Malkin’s Half-Truths

Well there she goes again.

I went to a very infamous 7-11 convenience store in Falls Church, Va., yesterday afternoon. Behind me are day laborers, out of the shadows, waiting for a “willing employer” to come pick them up and ignore their immigration status. Lost in all the furor over the Bush amnesty abomination is a forgotten episode from 9/11 that exposed so starkly how open borders facilitate terrorism.

Notice how well that is done. Yes, she is at a 7-11, and I don’t doubt it is in Falls Church, VA. I also don’t doubt that there were illegal immigrants waiting for day jobs. The problem is the final line. Exactly how many of the terrorists associated with 9/11 came across the border illegally? None.

Now, this doesn’t mean that all people associated with terrorist organizations in the U.S. have come in legally, but the vast bulk of them have (3/4ths of the ones we know about). So while tightening up control of the border is a good idea from a national security stand point, focusing solely on this issue, as Malkin is pretty guilty of, loses sight of the fact that there is a serious problem with legal immigration/visa process as well.

This is one reason why I support a guest worker program. The cost of crossing the border illegally is pretty high, but compared to crossing it legally it is pretty low, at least that is the results of the calculus that the illegal immigrants are doing. So we need to change that result. There are two ways to do that:

  1. Raise the cost of crossing the border illegally in absolute terms.
  2. Raise the relative cost of crossing the border illegally.

The first requires actually enforcing immigration laws. To this end, expanding the number of border patrol agents, using more advanced technology, and so forth would do the trick. The second can be accomplished by making legal immigration easier (cheaper) and that is what a guest worker program could do. Also, it would bring those immigrants who would otherwise be illegal into the system so their backgrounds and associations can be scrutinized.

This approach is a two pronged approach and also recognizes that our economy has come to rely on the relatively cheap unskilled labor that immigrant provide. There are only a few reasons to argue against something like a guest worker program. The first is that immigrants take jobs from Americans. While this is undoubtedly true, part of the reason for this is the illegal status of many immigrants. Such immigrants are fearful that their employer will report them to the authorities and get deported. This can give an employer leverage in wage setting and thus keep wages low. A guest worker program would solve this part of the problem. Another problem with this is the Welfare/Statist mentality of the argument. This argument basically holds that the government should set aside a certain number of jobs for Americans. Malkin and those like her would probably object to set asides for Americans such as Blacks and women, but when it comes to illegal immigrants this argument is just peachy.

Another argument against immigrants is that they put pressure on things like public schools and other publicly provided goods. The problem here isn’t so much the immigrants, but that we are providing as public goods, goods which are in fact private goods. A public good is a good where one person’s use does not diminish another person’s ability to consume/use the good. National defense is the typical example. Each person in the U.S. consumes exactly the same amount of national defense each year. If we doubled the size of the U.S. population the amount of national defense consumption per individual would not change. A good like a school on the other hand is a club good that are subject to congestion. This means that the market place can provide for these goods. But instead they are subsidized and run by the government. This in turn is a subsidy on having children. Throw in the fact that many illegals want to have children to create “anchor babies” and you have fairly serious problem. However, a guest worker program removes at least some of the incentive to have an “anchor baby”. The rest of the solution is one that is unpalatable for many: getting the government largely out of education.1

The last possible response is in my view largely a xenophobic one. “They wont assimilate, they don’t speak English, they carry disease, etc.” These arguments are actually quite old and have been used against just about every group that has immigrated to the U.S. Ben Franklin used it against German immigrants. Henry Cabot Lodge also used it,

If we care for the welfare, the wages, or the standard of life of American workingmen, we should take immediate steps to limit foreign immigration. There is no danger to our workingmen from the coming of skilled workers or of trained and educated men. But there is a serious danger from the flood of unskilled, ignorant foreign labor.

Sound familiar? Sounds like it could have come form Malkin or Tom Tancredo. Who was Lodge talking about? Scary brown people? Nope, Italians, Russians, Poles, and Hugarians. It is well known that all such people are unskilled and ignorant.[/sarcasm] Kind of funny that Tom Tancredo is basically saying the samething about immigrants as Lodge did about Tancredo’s ancestors (Lodge apparently took a pretty dim view of Italians). Similar fears were raised about the Irish, Chinese, and Japanese.

Now all this being said, there is still a valid concern: that any guest worker program will be run badly. The reason for this is: the government will be running it. The government has had a pretty bad track record at doing things efficiently and well. As such, there is a good chance a guest worker program will be done badly just as our current immigration/visa process is done badly. Personally I think part of the problem is that we have a federal government that is involved in areas that it shouldn’t be involved in such as education, health care, corporate welfare, and so on. All this distracts from on the the federal governments primary responsibilities: protecting its citizens.

Most of these arguments that indicate the problem isn’t simply illegal immigration, but immigration itself. The idea of a large number of different kinds of people coming here is either scary for some, or a political tool. In the case of the latter, I think political parties find it easy to use fear of “The Other” as a motivating factor and a sort of glue to hold together disparate factions. The only problem is that the President is really playing along, at least not on the illegal immigration issue.
1 One could argue that there is an external benefit to education and hence there should be some level of subsidy.

FILED UNDER: Borders and Immigration, National Security, Terrorism, ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.