November 07, 2007
How Immigration is Actually Playing Out
So on one side of the ledger, we have David Paul Kuhn fitting illegal immigration into his Grand Unified Theory that the Democratic Party desperately needs a bigger penis. "The rising American discontent with illegal immigration," he says, "has the potential to sever Democrats from the majority of voters — especially those in the working and middle class — like no issue has in four decades."
On the other side, we have yesterday's elections in Virginia, which the GOP sought to use as a test run for the immigration appeal. And how'd that work out? "Voters across Virginia chose candidates in state and local elections yesterday not out of anger over illegal immigration but based on party affiliation, a preference for moderation and strong views on such key issues as residential growth and traffic congestion. With a few notable exceptions, the trend benefited Democrats and not those who campaigned the loudest for tough sanctions against illegal immigrants."
Indeed, over at TAP, Garance reported on Karen Schultz, a Democrat who was trying to win a GOP seat by accusing her opponent of being bought by "amnesty-lobbying money," and Charles Colgan, a Democrat trying to retain his seat in Prince Williams County, where the immigration issue has exploded. Schulz, running on her anti-immigrant platform, lost, and Colgan, running against a hardcore restrictionist, won.
November 06, 2007
Do Immigrants Depress Wages?
The yes" side says "of course they do, more labor supply means lower wages." The no side says, "If a million people migrate to the UK, who is going to sell them food and clothes, build them houses, teach their children? When the population is larger there is more demand for workers."*
Luckily, we have economists to untangle the mystery for us. And over at The Financial Times, Tim Harford does exactly that. "It is fair to say that economists do not really agree," he says.
Well, glad we cleared that up.
*I guess I should say that my read of the evidence is that both things are true: Immigrants increase wages in the aggregate while exerting a mild downward drag for unskilled workers.
August 29, 2007
Wages for Crow Producers Shoot Up
In a customarily blase demonstration of data abuse, Mickey Kaus tried to argue that the multi-week crackdown on illegal immigration is already boosting wages across the nation. Kaus didn't have any non-anecdotal evidence of this, but no matter. Having not proven anything, Kaus went on to sneer, "Didn't Kevin Drum and other leftish bloggers sneer when I suggested that rising unskilled wages were in the offing? I think they did! ... How much do the people who serve crow make?" Dunno. Maybe Mickey could actually look up some BLS numbers and find out -- but then, non-anecdotal evidence is so old media.
Even so, now that the new census numbers are being crunched, here's some more fascinating data for Mickey to crow about:
Know what most of those states have in common? Immigrants! Lots of them! So the crackdown is working! Only problem is that these numbers are from 2005-2006, long before the crackdown. Think we'll be seeing this image on Kausfiles anytime soon? [Don't ask me, I don't exist -- ed]
August 27, 2007
In Which I Fret
The estimable Chris Hayes writes:
There are few things that irk me more than when conservatives advocate for increased immigration for low wage workers by saying that immigrants do jobs that Americans don’t want. I don’t want to buy a slice of pizza for $45. It doesn’t mean I don’t like pizza! I’m not particularly interested in writing a book for the total payment of $9. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to write a book!
Raise. The. Wages. You’ll find plenty of workers. I promise.
That's true so far as it goes. The problem is the other end of it: Nobody wants to buy your book for $60, or eat your pizza for $45, or purchase your strawberries for $7.99 a pound. So the issue, in almost all these cases, is how much you can raise wages without decimating the industry in question. In some industries, that's no problem. People pay a lot to go to the doctor. In some industries, it is a problem. If we weren't importing strawberry-pickers, we'd be importing strawberries. If it cost $500 to get your house cleaned, people would just clean their own homes.
Global competition makes all this harder, particularly when you're not talking about service industries. Raise wages here, and we'll often import the good rather than the labor. The forces and incentives that drive a company to make their goods in China -- cheaper labor, mainly -- are the very same ones that drive them to hire immigrant labor domestically. The two strategies are different sides of the same coin.
Sadly, I have no answers to the issues these issues -- nor the empirical data to know how much can be done to raise wages, and where. We're not closing our borders to goods, and I don't think we should close them to people, either. In some of these industries, we can simply lift the wages because the employers can't run their companies from China -- think construction, some sectors of agriculture, much meatpacking -- and in some we simply don't know how to handle the forces of global competition, the Wal-Martization of prices, etc. But raising the wages isn't as broad an answer as it used to be. Back before inter- and intra-continental transport was essentially trivial, you paid higher wages or you closed. Now, in most industries, there's this third option -- you get cheaper labor elsewhere -- and it's just not clear how you restore worker bargaining power so long as that exists.
August 23, 2007
I Feel Safer
Knowing that Fiorella Maza is back in Peru certainly makes me feel safer. This Peruvian track star, college student and ballet dancer was clearly a threat to our values:
Fiorella Maza, a standout student, ballet dancer and track star, had just started her freshman year at Miami Dade College when immigration agents knocked on her door.
Instantly, her middle-class American life was turned upside down.
Maza now spends most of her time inside a drafty old home in Peru's capital city. She's dislodged from her circle of friends, socially disoriented. She speaks only rudimentary Spanish.
''I never thought I could be sent to Peru,'' said Maza, 19, who was brought to West Kendall illegally as a toddler and was deported in March. ``It's like a foreign country to me.''
Don't get outraged just yet. Save your anger for this:
A federal judge dropped charges against former CIA operative and anti-Castro Cuban militant Luis Posada Carriles on Tuesday, blasting what she called government "fraud, deceit and trickery" in an interview with Posada that led to the charges.
Posada, 79, was charged with seven counts of immigration fraud. He was arrested in Miami in May 2005 after entering the country illegally.
U.S. district judge Kathleen Cardone ordered Posada's electronic bracelet cut off in the courtroom Tuesday and cleared the way for him to return to Miami a free man.
Posada's attorney, Arturo Hernandez, told CNN the ruling was "an incredible legal victory."
The Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security said they were reviewing Cardone's decision.
On October 6th, 1976 Cubana Flight 455 was destroyed after takeoff by a bomb detonation that had been placed in the aircraft toilets in which all seventy-three people on board were killed, including many young members of a Cuban fencing team. Five people from North Korea were also killed on board the flight. This bombing would have been plotted at the same meeting, attended by Luis Posada Carriles and DINA agent Michael Townley, where Chilean former minister Orlando Letelier's assassination, in Washington, D.C. in 1976, was decided. Bosch was jailed in Venezuela awaiting trial for his role concerning the Cubana Flight 455 bombing, but he was never convicted of these charges.
In 1968 Bosch was arrested in Florida for an attack on a Polish freighter with a 57 mm recoilless rifle and was as a result sent to prison for a ten year term. In 1987, almost a decade after the Flight 455 incident, Bosch was freed from Venezuelan charges and went to the United States, assisted by US Ambassador to Venezuela Otto Reich; there, he was ultimately arrested for a parole violation. Bosch was pardoned of all American charges by President George H.W. Bush on July 18, 1990 at the request of his son Jeb Bush, who later became Governor of Florida; this pardon was despite objections by the then President's own defense department, that Bosch was one of the most deadly terrorists working "within the hemisphere." Although many countries seek Bosch's extradition he remains free in the United States. The political pressure to grant Bosch a pardon was begun during the congressional campaign run by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, herself a Cuban American, and overseen by her campaign manager Jeb Bush. The resultant pardon reputedly saw huge celebrations in Miami, in what was then called 'Free Orlando Day.'"
Like father, like son.
George Bush's America: protecting us against Peruvian teenagers, providing refuge for a terrorist. The mind reels.
August 19, 2007
Sunday Morning Happy Ending Post
By Randy Paul of Beautiful Horizons
Read this from the New York Times Sunday Magazine. Given the Reagan administration's policy of denying asylum applications to those fleeing the regimes he supported in Central America, there is little doubt in my mind that Dale Maharidge's uncharacteristic act as a journalist saved lives. In addition, he helped a young woman become a productive US citizen.
I wish that would make some of the knees stop jerking.
August 09, 2007
What The Immigrants See
A bit earlier I talked about the country's backslide on immigration, and the spate of local ordinances and restrictionist policies making the lives of immigrants harder and leaving them feeling more insecure. Well, we're already seeing the effects:
This year a smaller percentage of Mexican immigrants in the United States sent money back to their homeland than in 2006, according to a report released yesterday by the Inter-American Development Bank. The bank said the reduction had left at least two million people in Mexico without the same financial help they had once received.
Bank officials, pointing to a survey of Mexican immigrants in the report, said the decline reflected a rising sense of insecurity and uncertainty about whether they would stay in the United States. Anticipating a possible move back to Mexico, these immigrants appear to be saving more. [...]
Mr. Terry said the slowdown would affect about 500,000 Mexican homes. “For those families in Mexico, there is going to be economic and social dislocation,” he said.[...]
In the survey, only 49 percent of the Mexicans living in states with relatively recent immigration said they expected to be living in the United States five years from now. Sergio Bendixen, a Miami pollster who conducted the survey, said the percentage of Mexicans considering a return to their country was the highest in the more than two decades he has interviewed Hispanic immigrants.
The immigrants in the survey included American citizens and legal and illegal residents. They identified discrimination as the biggest problem they faced, with 83 percent saying that discrimination against Latin American immigrants in general was growing in the United States.
August 07, 2007
Who Is "Everybody Else?"
David Frum has an interesting post up responding to allegations of nativism and calling his arguments "too true for journalism." His original post, which kicked up a bit of a furor, fretted that Hispanic youth overwhelmingly support the Democrats, and that Bush's inability or unwillingness to close the borders has allowed the migration of an eventual voting bloc that is is not rich enough and not mindlessly patriotic enough to be effectively courted by the GOP -- and thus might destroy them. This, Frum suggested, will be Bush's legacy to his party.
My initial thought was that this said worrying things about the basis for the GOP's appeal, but others found Frum's points a bit racist. Thus, Frum's rejoinder. In it, he says that "I did not say or imply that the children and grandchildren of Mexican migrants 'couldn't possibly develop a deep attachment to the American nation.' I trust and hope that they can and will. But it would be blind and unwise to ignore the evidence that these hopes are coming to fruition far more slowly than one would wish." But his evidence is, to put it mildly, unconvincing.
Frum draws on a set of polls from PublicAgenda.org that measured the attitudes of Hispanic immigrants. His first piece of evidence is that "Mexican immigrants are significantly less likely than other immigrants to cite "freedom" as something they value in the United States - or as a reason for their desire to migrate." But that's not what the poll shows:
Nothing in there suggests that Mexican immigrants don't value freedom" -- it just suggests that freedom is not America's "most important" advantage so far as they're concerned. This poll is testing which values hold primacy, not which exist. And because Mexican immigrants come from a far poorer country than do the general pool of immigrants (many of whom emigrate from Europe Asia, etc), it's deeply unsurprising that their ability to vastly improve their economic situation is so salient. But that says nothing whatsoever as to whether they also value things like "freedom." And even with all this said, the difference is responses mild: 14%. Indeed, I wonder what you'd get if you asked the same question of the native born.
What's interesting is how Frum's argument develops here (italics mine): "People who feel in some way disaffected from or alienated from the American mainstream are the people most likely to vote Democratic....Once Mexican migrants become American citizens, they become Americans. Full stop. They have the rights of Americans and the duties of Americans. They "count" just as much as anyone else. But it defies the evidence to suggest that they will feel the same way - or vote the same way - as everybody else. For at least a generation to come, and perhaps two, Mexican-Americans will be significantly poorer than the national norm - and almost certainly more uncertain about their identity."
This is weird. It's banal to say that minorities and the poor -- in other words, the "disaffected"-- disproportionately cast their votes for Democrats, who have a history of championing their causes, as we just saw in the immigration debate. What's striking, though, is Frum's subtle, possibly unconscious, transition from saying that to saying voting for Democrats is in some way aberrational or outside the norm.
Democrats took home a majority of votes in the last election, and lost by 3 percent in 2004. But to vote Democratic just became to not vote like "everybody else." Everyone else can't logically refer to the Republicans' numeric superiority, so it's hard to conclude anything save that it refers to their demographic superiority -- that the mass voting for Republicans is more authentically American than the "marginalized" who're voting for Democrats. And that's toeing quite close to saying something very ugly.
June 22, 2007
Why Do Liberals Support Immigration?
I'm pretty late -- at least in the hyper-accelerated blur that passes for blog time -- to Ross Douthat's post on the animating assumptions behind liberal support for immigration, but it struck me as weird enough that I've spent the last few days determined to return to it. Ross argues that liberals support immigration as a sort of de facto humanitarianism -- though I don't really know what's de facto about it -- and goes on to say, "there’s something slightly perverse about pursuing humanitarian ends through policies that lower the incomes of your poorest citizens and raise the incomes of your richest citizens. If I proposed a new AIDS-in-Africa initiative and advocated funding it through a regressive tax that included a tax credit for families making over $75,000, I doubt that many liberals would line up behind the proposal."
Agreed. What a relief it's an inapt analogy!
It's often taken as gospel fact that immigration harms the wages of downscale workers. George Borjas, the Harvard economist whose figures are most often cited, argues that immigration cuts the wages of unskilled workers by about 7 percent. That's a fairly mild effect, and to turn Ross's argument around, there's something slightly perverse about eradicating the massive gains immigrants bring to both themselves and our economy in order to raise the incomes of our poorest citizens by seven percent. There are far easier, and far more positive-sum, policies that could enhance their incomes.
That said, it's not even clear that immigration does harm unskilled workers. Giovanni Peri, an economist at UC Davis, ran the numbers for California, and came to these conclusions:
• First, there is no evidence that the inflow of immigrants over the period 1960–2004 worsened the employment opportunities of natives with similar education and experience. The study finds no association between the inflow of immigrants and the out-migration of natives within the same education and age group.
• Second, according to our calculations, during 1990–2004, immigration induced a 4 percent real wage increase for the average native worker. This effect ranged from near zero (+0.2%) for wages of native high school dropouts and between 3 and 7 percent for native workers with at least a high school diploma.
Immigrants, it turns out, often act as complementary, rather than substitutive, to native laborers. As Peri puts it:
On first thought, it might seem that the simple economics of supply and demand would answer the question: What is the effect of immigrants on wages? Immigrants increase the supply of labor. Hence, they should decrease the wages of native workers, reduce their employment opportunities, or push them to other states. The question, however, is more subtle than this, because all workers are not the same: They differ by education, skills, and occupation and perform jobs and productive tasks different from and complementary...
In nontechnical terms, the wages of native workers could increase because the increased supply of migrants is likely to put native workers in jobs where they perform supervisory, managerial, training, and in general interactive and coordinating tasks, which makes them more productive. Moreover, the presence of new workers also implies higher demand for consumption, so that immigration might simply increase total production and demand without depressing wages.
All of which is to say, a lot of us don't accept Douthat's read of the economics. Immigrants appear to exert either a very mild downward pressure on unskilled worker wages, or a very mild upward pressure on their wages. Under both sets of assumptions, their overall economic impact is positive. It would be perverse to close off immigration, given the massive benefits it offers to immigrants, in light of these numbers. If we're concerned about directly raising the wages of unskilled workers, we should, uh, do so.
And we're not even getting into more intangible benefits of multiculturalism and diversity. Many liberals are pro-immigration not only because it's good for immigrants, but economically and culturally beneficial for America. But that's a whole other post, and it's 5 o'clock on Friday.
June 18, 2007
The American Assimilation Set
Diana West is unhappy with Bush's blase attitude towards immigration:
"Do you think we assimilate immigrants as well as in previous waves?" Mr. Bush's answer: "Absolutely."
Obviously, Mr. Bush hasn't ridden a rush-hour bus where no English is spoken, or listened to a business office recording asking "oprima el numero dos."
This sort of thing gets tossed around a lot. Doesn't Bush realize that the immigrants speak Mexican, rather than American? Has he ever seen the face of a child who's been forced to "press 1 for English?" Doesn't he realize how different this all is?
But these fears of linguistic separation are old hat. You think a bus in Austin, Chicago, circa 1930, after Italian immigration had pumped the tiny suburb's population from 4,000 to 120,000, had a whole lot of English on it? Doubtful. And you didn't get business recordings in other languages because there were no recordings during previous waves of immigration. Hispanic immigration happens to be the first to occur during the era of automated answering services.
The relevant metric here is whether the second-generation assimilates, as it's they, and successive generations, who will remain in the country. And in that, the data is clear. Mexican immigrants assimilate. In the first generation, English proficiency is undeniably poor. Only 24 percent on Mexican immigrants speak it well, as compared to 40 percent of Asian immigrants. But the intergenerational transmission of English fluency is higher among Mexicans than among any other immigrant group. 50 percent of the native-born children of Mexican immigrants acquire proficiency while still in the household, putting them on par with second-generation Asians, and of those Mexicans who are second-generation+ (either out of the household or third generation or more) proficiency is 86 percent. Indeed, if you control for other relevant factors (age, income, etc), second- and third-generation Hispanics are much more likely than other immigrants to speak English fluently.
So in this, President Bush is right. America is perfectly capable of assimilating immigrants. Even if, along the way, Diana West has to hear some Spanish spoken on the bush.