Immigrants — Good or Bad?

Both freedom and immigration have brought America greatness and prosperity. However, several valid arguments exist against totally open borders. Is there a happy medium?

I'm confused about immigration.
We libertarians believe in free trade. That includes trade in labor, too. New people bring us not just labor, but also good new ideas. Open immigration during America's first hundred years helped make America rich.
Open immigration is dangerous today, however, because some immigrants want to murder us. And now that America is a welfare state, some want to come here just to freeload.

That great champion of freedom Milton Friedman said Mexican immigration is a good thing — but only so long as it's illegal. "Why? Because as long as it's illegal for people to come, they don't qualify for welfare and Social Security. So they migrate to jobs."
But closing our eyes to illegal immigration cannot be good policy. So what should American do?
I sat down with Heather MacDonald of the conservative Manhattan Institute, author of "The Immigration Solution," and Jason Riley of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, author of "Let Them In." I respect them both. But they radically disagree on immigration policy.
"The case for open borders is a case for letting the law of supply and demand, the free market, determine the level of immigration," Riley said. "Right now, that determination is being made by politicians and public policy makers. ... And like all exercises in Soviet-style central planning, it's been a complete disaster. We have thriving markets in document fraud ... and 12 million-plus illegal aliens. ... (W)e would do better to move to a system that allowed the free market to determine the level of immigration. And that's the case for open borders." Riley proposes a guest-worker program. "That is the way to reduce illegal immigration."
Heather MacDonald retorts: "A country is not a firm. And it is absolutely the prerogative of a nation and its people to decide its immigration policy. ... We should have an immigration policy that accentuates our natural economic advantage in the 21st century, which is as a high-tech, high-science economy. ... (T)he overwhelming number of immigrants that are coming in largely illegally are extremely low skilled." MacDonald worries that "we're facing, for the first time in this country's history ... the first decrease in national literacy and numeracy ... . "
She wants to copy Australia's and Canada's policy: "high skills, English language and education. ... We should be looking out for our own economic self-interest." Riley disagreed with MacDonald's claim that Mexican immigrants don't fit America's modern economy.
"(T)oday's immigrants coming here are not different in terms of their behavior patterns, in terms of their assimilation levels. They are simply newer."
"Immigrants increase crime!" is another charge hurled at illegals, but the data don't bear that out. There has been a surge in immigration over recent years, but crime has been dropping. Crime has dropped in the border areas of Arizona and California, too.
MacDonald said crime was high during immigration surges in the 1970s and '80s, and attributed the recent drop to higher incarceration rates. But Riley noted, "Incarceration reports from the Justice Department ... show that the native-born are five times more likely than the immigrant population to be arrested and incarcerated ... ."
But if today's illegals are not eligible for welfare, less likely to commit crimes and eager to work, why are people in the border states so ticked off?
"Why wouldn't they be?" Riley said. "It's chaos down there. There's trespassing. There are people breaking the law. We're a nation of laws. It's out of control. The question is how to fix it. And I don't think sealing off the border is the best way to fix it. I think regulating the flow is the best way to fix it."
It would be easier to "regulate the flow" if America made it easier for people to work here legally. State Department data show that a British Ph.D. in bioengineering must wait about six months to get a green card. A South African computer programmer, six years. An Indian computer programmer, 35 years.
A Mexican with a high school diploma must wait a theoretical 131 years! No wonder people sneak into America.
Black markets make problems worse. America should let more people come here legally.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at

14 comments from readers  

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It's rare for me to disagree at all with John Stossel. But the respect he gives to Heather Macdonald's collectivist position on immigration saddens me. She doesn't seem to know that we are born with individual rights. They are inalienable. The US government doesn't grant them. They include the right to pursuit of happiness. And they don't include the right to prevent others from exercising their identical rights. Don't like giving immigrants welfare -- so don't. Don't like giving them free education - so don't. (While you're at it, don't give welfare to native born Americans either).

I sense that Stossel's heart is with me...but I think he is much too polite.
"Black Markets make problems worse."? I disagree. But first, let's define "Black Market". A market in anything is called "Black" if the actions are not regulated (controlled) by law (bureaucrats). Ideally, all markets should be free, i.e., individuals should be free to transact business without third party interference. Interference is justified by placing business interaction in a special class of social interactions and declaring this class as potentially dangerous. This assumption cannot be proven. It can be proven that regulation and taxation are added costs that destroy business if not challenged and removed or resisted. People who resist are called criminals. Resistance is not immoral. It is necessary to existence.
I think one of the things that have Americans so outraged is this sudden change in our cultural stance whereby we now have to choose between English and Spanish on every commerical phone call, have to act as though Spanish is part of our cultural heritage, and most people resent this arrogant intrusion into our normal way of doing business.

My father came here as a child with his family from Italy. The minute they arrived, they started speaking English, and Italian was not allowed in the house at all. I never learned Italian from my father, because they were so adamant about wanting to "fit in" and be part of American society. They left Italy behind, and were extremely appreciative of the opportunity to live here in this country.

I think if the people who come here would also be appreciative and respect our culture instead of trying to change it into their culture, Americans might be a lot more receptive to their entry, legal or otherwise.

Arrogance has never been well received in any society, not when you've just walked in the door.
Yes, we should. But instead we're swamped by millions of illegal immigrants that have little or no skills or education. We spend billions for education and training on our own children to avoid those same maladies. What you also ignore is the problem of "anchor babies." While it is true that illegal immigrants are not entitled to welfare their American born babies are. They do collect welfare, food stamps and free public school educations. Many illegals work "off the books" are paid in cash and many send portions of that cash back to their homeland. Most people wouldn't allow a relative to move into their house, eat their food, squat in their living room and refuse to leave, why should they allow a stranger to do the same?
Why should we get the worst from Mexico -- just because the contry is next door, when we are turning away the best from India, China, etc?

Open borders are not just a security problem, they reward the corrupt at the expense of the good.

I don't know where those crime statistics came from. But, by arrests and by incarceration, Latinos are very over-represented in California's penal system.

And, laws are now selectively enforced. The local authorities (city and county) ignore all immigration law, almost all property crimes, and only enforce zoning regulations on those that they deem can pay.
Jason Riley sitting in the Ivory Tower of the Wall Street Journal has sorely missed the facts of "today's immigration". Historically immigrants legal and illegal came to the USA to become Americans, part of the melting pot and became Italian-Americans, Anglo-Americans, Franco-Americans, German-Americans, Swedish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, etc.

By the third generation they became almost fully assimilated. Today's immigration by people mostly from south of the border is NOT the "Immigration of Olde." All parameters of measurement show that even into the 4th and 5th Generation the formerly "Mexican-American" demographic continued to maintain the same levels of education,income growth and cultural nationalism as the first generation.

And since the 60s the self description of this group has changed from Mexican American to "Hispanic, Latino and Chicano" ... distinguishing and isolating them as separate from an "American" connection in a way that prior immigrants did not. Also, the unending 1 million a year illegal alien flow continued to replenish and grow the cultural nationalism and energize historical grievances creating a illegal shadow nation within the USA connected by 200 Spanish Language television stations and 178 Spanish language newspapers.
Sorry about the low score, John, but your solution sounds akin to the public educators who think their schools will look more competent if they lower the test score requirements so more kids can pass.

Illegals have all but completely unrestricted access to the welfare state here. For every worker, there are 3-7 moochers living off others thoughtlessly via the government, and the money earned goes back to Mexico. Since 7 out of 10 prisoners are illegal migrants, your figures on crime don't add up, either.

Both political parties are accomplices in the illegal immigration crime. Donks want the extra votes, GOPhers want the cheap labor, so all look the other way - just like they did with the 9-11 terrorists overstaying their visas.

More pretense that the issue doesn't exist is not a solution. Enforcing the immigration law - like Arizona is trying to do - is, and would be a better use of our troops than the middle east Bankers' Wars in which they're currently being wasted!
Yes, totally agreed. If America doesnt allow immigrants, which other country would!? No one would certainly be interested to migrate to India, or China! Since America stands for freedom and no matter who comes in power, it will remain to stand like that. So, if America has to win the war for reclaiming its original principles, immigrants like me(in near futute) would certainly love to be a part of it!
John Stossel, as a good libertarian I would expect from you a somewhat deeper analysis of the "problem" that you refer to in your article. It's easy to say that there must be some kind of control on inmigration... what kind of controls would you suggest?. I have been in the south border of Texas, I worry about the problem and I don't know what to suggest really. It's a phenomenal human problem and I don't see an immediate solution. Sorry, I ususally enjoy and learn from reading your columns... no this time.
Unfortunatley this artile goes no where and does not even remotely help the already existing confused and undefined thoughts on the matter. HELP!
The balance of John Stossel's editorial confirms the admission of his opening sentence.

In the absence of any cultural cohesion or affinity, what is the justification for the existance of an entity called a "country"? In my opinion, the root problem of unlimited immigration into the United States is the destructive influence on its cullture based on individual freedom and the rule of law. These two principles are the very foundation of the success of the American dream to which would be migrants are drawn. Unfortunately, many of those (and many already here legally or not) do not understand or embrace these culturally unifying principles as evidenced by the very act of entering the country unlawfully.

Comments by neither MacDonald and Riley cite first hand experience on the border with Mexico, thus add nothing substantively to the debate. Riley's assertion that "native born are five times more likely that the immigrant population to be arrested and incarcerated" is absolutely false in the states of California, Arizona and Texas.

I have lived in all four states bordering Mexico and have worked on both sides of the border in CA and AZ since 1977. My opinions are based on personal knowledge and experience. I consider myself a libertarian, but the Constitution of the United States does not guarantee unrestricted migration to this country to just anyone who can, by whatever means, cross the border from another country.
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Absolutely true!

Most Mexicans I know (including my green-card-bearing ex) don't want to be forced to become American citizens or year-round residents. They want to work here periodically, and return to their families to invest the fruits of their labor.

The illegal ones have incentives NOT to commit crimes or get involved with the welfare or family agencies. They are trying to not get deported, while also trying to stay fully employed on a cash basis, and send money home, while also paying off the $7000 coyote fee it cost them to get here. It's a miracle they have anything left over to feed themselves.

Not only do they risk their lives with coyotes to get in, they can't afford to go home for births and deaths. Many live 5-10 years of lonely exile from wife and children

Their relatives at home are vulnerable to extortionists. There is a new "secondary market" for the wetback's labor: the kidnapping of members of the family that gets American dollars.

My "godson-in-law," a hard-working responsible man who has worked seasonally in the US for the last ten years on reforestation visas, has had his daughters targeted twice by kidnappers in Mexico. He sent 15,000 pesos and lost it all.

The Mexican employees of the company which arranges his employment were caught by the USA charging Mexican workers bribes for their visas, so guess what? The US company was sanctioned, and he lost his job this year.

If he here really smart, he would sneak in illegally and father a bunch of babies and wait for an amnesty. Or join the drug or human smugglers. You can't fight the facts: These are the people who win under the current system.
If the individual is sovereign and we suffer minimal governmental interference, then borders should be easy to cross. However, the prohibition of drugs makes the border a very dangerous place, and some illegal immigrants very dangerous people. This is, in my view, what makes illegal immigration so difficult to address.
I don't know what part of the country your from, but here in Texas illegals are getting Lone Star food stamp cards and W.I.C. cards. Don't tell me they're not receiving welfare. They are. I'm a laissez-faire capitalist, but that has NOTHING to do with being a CITIZEN of the United States (or even being a Texan). I'm an ex-Republican, now Libertarian, but most of the illegals will be (ultimately) given the right to vote and that would mean voting for the biggest welfare slates that either the Democrats or Republicans have to offer at the time. Being a nationalist and/or being a Texan with sentiments towards nullification and possibly secession...I see no probem with simultaneously being a libertarian.
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