Modern nations cannot – practically or politically – have open borders, allowing anyone who wants to immigrate.
The good news is that the United States does not have open bordersand there is no significant faction in our politics that says we should have them.
In fact, legally immigrating to the United States is quite difficult.
The bad news is that we have a hard time enforcing immigration regulations, mainly because the relevant government agencies do not have enough resources.
And right now, the reason they don't have those resources is that many Republicans in Congress, while fulminating about a border crisis, seem determined to deny funding necessary.
Migrants seeking asylum wait to be processed in a makeshift mountain camp after crossing the border with Mexico, Friday, Feb. 2, 2024, near Jacumba Hot Springs, Calif. AP Photo/Gregory Bull.
Their position is based on extraordinary political cynicism, and they do not even try to hide it:
Donald Trump He has intervened with Republicans to block any agreement on immigration because he believes that chaos at the border will favor his electoral prospects.
Although blatant sabotage explains the current immigration stagnation, there is something else hiding behind it:
Trump and those around him are deeply hostile to immigration in general.
In part it is about xenophobiaif not overt racism.
If you repeatedly declare, as Trump has, that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country,” you don't really care whether they came here legally, but what you're saying is that what matters is if they are white.
People close to Trump have a vision of zero sum of the economy, in which every job held by someone born outside the United States is a job taken from someone born here.
Back in 2020, Stephen Miller, one of the architects of Trump's immigration policies, told Trump supporters that one goal was to “turn off the spigot of new immigrant labor.”
Surprisingly, Trump issued an executive order aimed at deny visas to highly qualified foreigners, many of whom worked in the technology sector.
Apparently, Miller and his boss believed this would mean more jobs for Americans, when what it would actually do was undermine American competitiveness in advanced technology.
So this seems like a good time to point out that negative opinions about the economics of immigration are completely wrong.
Far from taking jobs, foreign-born workers have played a key role on the recent success of the United States in combining rapid growth with a rapid decline in inflation.
And foreign-born workers will also be crucial in the effort to solve our country's long-term problems.
On that recent success:
It has taken time, but many observers finally recognize that the United States has done extraordinarily well in recovering from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Inflation has faded in much of the country.
Inflation has faded in much of the world, but the United States stands out for its ability to combine disinflation with vigorous economic growth.
And one of the keys to that performance has been the fast growth of the active population American, which has increased by 2.9 million since the eve of the pandemic, four years ago.
How much of that growth was due to foreign-born workers?
In its whole. The native active population has decreased slightly in the last four years, reflecting the aging of the population, while 3 million foreign-born workers have joined.
Have those foreign workers taken jobs away from Americans, particularly those born in the country?
The United States of early 2024 has full employment, and consumers who say jobs are “abundant” outnumber those who say jobs are “hard to get” by nearly 5 to 1.
The unemployment rate among native-born workers is 2.5%. The unemployment rate among native-born workers fell below 3.7% in 2023, the lowest level since the government began collecting data.
The unemployment rate among native-born workers fell below 3.7% in 2023, the lowest level since the government began collecting data.
In fact, I would argue that the influx of foreign-born workers has helped the natives.
There is extensive research literature on the impact economic of immigration, which systematically fails to find the often predicted negative effects on employment and wages.
In contrast, migrant workers often turn out to be complementary to the native workforce, providing different skills that, in effect, help avoid bottlenecks in supply and allow for faster job creation.
Silicon Valley, for example, hires many foreign-born engineers because they bring something extra; The same goes for workers in many less glamorous occupations.
And migrant workers have likely been especially important in recent years, as the economy struggled to resolve the disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Foreign-born workers are crucial to America's fiscal future.
To a first approximation, the federal government is a system that collects taxes from working-age adults and spends much of the proceeds on programs that help the elderly, such as Medicare and Social Security.
If we cut off the flow of immigrants, who are mostly working-age adults, our system would be much less sustainable.
So while the border mess needs to be fixed – and could be fixed if Republicans helped solve the problem instead of exploiting it for political advantage – let's not let that mess obscure the greater reality that immigration is a of the great sources of power and prosperity of the United States.
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