Introduction: Is Immigration Good for America?

Article excerpt

The question of whether immigration has been good for America has been on the minds of Americans since the beginning of our republic and continues in the pages of this issue of the Cato Journal. As the United States enters another presidential election year, President Obama has been calling on Congress to enact immigration reform while his administration has been deporting record numbers of unauthorized immigrants. Meanwhile, Republican presidential candidates have been competing with each other to adopt the toughest positions to enforce existing law, including the completion of a fence along the entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico. Outside of Washington, legislatures in Arizona, Georgia, Alabama, and other states have enacted laws designed to make life more difficult for undocumented immigrants.

The Economic Case for Immigration

Undervalued in today's discussion is the strong economic case for a more open policy toward immigration. Basic economic analysis and numerous empirical studies have confirmed that immigrants boost the productive capacity of the United States through their labor, their human capital, and their entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of competing head-to-head with American workers, immigrants typically complement native-born workers by filling niches in the labor market.

Lower-skilled immigrants seek low-paying, low-status jobs that an insufficient number of Americans aspire to fill, providing more affordable goods and services to consumers while creating more rewarding employment opportunities for the native-born. Higher-skilled immigrants allow American companies to create new products and raise productivity by stimulating innovation. Immigrant workers make capital more productive, boosting investment, output per worker, and government tax receipts.

Today's immigration levels, while high in nominal terms, are well within the norms of American experience. A century ago, during the Great Migration, both the stock and the annum inflow of immigrants were significantly higher than today as a share of the population. Yet America assimilated those "huddled masses" of millions of immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, who within a generation or two joined the great American middle class. Public anxiety back then over the "new races" coming to our shores bears a striking resemblance to anxieties over today's immigrant inflows from Asia and especially Latin America.

Fundamental Questions

This special issue of the Cato Journal features articles from a dozen experts in the field of immigration examining the most controversial aspects of the issue. The authors weigh a number of relevant questions regarding immigration policy in the United States, such as:

* Why should we restrict immigration?

* What are the economic benefits of immigration, what are its costs, and what are the distributional effects?

* What would be the economic effects of an "amnesty" for unauthorized workers already in the United States?

* What is the demographic impact of immigration in an era of declining birthrates in the United States and other Western countries?

* How easy or difficult is it to immigrate legally to the United States?

* What has been the effect of immigration enforcement, on the border and in the work-place? …