace society as a whole, I think you’re betraying the very principles which are likely to lead to that improvement.

  23. odograph

    I live in a California beach city. Inland from my house is a partially hispanic community. I sometimes go to the supermercado, the carniceria, the panederia … and why not? A mile from where I live there is a ~180 year old Spanish adobe. Why shouldn’t I be comfortable hearing Spanish spoke in my neighborhood? It’s been that way a long time.
    All that is really to say I don’t get the emotional wavelenght of the current anti-immigration forces. Maybe they have a different experience?
    I wonder if it relates to economic fear, and an underlying bubble in the US economy. Would prosperous people, people with high confidence in economic growth, choose immigration as their “hot button” issue?

  24. Robert Cote

    “Robert Cote: I’m not insightful enough to determine whether you are being facetious in your description of Mexico.
    No, I’m serious about listing all their natural advantages. Do you disagree with any? Nevertheless, I agree with your assessment about Mexico’s corruption. Question back; Why the persistent corruption? I posit it stems from our immoral (IMHO) policy of decanting of their best and brightest for our benefit. If these hard working, ambitious people in their peak working and/or productivity years were in Mexico the necessary changes would be inevitable. The ruling class of Mexico -needs- the US social relief valve option to continue their exploitative policies.
    I’ll expand in the other direction. The only rerason we have gangs of illegal aliens picking strawberries 800 yards from where I post is because of Luddism. Without low cost labor our agricultural industries would have automated decades ago. I’d much rather pay for a GPS engineer, robot sales and support team and civil engineer at $90k/yr each to pick the berries than what we do now. What about picking strawberries has bypassed the last centuries’ advances in automation? Ans: Politics.

  25. Rick

    Robert, I give you credit for looking at the issue from a somewhat unique perspective. I’m not nearly bright enough to debate your point on a theoretical level. From a pragmatic standpoint, however, if I’m the guy with the machine gun guarding our new “fence” and there is a kid trying to cross the border because he can earn enough on our side to feed his brothers and sisters who are picking through manure to find an undigested kernel of corn to eat on his side, I’m putting down the gun and helping him accross.

  26. Davey

    Mr. Cote:
    I’m having a difficult time, for a couple of reasons, grasping your point that American policies are “…profoundly immoral…to continue to tolerate the constant dimunition of the very best, brightest and most productive human capital our neighbors to the south can offer.”
    Number one, I don’t hear about truckloads of engineers and doctors landing in Arizona and scattering to find work as underpaid physicians and architects. It’s not the best and brightest that are coming here; it’s the most dissatisfied or the most desperate. For the record, anyone who is willing to go to such lengths to better their position in life should be welcomed with open arms, provided that they come here legally. I don’t care if the entire population of Mexico comes to the U.S., so long as they do so legally.
    Second, I don’t understand why you don’t place any of the blame for the “…constant dimunition of the very best, brightest and most productive human capital our neighbors to the south can offer.” on the government of Mexico. I understand why Mexico’s leaders allow it to continue (safety valve, American dollars, etc.), but I think you place disproportionate blame on the policies of the U.S. In the end,isn’t it up to the individual to make his life and his community desirable?
    A few years ago, there were articles that discussed the “brain drain” that flowed from India to the U.S. The Indian government took steps to make their country more hospitable to investment and a better place for their educated people to live. Mexico should do the same.

  27. anon

    How about an employered sponsored program ?
    An employer registers a number of positions for mexican workers, their rates of pay, and applies for a “length of time” permit. The employer also pays tax on the wages and sponsors a medical program. The employer must demonstrate that he/she cannot find comparable domestic labor.
    The alien workers are registered and can pass through customs. Everyone else is illegal and subject to the INS.
    How many employers would be willing to register? Not many, I bet. Like Walmart, illegal employers scam the system by dumping their worker benefit programs on the city, state, and local governments. Two sides to the coin: illegal workers / illegal employers.

  28. e sciaroni

    Will it become a felony to be undocumented in America? If so, then we will have fulfilled another facet of the authoritarian state.

  29. Iowan

    First, let’s return the land we stole from Mexico in 1848. The US has been interfering in Mexico since Mexican independence. We need to help fix the problems we’ve helped create–from supporting the Mexican oligarchy to dumping cheap corn on the Mexican market. Border problems and illegal immigration won’t be fixed until the Mexican people have an economy in Mexico that will give them jobs and economic security.

  30. Doug

    The obvious tactic of raising the penalties on employers and then E N F O R C I N G them is not being pursued because the employers have the political clout to maintain the status quo. All we are seeing right now are Congressional demogogues stirring up xenophobia in order create a pork barrel bureau-security monolith that will do absolutely nothing to stop this country from becoming Balkanized by a Hispanic population that will never assimilate. Whew! Got that off my chest.

  31. Robert Cote

    I don’t hear about truckloads of engineers and doctors landing in Arizona and scattering to find work as underpaid physicians and architects.
    I didn’t say educated, I said best and brightest. Understand however these undocumented arrivals do indeed displace at alower prices engineers and other highly educated professionals. Like I said, instead of a civil engineer and GPS sattelite tech and hydrologist and robot support team we have 3 minivans full of people with minimal command of Spanish.

  32. quadrupole

    If I could make a simple suggestion… make illegal to transact international wire transfers for those who cannot establish they are here legally. If you make it harder to repatriate the earning of illegals, you will dramatically reduce the incentives.

  33. Martin Kelly

    Professor Hamilton,
    Your concern for the baby in the picture is admirable, but might be misplaced.
    If the child was born in the United States, they’re already a citizen; possibly the mother’s most valuable asset.
    If the child is already an American citizen, then the mother’s poster is insincere; unworthy emotional blackmail designed to generate sympathy for herself whilst concealing the full facts of her case.

  34. jm

    Might the status quo have evolved because it represents a nearly optimal solution? (Note that by “optimal” I do not mean good, but rather “least bad”.)

  35. kenneth

    We are a nation of cultural diversity and the human aspect tells me we must send illegal immigrants back to their respective country. However, President Bush is correct when he states that there are jobs(i.e. picking cotton or building Centex Homes) that Americans will not do because the pay is not sufficient or we are just to good to do the dirty work. The corporations feed off of cheap labor to either keep operating costs low or greed. The benefits? The illegal immigrants do the cheap labor and corporations make profits, and Americans enjoy cheaper prices for cheap labor( or Corporations simply enjoy the huge profits) The Problem? The revenue made from the illegal immigrants go back to their respective country to support their family.(some stays here for phone cards,food,cheap shelter etc.) As a result, these folks dont pay income taxes and yet demand health care and educational services. Does this balance in terms of costs? I do not believe it does. The christian side of me says let them stay the legal way and love them just as Jesus does.

  36. Robert Cote

    Why does everyone persist with “jobs Americans won’t do?” This is exactly 180 degrees turned around. The only reason there are crappy jobs is because there’s this huge pool of cheap labor. We don’t mine coal with pickaxes, it got automated. Tough jobs everywhere have been automated EXCEPT where there is a huge underclass labor source. Strawberries and lettuce would be CHEAPER if we hadn’t disincentivized investment in automation by our lax attitude towards illegal immigration.

  37. donna

    Oh, please. The history of the United States IS immigrants – legal, illegal, slaves, whatever. The very idea of the country is that we take in whoever finds their way here and allow them the chance to become citizens. Sure, we try to control it, but people do come in illegally, and we’re not going to stop that.
    In San Diego, we deal with this daily. Most immigrants are here to work – they work, they send money home, they try to make the best lives they can for themselves and their families – just like all of us do. They are no different than us. Is everything you do legal? You never speed, never cheat the rules, ever? Come on.
    These are people. These are people who raise their kids in this country to become good citizens here. As far as I’m concerned, citizens with a better work ethic than those rich kids my kids go to school with who think the world owes them a living and a brand new car for their 16th birthday.
    We are a nation of spoiled brats, bitching because someone wants a piece of our pie – pie that those people picked the fruits for, people.

  38. John

    I found it interesting that the people are taking jobs for americans. It’s not an issue of jobs. It’s noone would work for the wages offered.
    I know this is true in our case. I wouldn’t go to work for the min wage. So all I can say is in fact these people are doing what I wouldn’t . God bless them.

  39. Dan

    We don’t necessarily have to pay more for produce because the pickers are making a legal wage. If we enforced the current laws on the books, and dropped our farm subsidies, the price of food wouldn’t swing that much.
    If you want an example of how NOT to assimilate immigrants, look at France. The current protestors are generally white, while the ones protesting last fall were the darker-skinned ones with >50% unemployment. Their welfare state is running out of money, and the “old French” are circling their wagons against the “new (dark-skinned and Muslim, but still born in the country) French.”

  40. T.R. Elliott

    Robert Cote: Can you please point us to analysis or evidence that the jobs currently performed by illegal immigrants would be automated. I don’t buy it. Your argument shows a basic misunderstanding of economics. Seriously. If strawberries would be cheaper, then there is an inventive for someone, anyone, to create that process, that machine, right now, so he/she can produce those higher quality lower price strawberries. Seriously. Don’t you get it. There’s a fortune there right now for someone to do it. There is an incentive. Because they’ll be higher quality and cheaper.
    Your argument about automation doesn’t hold water in my opinion. Neither does it deal with child care, housing construction, yard maintenance, etc etc etc.
    You are providing us with a red herring.
    The primary issue is that of supply and demand. Does the oversupply of cheap labor bring down wages. Does it lead to a continue bifurcation of society into an upper class and a lower class. It’s about wages. Not automation.

  41. Michael

    “As a result, these folks dont pay income taxes and yet demand health care and educational services. Does this balance in terms of costs? I do not believe it does.”

    I’ve never quite understood this belief that illegal immigrants don’t “pay” for the — often meager — services that they demand. If they reside in a state that has a sales tax they must pay that the same as any other inhabitant. If they rent housing — or own a home, unlikely? — they pay property taxes as they are included within the rent they pay. Income tax is the one area that an argument might be made for evasion, though this may be due to employers more than the illegal immigrant. However, if an illegal immigrant is using a fake SSN it is very likely that they are paying both state and federal income taxes.

    Sadly, much of this debate centers around ancedotal evidence. The lack of solid data makes it easy to scapegoat this segment of the population for evils that they may — or may not — be causing. I can’t help but think this debate will be nasty and uncivilized, reflecting badly on both our country and our “culture.”

  42. Anonymous

    I am 85 yrs old- Have macular degeneration- I have a great helper in my employment- She is canadian- Been here 20 yrs, – illegal- Now what in the heck should I do ? I need the help and I don’t know anyone else who wants the job

  43. Jake

    I think Robert is right, T.R. Reading about robotics research reveals that the money available for agricultural automation varies pretty much inversely with the availability of migrant workers.
    Not only is there the direct effect of cheap workers makes it hard to sell expensive robots, but if immigration in the future turns out cheaper than you expect, that wipes out the huge amounts of money invested in robotic technology in the meantime.

  44. odograph

    I’ve done a little work in computer automation. The medical/environmental system I worked on had pumps and valves and such. My observation as a technologist, for what it’s worth, is that agricultural automation seems to have started with the easiest to automate, the most sturdy crops, and progressed with innovation to the fragile. Certainly “seeing” and picking a red strawberry is a very different problem than “thumping” an almond tree to drop the fruit.
    Note also that rather than improving the equipment for machine-harvesting tomatoes, they changed the tomato. Not everyone considers this change an improvement.

  45. T.R. Elliott

    Jake and Robert: I’m willing to admit there is a role between automation and cheap labor, as I’m anecdotally familiar with the tradeoffs that exist in other domains, e.g. software testing. But in almost all cases I’m familiar with, we would have automated if we could have. It wasn’t a question of automation versus cheap labor, just a question of more expensive labor (testers here in the US) versus cheaper labor (testers in China, India, etc).
    I think there are not a few examples of manufacturers outsourcing to cheap labor countries rather than automating.
    But I’m still not convinced that this is a major issue in immigration. As Odograph mentions, I think the low hanging fruit of automation have been picked.
    My point is that Robert’s argument complicates the issue unnecessarily, and creates a diversion–the issue of automation–from what I see as the heart of the matter: supply and demand of labor across a wide range of services.

  46. spencer

    I frequently argue with Robert Cote but on this point I think he has a good argument. The big supply of cheap labor in ag does limit the incentive to investment in more productive ways to harvest or otherwise produce food. There is a good example in the California tomato crop.
    At some point years ago the supply of Mexican labor to pick tomatos was interupted and the crop was severly damageed. This lead to the U. of Calif. developing a tougher skinned tomato that could stand up to mechanical picking and the mechanization of the tomato harvest.
    I personally believe we are all better off having one guy operating a tomato picker and being productive enough to earn a high US standard of living then having a bunch of sub-minimum wage stoop-labor picking the tomatos.
    Maybe we would all be better off without the cheap labor supply to harvest crops, although there probably would be a high transition cost.
    It is like the minimum wage argument. Many claim that raising the minimum wage leads to people earning the minumum wage losing their jobs. But it also leads to higher investments to make the people at the bottom of the wage scale more productive and earnings a higher income. Yes, there are short run costs, but over the long run the benefits far outweigh the costs.

  47. Nick

    The US and Mexican business communities tacitly cooperate in maintaining a corrupt Mexico, where education is terrible, small business licenses are very difficult to get (a big percentage of new small business in the US is hispanic), and a very large underclass provides services for the Mexican and US (relatively) affluent, and US corporations on both sides of the border (i.e., maquiladoras on the south side, farm labor on the north).
    The system we have in the US encourages illegal immigration, and keeps them in an underclass shadow status, which keeps their wages low.
    Why not put the responsibility on Mexican politicians and corporations? Because I don’t live there, and I have no influence there. I live here, and I’ll try to put whatever influence I have on having the US improve the situation. This includes positive intervention in Mexico (education, reform of small business regulation, political transparency, etc), and pressure on US corporations to improve their practices.
    We are all conspiring to keep the poor in their terrible situation, and in the long run this is bad for all of us.

  48. Mark

    You should have either minded your own business or bought her a pair of shoes, if that would make you feel good, then minded your own business.
    Immigrants, legal or not, are not my business. They shouldn’t get any tax money, and neither should anyone else.

  49. Anonymous

    I have been listening to the news and have read some of the comments concerning the immigration issue. I live in a small town about 100 miles from the border. I have lived here all my life so I have seen my community change considerably over the years due to this problem. When I was a teen, lettuce was a crop that relied on the Mexican laborer. Buses would bring them over the border to work and at the end of the day, would be bussed back to Mexico. This worked fine. Then when the amensty program was introduced in the 80’s, our small town was hoarded by Mexicans. Unless you live in a place thatis faced with this problem, you wouldn’t understand. I am not a racist or prejudice but our town is looking like Mexico. Yes, they come for a better life and they get it. They get food stamps, low-income housing (some pay “nada”), free medical,dental,free child care. They know all the free “stuff” that even us Americans don’t know exist and couldn’t even qualify for. They can buy houses that “we” who live here cannot afford because of programs they get but we can’t. Most of these people who come here trash up these homes, and live like they did in Mexico. Along with those who want a better life are the murders, drug dealers, those who prey on their own people by transporting them illegally for a price. New schools have to be built because of crowding. Most of these people are here illegally but Immigration doesn’t do anything about it. Landlords rent houses to as many as 10 to 20 people. Yes, they do work, some only a few months out of the year and then get back on unemployment until that runs out and then go back on welfare. Most of them get cash and only report a small portion to be able to qualify for the free stuff. (Some make more than I do at a full time job) So there goes the theory that they will pay taxes if they become legal. They come here and open businesses in their homes and do not pay for business registration or gross receipt taxes. If the kids do not speak English, they are at a loss and hold back the rest of the kids. The problem goes on and on. Yes, let’s return the illegals, close the borders, and if they are legal make the accountable for all we have to pay for like auto insurance, taxes, medical and dental expenses. Make Mexico take care of it’s own. I used to work Motor Vehicles for almost 9 years and to be able to register a vehicle, you had to produce auto insurance. Since this state does not require a certain time frame of insurance, most of these people would go buy a month’s worth of insurance just to get registered and then let it lapse. Unless you are stopped by law enforcement, one would never know. I am all for letting those who want to come over and make a better life but not at the expense of the taxpayers. My grandparents came to Ellis Island before WWI, didn’t know how to speak English but they learned and became American citizens and bought a farm. They raised vegetables and had to travel by wagon to and back to get produce to the train depot. They raised 10 children who never in their lives lived off the country. I invite you to come and see what I am talking about. Then let’s see what you think about the issue of immigration.

  50. Bill H.

    To Anon at 2:12 PM:
    You were willing to pay taxes for a welfare state; why aren’t you happy you got it? The problems you described are caused by government programs, paid for by government taxes and extractions forced from people at gunpoint.
    Where is V for Vendetta when the US needs him most?
    Think it’s bad now, wait until Hillary is Prez.

  51. anon

    Mass immigration has massive effects.
    Have you seen the film ‘Gangs of new york’ – there were gangs of immigrants wanting a better life other than starving, and would do anything to get it, and gangs of anti-immigrants they represented the working class and poor who’s incomes were collapsing as wages dropped.
    During the 1980s, The black underclass was becoming the black middleclass!
    Regan’s anti-immigration immigration bill, plus a domestic jobs boom thanks to greater productivity, meant African American incomes were rising, they were entering the middleclass at the fastest rate in history – (by 1986 60%)
    Then the mexican immigration came during the 1990s, and it dropped back to 40% – they dropped back into the underclass as incomes dropped.
    Mass immigration affects the poor and marginalised, and creates more poverty. The net gain to the economy as a whole is slight, yet the net gain to business at the expense of workers is great.

  52. Gem Hudson

    Dose this solve the problem for both sides of the line and the Pacific ocean? Economics is the production and ditribution of goods. You produce what sells and you have traded for exchange goods for value.
    Therefore one gets into business for themselves and gets to know their business inside and out. You make the money in your business by knowing what you are making and work the business until you know what works for you.

  53. antimedia

    Rick, who thinks everyone who disagrees with him is arrogant and entitlement-minded, writes “‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.’ If that doesn’t make you proud of your country, what will?” the irony of which seems lost on Rick.
    The good lady welcomed immigrants to Staten Island, where they were identified, processed, registered, tested for communicable diseases and promptly jailed if they were found to be felons or didn’t have a sponsor. Then, having been properly and legally processed into the country, they were left to fend for themselves, learn English so they could survive and become citizens if they studied hard and passed the test.
    They are our forefathers.
    Meanwhile, our friends to the South endure none of the above yet enjoy the largesse of our social systems and free emergency healthcare, have children who become instant citizens and protest on our streets, waving the flag of their native country while demanding their “rights” as “Americans”.
    And, adding insult to injury, we citizens must endure the sanctimony of the Ricks of the world, for whom laws mean nothing and being “compassionate” means everything, even if it destroys our country in the process.

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