Human Resource Economics and Public Policy: Essays in Honor of Vernon M. Briggs Jr

By Charles J. Whalen | Go to book overview

7
Immigration Policy and
Economic Development

James T. Peach
New Mexico State University

For more than three decades, Vernon M. Briggs Jr. argued that U.S. immigration policy should be determined largely on the basis of the nation’s rapidly changing labor-market trends. In Briggs’s view, U.S. immigration policy and the needs of the labor market have been mismatched. He has been particularly concerned about a new (fourth) wave of migration with detrimental effects disproportionately felt by unskilled workers and minorities, especially blacks and Hispanics. What is needed, Briggs argues, is an immigration policy that reduces the massive flow of international migration to the United States and matches the characteristics of immigrants with genuine labor force needs.

Briggs’s policy conclusions are based on a careful, detailed analysis of immigration law and the often-unintended consequences of changes in immigration law. His analysis is logical, subtle, and compelling. Yet Congress has failed to pass immigration legislation consistent with changing labor-market conditions and needs.

The latest attempt to pass a major immigration reform law in 2007 contained some elements consistent with Briggs’s proposals, but it had almost no chance of being passed by a deeply divided Congress. Not surprisingly, there were no major immigration law changes in the 2008 presidential election year, nor did immigration policy play a major role during the presidential campaign. Immigration was simply too controversial for either major party to bring into play. Given the global economic and financial crisis that became more serious in late 2008 and continued into 2009, immigration is not likely to be a high priority on the policy agenda of Congress or the Obama administration. In brief, major U.S. immigration reform may not occur for many years.

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