Open-Door Immigration

While immigration is a perennial issue in American presidential campaigns, it has reached an unprecedented level of importance in the 2016 Republican Presidential primary. This is thanks in large part to the candidacy of the bellicose businessman Donald Trump. The real estate magnate and former reality star opened his campaign with the assertion that the Mexican government is sending rapists and criminals to the United States and promptly rose to the top of Republican primary polls.

Trump’s campaign message and its resonance among Republican voters have sent the Republican primary into disarray [1]. It has befuddled established candidates like the once-frontrunner Governor Jeb Bush, whose moderate position on immigration and relation to the past two Republican presidents have helped send his support into the low single digits. It has also dealt a serious setback to GOP leadership, who had made increasing the party’s appeal among Latino voters a major goal following Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012 [2].

Trump’s proposals on immigration include building a “big, beautiful wall” along the entire length of the Mexican border (and making the Mexican government pay for it), as well as deporting the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. These plans constitute some of the businessman’s only concrete policy proposals, and he has centered his campaign message around them [3]. The support for Trump’s anti-immigration policies has also pushed other GOP candidates to take less moderate positions on immigration. While none have gone so far in advocating mass deportations, candidates like Marco Rubio and Chris Christie have advocated for heightened visa controls and tracking systems, while Ben Carson has proposed a border fence and drone surveillance [4].

The timing of this rightward shift is not only politically inconvenient for the Republican party, but is also out of sync with today’s immigration realities. Since 2012, the Pew Research Center has reported that net immigration from Mexico has been zero, or perhaps even negative [5]. Pew also points out that the majority of new undocumented immigrants come not by crossing the Mexican border but by plane from Asia, typically arriving legally and overstaying tourist visas [6].

The fundamental underpinnings of Trump’s assertions about both legal and illegal immigration–that it harms America–have been called into question [7]. Economists widely agree that a measured amount of immigration such as we have today is a benefit rather than a detriment to our economy, allowing employers to fill certain low-skilled jobs that Americans typically shun and offsetting the U.S.’s decreasing population growth [8].

Nonetheless, anti-immigration policies still have great resonance among Republican voters, especially the less educated, lower-income white voters that make up Donald Trump’s base of support [9]. The issue of immigration has carried Trump to the top of Republican primary polls, and could carry him to the nomination–but, by alienating minorities, it could also cost Republicans the White House in 2016. Sam Fraser


On the eve of a flurry of campaign ads and presidential stump speeches, nativist rhetoric has taken its usual role on many conservative political stages. Bashing immigrants and discouraging migration have often been popular scapegoats for many societal issues and sources of discontent, such as crime and unemployment. Adversely, the preponderance of evidence suggests that most claims about immigration in this nativist rhetoric are false.

Immigration has little to no effect on the wages or employment of high- and low-skilled workers. In a 2013 meta-survey report by Giovanni Peri, an Economics professor at UC Davis, immigrant workers actually increased local workers’ wages and incentivized firms to expand [10]. Supported by 30 years of empirical research beginning in 1982, Peri finds that immigrant workers often have no effect on native-born workers’ wages due to inherent differences between the two groups. Insulated by many native-born advantages such as linguistic and cultural expertise, local workers tend to occupy more specialized jobs that immigrant workers cannot. The report goes on to cite over 27 different studies that confirm that immigrant workers, high- and low-skilled, act as complements–rather than substitutes–to native-born employees in the labor market.

In the case of low-skilled workers specifically, Peri claims that illegal immigrants either positively affect wages for local workers or do not have any effect at all. The Hamilton Project, a research subsidiary headed by two fellows from the Brookings Institute, supported this and also found that immigrants raise the living standard for all citizens on average [11]. The Hamilton Project also confirms Peri’s claim that immigrant labor increases productivity and increases wages for native-born workers in the labor market.

The Hamilton Project further states that immigrant labor acts as an important safety valve during times of economic stress and market flexing. Specifically, the Hamilton Project cites the interesting dynamic between immigrant workers and agricultural producers. Low-skilled immigrant workers allow many agricultural producers to expand when there is a shortage of U.S workers or when U.S. workers are unwilling to fill positions involving particularly burdensome labor. This safety has allowed agricultural producers to expand, thereby extending employment possibilities and incomes to more native-born contractors and workers.

The link between immigration and crime has been greatly over-exaggerated. Lesley Reid, a sociology professor at the University of Alabama, conducted a study sampling over 150 metropolitan areas and found that recent immigration often had a “significant negative effect” on homicide rates [12]. She states that “anti-immigrant sentiments that view immigrants as crime prone are not only inaccurate at the micro-level, they are also inaccurate at the macro-level. . . increased immigration may actually be beneficial in terms of lessening some types of crimes” (Reid et al. 2005). This is further supported by evidence provided by a July 2015 report on the correlation between immigration and crime. Ph.D. professors Ewing, Martinez, and Rumbaut conclude that there is no statistically significant correlation between immigration and all types of crime [13].

The most popular theory for why crime rates are often lower for immigrants when compared to native-born individuals lies in the “healthy immigrant thesis” (Cato 2015). Motivated and ambitious foreigners are generally the most likely to either take the risk of immigrating illegally or sticking through the immigration process. Essentially, immigrants invested in moving to the US are much less likely to engage in criminal behavior as they are, more often than not, individuals with the resolve and motivation to strive for a better life.

Immigration has often held center stage as a toxic issue for many politicians. However, most of the evidence compiled on the effects of illegal and legal immigration demonstrates little to no negative effects. Immigrants benefit local economies, discourage crime rates in many instances, and make our cities and towns more culturally rich. They mark an important opportunity for the American community to expand, culturally and economically. Nova Quaoser


In saying that immigration doesn’t affect the nominal wages of American citizens, Mr. Quaoser is correct. However, an increase in taxation which results from an influx of (more often than not) uneducated individuals entering the country has a powerful impact to the real value of our wages, as we have to give more of our money away to support immigrants and thus can purchase fewer products. Much of Mr. Quaoser’s argument revolves around the idea that free immigration allows a “neutral” force to enter our borders, and that because of this we have little to lose in allowing everyone who wishes to enter our gates. However, even if this were true, the U.S. doesn’t have unlimited resources, and the land of opportunity can only be such to a limited carrying capacity. By allowing an unregulated influx of immigrants we firstly lower our real wages by having a “non-existent effect on [nominal] wages” while increasing our taxes, and secondly, by allowing for such an increase in population density with no change in natural resources we simultaneously allow for the quickened destruction of our own backyard. Ultimately, Mr. Quaoser only sees what he argues as “neutral” because he has not considered further negative consequences. David Brown


While it’s important to remember that immigrants founded America, it’s of greater importance to acknowledge that leaving borders wide open could present a host of negative consequences. A point may come when immigration is detrimental, rather than beneficial, to American society. It’s unfortunate that there are people in the world suffering from factors outside of their control, and that many of these people feel they need to come to America to seek solace, comfort, and their own piece of the American dream. When possible, we as a country–and more importantly as human beings–have a responsibility to help these people. However, if and when open immigration gets to the point of harming the quality of life of the American populace, we must restrict our borders. Our government’s role, above its many important humanitarian efforts, is to look after its own citizens. Thus, conditional restrictions on immigration are necessary to maintain the America we all believe in.

The world’s population is growing at an astonishingly exponential rate, and many have argued that we have already reached our carrying capacity. With a population of over 38 million, California is struggling to limit water use, as many 5C students will have noticed [14]. Allowing a significant influx of immigrants will tax the limited and precious environmental resources we are already failing to preserve. If the U.S. cannot provide enough resources for its own citizens—which is becoming a more realistic possibility as time passes while environmental protection bills do not—how can we afford to allow more people to come and contribute to the depletion of our scarce resources?

Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman famously remarked, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state” [15]. Immigrants often come to America in order to escape a harsh and painful life in their home country. Such conditions almost always include poverty, which means when they come to America they will still be poor and require government aid, which taxes American resources like welfare benefits, health services, and education. Programs like Medicare and Social Security cannot afford to take on a plethora of new recipients. An influx of uneducated low-income immigrants bring with it increased taxes to the rest of the country, requiring existing citizens to give up a part of their hard-earned money to support people who have only just entered our borders. Dr. Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies found that uneducated citizens in America (including natural-born citizens) “use more in services than they pay in taxes. . . . There is simply no question about this basic fact” [16]. In fact, this disparity between government money earned through taxes and money used for social programs does not balance out until the head of a legal immigrant’s household holds a bachelor’s degree, allowing uneducated immigrants to reap more than they’ve sewed [17]. Simply put, the majority of our country’s immigrants don’t have bachelor’s degrees, and almost one-fourth of them haven’t even graduated high school [18].

America doesn’t need a wall between us and Mexico, regardless of how large the “big, fat beautiful door right in the middle of the wall” is [19]. But we do need to remain vigilant of the turn at which America surpasses its own carrying capacity. Our population is too large, and allowing more people in than we should only exacerbates this unfortunate reality. To prevent this, we need comprehensive immigration reform; we need a government that puts its own citizens above the rest of the world. This does not mean we cannot help people. This does not mean that we have to close our walls and become isolationists, but it does mean that until immigrants join our country legally, our government should treat immigrants with less priority than the citizens within our borders. David Brown


Mr. Brown argues that immigrants drain limited resources from local economies, specifically water resources in California. While water resources are restricted due to environmental effects, having greater immigration flow increases the ability of local economies to remain flexible. Immigrants expand business consumption and alleviate population pressure such as having too many elderly people and not enough young workers. Even though more immigrants mean more people consuming natural resources, the benefits that immigrants bring to local economies far outweigh the costs associated with added consumption. In fact, having greater consumption would increase the tax revenue and growth of the American economy at all levels. Most legal immigrants do pay taxes, and the illegal immigrants that do not pay taxes still must pay sales tax on most goods, thereby increasing government revenue.

This expansion of government revenue directly contributes to the social programs described in Mr. Brown’s article. The reality of poor immigrants–legal or illegal–is that their addition to local economies is complementary. They may not pay taxes (legal immigrants do) but they expand the income and taxable income in local economies. Businesses and native-born workers both benefit from having immigrants as a result of long-term increases in wages and greater local economic growth. Nova Quaoser




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image:“Immigration.” by Nicola Romagna – Own work. Licensed under CC via Flickr Creative Commons –