On Immigration and Open Borders

Over time, immigrating into the United States has become more and more difficult. It can take years for someone to legally become a U.S. resident and citizen. Yet, despite the barriers that our politicians have put in place, millions of people still immigrate into America every year. These people, both legal and illegal, have a largely positive effect on both our economy and our society. So, I ask, why don’t we let them in?

Immigration has been, and always will be, a significant economic factor in this country. According to Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders by Jason Riley, foreign-born immigrants make up about 15% of the labor force in America. Despite making up such a proportionately small amount of the workforce, foreign-born laborers hold 47% of the jobs in the housing industry, 27% of the jobs in the construction industry, 36% of the jobs in the custodial industry, and 23% of the jobs in the manufacturing industry.

To many, these numbers serve as proof that immigrants, a majority of whom come illegally from Latin America, are “stealing” jobs from American-born workers. This claim is a fallacy. The unskilled labor that many immigrants provide is absolutely necessary for our economic survival, because even though the number of unskilled American workers is shrinking (due to an increase in college diplomas), the demand for unskilled labor remains the same. Hence, if America were to adopt a closed borders policy, college-educated workers would be encouraged to take jobs they are highly overqualified for. This would, in effect, waste their skills in the marketplace. Mr. Riley sums up my point perfectly: “This [issue] isn’t about immigrants displacing Americans in the labor force. It’s about foreign workers coming here to fill jobs that the natives don’t want because they’ve got better opportunities.”

However, I don’t want it to sound like I think immigrants are just good for cheap labor. That is not true. On top of providing crucial, unskilled labor to our domestic economy, immigrants also provide vast quantities of skilled labor. According to a paper by Stuart Anderson and Michaela Platzer, and cited by Mr. Riley in Open Borders, roughly 25% of venture-backed U.S. public businesses started between 1991 and 2006 were established by immigrants. These businesses created 220,000 jobs in the United States. That’s 220,000 jobs that Americans wouldn’t have if not for immigration.

In the end, closing our borders would hurt not only the immigrant worker, but also the native worker. Skilled workers would be relegated to jobs that they are vastly overqualified for, and hence, their aggregate effect on the domestic and international economy would be minimized. On top of that, thousands of jobs would be lost to non-existent immigrant entrepreneurship.

Immigration is important in modern politics. For years, people have ignored it, in order to focus on more “pressing” issues like terrorism, debt, and the economy. The fact is that all of these issues, and more, are directly affected by immigration. We have millions of illegal immigrants flooding into this country, agreeing to take on the jobs that highly skilled Americans do not want, and yet we continue to arrest and deport them. To me, this is a grievous mistake.

Despite what conservative and liberal alarmists say, these workers, as well as their legal counterparts, are a great benefit to society and to the economy. They create jobs, do the work we don’t want to do, and give the United States an upper hand in the battle for human capital.

I urge you, my readers, to look at the facts. Opening our borders, and providing amnesty to illegal immigrants, would lead to great societal and economic progress. We would have more workers, higher wages, and more jobs, and competition would fuel improved working conditions, better hours, and more benefits. Thus, I believe that opening U.S. borders and legalizing all non-violent illegal immigrants is the best way to ensure American economic supremacy in the years to come.

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