What Congress Should Do About Immigration

This Cato Handbook For Congress (pdf) is a bit old, but the recommendations for immigration sound pretty good to me.

Congress should

  • expand, or at least maintain, current legal immigration quotas;
  • focus border-control resources on efforts to keep terrorists out of the country;
  • create a temporary worker visa for less-skilled immigrants from Mexico to work in the United States to meet labor shortages and reduce incentives for illegal immigration;
  • repeal the arbitrary cap onH1-B visas for highly skilledworkers;
  • reinstate and make permanent the 245(i) provision to allow foreign-born residents who are legally qualified to live in the United States to remain in the country while they readjust their status; and
  • reverse the recent decline in the number of refugees accepted
    by the United States.

I’m not sure that they are talking about in regards to the 245(i) provision, but all the other points sound good to me. The problem for me isn’t that immigrants come here and take jobs at lower wages. After consider what those who oppose this are basically advocating:

  • A group of suppliers want to insulate themselves from competition.
  • This group wants to use this lack of competition to raise their prices so that they increase their profits.
  • This group wants to do this by spending already scarce resources by lobbying Congress and other elected officials so that they can maintain their market position.

This is different from oil companies (or any other industry) using the political process to limit competition, thereby driving up prices and their profits how? Looks to be pretty much the same damn thing to me: rent seeking. Nevermind that from what I’ve read immigrants tend to have distribution of jobs that is inverted in that they take low skill/low pay jobs or they take high skill/high pay jobs (most of these immigrants are legal though). Yes it is true that in regards to the low pay/low skill jobs these are jobs that Americans wont do for the prevailing wage. So, am I to understand the anti-illegal immigration crowd correctly, that the solution is to restrict competition for the low wage jobs and drive up the wages for these low skill jobs?

I understand the problem with just letting anybody traipse across the border. In fact, I still maintain that the strongest argument against illegal immigration isn’t the economic argument, but the national security argument. So why not allow a guest worker program and/or increase the immigration quota. If getting into the country legally and with the proper background check becomes easier (read less costly) then the notion of taking risks to cross the border illegally becomes relatively less attractive.

As for the problems with things like education costs, health care costs, and so forth, legalizing what are currently illegal immigrants via something like a guest worker program would help. Those immigrants currently not paying taxes would start paying taxes. Further, the problems with health care while somewhat impacted by illegal immigration the bigger problems are how things like insurance and health care are treated in this country (somewhat simplistically it is an issue of spending somebody elses money, so why not spend lots). Overall, though I see this aspect of the argument as being nickel and dime stuff. We have a Medicare system that is going to start eating up huge chunks of our GDP (and not because of illegals for you mono-maniacs out there). We have two political parties that seem unwilling to address this kind of issue and reign in spending. In fact, both parties seem Hell bent on making the problem worse. But lets worry about a few billion here or there in a $10-trillion plus economy. Have I got that right?

FILED UNDER: Congress, National Security, US Politics, , , , , ,
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.


  1. Lucky says:

    You don’t think illegal immigration is hurting this country. Well what about this: http://www.mexica-movement.org/granmarcha.htm

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    A bunch of obnoxious signs is costing exactly how many trillions of dollars? Heck, I’d even settle for hundreds of billions? Oh…you don’t have an answer? Gee what a surprise.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    Those immigrants currently not paying taxes would start paying taxes.

    Unless, of course, part of the attraction of hiring illegal workers is that they’re off the books.

  4. Kent says:

    The whole immigration question would be significantly simpler if children of illegal immigrants were not automatically citizens.

    Were that the case, I would be much more comfortable with a porous border.