The Right Opinion

Immigrants -- Good or Bad?

By John Stossel · Jul. 21, 2010

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.



terry goodwin said:

John, read the bottom of the statue of liberty, and that will answer your question. Thats why we have the problem we have. Garbage.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 9:37 AM

Dorothy Grissom said:

" long as it's illegal for people to come, they don't qualify for welfare and Social Security. So they migrate to jobs." And the jobs they migrate to include human trafficing and the illegal drug trade. Crime is rampant on the border. We can no longer afford to be a country of open immigration --legal or illegal.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 11:00 AM

Mark said:

I still don't understand why we are debating this issue. Why are we debating "illegal" immigration; it's illegal? Ask any other country to tell you what happens to illegal aliens found inside their borders. Their answers will range from jail to execution swiftly dealt to the "illegal".How does America deal with it; welfare, food stamps, housing subsidies, etc...? Doesn't make any sense; there should not be a debate. We should enforce the laws as they were written.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 12:10 PM

Sara said:

immigration = goodillegal immigration = ILLEGAL!!seems pretty simple to me

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 1:13 PM

James said:

Interesting article: that article, illegal immigrants account for:33% drug charges20% of DUI's20% crimes with weapons96% of smuggling44% fraudI agree with what you've said John, but not for the same reasons. Illegals account for much of the crime in this country. While they do come for jobs, they do not pay taxes commensurate with the services they use. Furthermore, they send much of their earnings back home. I will have to agree that we should make immigrating to this country easier. That way, immigrants can have a legal job and pay their taxes, contributing to the society they are now a member of.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 2:53 PM

wntforit said:

In late fifties, early sixties, there was a 'guest worker' progam. "Braceros." There was a hue and cry of 'taking jobs.' So, it was stopped. The date palms around southern CA are quite tall. Nobody local would do the harvest. So, about 45 folks were hired, in Mississippi! Brought to SoCal on buses. They took one look at he trees, several declined, some tried, two made it, but quit right after lunch. Point? Previous 'guest worker' programs have not been constructive. Apparently the opportunity for mischief is quite high. We are "chumming" the international waters. South America mostly reponds.As do others. The talk of 'immigrants made this country' is accurate. They also brought the problems of the land they left. Most became Americans, learned the language. Not so today. Now we provide 'driver exams' is seventeen languages.The oath of allegiance (no caps here) is vowed in the languae of mexico! Conclusion: Immigration law does not require modification. Immigation enforcement,that does! A strength taken to extreme, becomes a weakness. Our strength of diversity, acceptance, et al, has created a weakness that is being explointed for personal gain--to the detriment of the majoity. Seal the borders!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 at 8:54 PM

Merry in Cave Creek, AZ said:

John,The immigration battles going on now are really NOT about race; it is about right and wrong, just as there is no longer right and left in politics but up and down.My husband hit me with this "out of the box" thinking on this issue in response to my objection that Mexican citizens don't want to assimilate but rather import their culture to the U.S. Anyone who has been to Mexico can see that it is a third world country, openly corrupt, and not at all concerned with the welfare of its people. This culture does not fit well in America nor do the people who wish to retain every part of it after they get here. They are naturally suspicious of law enforcement (prior to SB1070), they remain uneducated, they are used as virtual slaves by American employers who underpay them and overwork them, and on and on it goes. It is inhumane, illegal, and cannot be sustained. The added burden to our public costs of education, healthcare, incarceration, and all other costs are astronomical with the border states bearing the costs in overcrowded ERs and schools. (Of course, I think if we did away with public welfare programs we go a long way in solving the illegal border crossings as well as heal our own country.)My husband's thought was this (based on his work for and conversations with many financially successful and well-educated legal immigrants): There are thousands of people all over the world who dream of living in the U.S. and wish to actually become citizens. They go to the consulates, complete form after form, look high and low for sponsors/jobs, prove that their admission to the U.S. would be positive, and wade through what seems to be an endless bureaucracy. Many wait years and years and get their hopes dashed year after year. They prove that they are law abiding at home, subject themselves to "whatever it takes", and wait patiently for that "golden ticket" in the form of a U.S. Visa. When they finally do get it, they come here full of hope and promise. They genuinely appreciate the opportunity to live and work here; they learn the language if they haven't already. They work hard and cherish the thought of becoming a U.S. citizen. They insist that their children learn English and speak ONLY English--even at home. They object to voting materials printed in other than English and question why this is necessary if only a naturalized citizen, who must demonstrate basic English language skills, is allowed to vote. They pay taxes and they start companies; and most started with not much more than a suitcase and a dream. Is it RIGHT to demand these sacrifices of this group of immigrants and not of those who enter illegally? Bottom line: My dear husband thinks that this is not an issue of race as some see it. He says it is truly and mater of right and wrong. Nothing more or less.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 12:11 PM

rxrs said:

Sorry Mr. Stossel, you're wrong. Just one anchor baby and the whole family is on welfare, medicaid and food stamps for life. An illegal can get medicaid faster than an american citizen anyday.

Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 2:22 PM

Jack said:

The problem isn't illegal aliens. Everyone shouts about all the poor refugees swarming across the borders, but these people are just a symptom of the disease.The Disease is Mexico. We have a 3rd world country on our border. Why? When Japan invaded Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Took care of business. When Afghanistan Invaded NYC, the U.S. took care of business. Mexico is run by the drug cartels, and illegals are invading our country! Mexico is right on our border! Why do we let this stand? When are we going to take care of business?

Thursday, July 22, 2010 at 5:55 PM

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

I have no problem with legal immigrants. I married one from Scotland! She came here to work- legally through a British employment agency - that company initiated her green card application after working here for them for one year. Took her another 8 years to get that Permanent Resident Alien status, then another two years to get US citizenship. She paid full taxes the whole time - 11 years - and yes- she carried copies of her work visa with her at all times in case anyone asked.The illegal workers of today are no longer "migrant workers" of the past that came to pick crops and move on when the season was over. Now, at least in the Southeast many are no longer "migrant" and no longer "workers". They have taken root here. Many are here without jobs, along with families raising babies born here, all living in poverty, on cash made without any taxes paid. The kids go to school and get lunch. They do not get Medicare or Medicaid. They do not pay their medical bills. No one pays for them. The hospitals and the doctors that take care of them get NOTHING. They don't speak English, but expect me to speak Spanish.Some are from Mexico, most are from Columbia and South America, but came through Mexico. They have no intention of becoming "American", they just want to get what they can.We must effectively close the border. On a practical level, it is immoral for us to allow our porous border to remain a viable option for these people to risk their lives attempting to come here. If they thought they could not get across - they would not try. Also, those that employ them here should be fined or imprisoned. They are stealing from me, from you, and from America. I'll be happy to pay more for my lettuce if that's what it takes.This is a complex problem, but my Hispanic friends who came here legally all support border enforcement. Why do none of the politicians listen to them?

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 2:47 AM

BrianK in Northwest Arkansas said:

Dr. Timms: In response to your final question, the answer is that the legal immigrants garner no sympathy. We are a culture that has a pathological need to feel sorry for people who are less fortumate than we. I think the Mexicans would be better served by putting their energies into improving the conditions in their home country. Instead of running across the border in essence taking the easy way out, they should work to effect change in their country. But, in order for that to work, the general populace needs to be educated, as opposed to indoctrinated.

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 10:20 PM

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

Brian,Of course, you are absolutely correct. Unfortunately your assessment "they should work to effect change in their country. But, in order for that to work, the general populace needs to be educated, as opposed to indoctrinated" can apply equally to the Mexican and American populace. The Mexican populace has incentive to come here and some folks here are willing to encourage that in the interest of profit. Both of those groups deserve to be in jail. They are stealing from the rest of us. The illegal alien is stealing and the construction company that hires subcontractors for plausible deniability (knowing they are low bidder because they are using illegal workers) is able to make big profit and buy a helicopter and an airplane to fly around and visit all his illegal projects. This must stop. We are all paying the cost of daily living for these illegals so a few business guys can make a killing. This is not all "BIG business Republican employers", this is local/regional construction, landscaping and chicken/meat processing companies that are stealing from us - their neighbors. We must have the rule of law or we are lost-- and our children will live in government housing, working at a boring government job, but happy in the olive drab existence of modern Europe, knowing that if they get a cold they can get a free doctor visit. They won't get antibiotics mind you, unless they have full blown pneumonia, and meet the government criteria for "worth saving". Immigration is the linchpin issue that must be addressed by closing the border - then talking about what to do with those illegals already here, and those who employ them. I have the "Plea Bargain" plan --- in detail . But it cannot be discussed until we have effectively closed the border.

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 11:11 PM

jm said:

many great comments. Illegal is illegal. seal the borders, electrify the fences, round them up, deport them and get a president and congress who have the balls to follow through. the left is desperate and need the 12million illegals for their re-elections. its time to wake up and take care of America first. soon, between the illegal mexicans, other latinos and OTMs we will have lost our sovereignty. seal the borders, round them up, control RAZA and shut down the Islamic training camps and either try them for treason and jail them or deport them. Political correctness is killing us. look what happened with the election in 2008 and over the last 18 months. any policy opposition is "racist", enforcing immigration policy is "racist", epecting performance of duty and accountability is "racist". wake up and do it now. our last exit is now.

Friday, July 23, 2010 at 11:30 PM

William S. Gaulin said:

This problem could be solved very easily, as a truck driver I see many illegals working in warehouses.Limit welfare dramaticlly and the unemployed will work where the illegals are now also increase the amount of work visa to fill the rest of the vacancies that will eliminate illegal imigration and lower unemployment also get rid of freebies

Sunday, July 25, 2010 at 3:49 PM