Is Immigration Good for America?

Last April, 2012 the libertarian Cato Institute held a conference on the question “Is Immigration Good for America?”. The conference sessions are available as audio or video podcasts or in the Winter Cato Journal. The conference addressed a number of key questions, including:

  • What are the arguments for immigration restriction?
  • What are the economic benefits and costs of immigration?
  • What are the economic effects of an “amnesty” for unauthorized workers in the U.S.?
  • What is the demographic impact of immigration in an era of declining birthrates?
  • How easy or difficult is it to immigrate legally to the United States?
  • What is the effect of immigration enforcement on the border and in the workplace?
  • Should we retain the doctrine of birthright citizenship as it has been interpreted in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution?
  • Is immigration incompatible with a welfare state?
  • What kind of reforms of current immigration policy would be most beneficial, and can market incentives be utilized to allocate immigration visas?

Dan Griswold wrote the introduction to the Cato Journal special issue on immigration. Dan begins with a concise summary of how immigration benefits the destination country:

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 comple- ment 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 prod- ucts 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 annual inflow of immigrants were significantly higher than today as a share of the population. Yet America assimilated those “huddled masses” of millions of immi- grants 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.


Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk? Yes, those trillions can be collected by global immigration reform. The indirect effects of immigration include the rarely discussed impact of Emigration: Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk? [ungated PDF of the AEA paper in Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 25, Number 3—Summer 2011.] Clemens is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Development – one of the few development NGO’s that we really respect. CGD gets results, not just first class junkets for overpaid staff.

End-note Moving the Jobless to the Jobs: Crucial for Economic Growth. If immigration makes everyone more prosperous, why do cities block immigration with bad housing policy? “Last one in closes the gate”.