City Journal
Myron Magnet
Which Immigration Impasse?
Baloney from billionaires
13 July 2014
Photo by Thu Phuong​

Thursday’s New York Times op-ed by Sheldon Adelson, Warren Buffett, and Bill Gates is about as misleading as it is possible to be without actually telling a lie. “Break the Immigration Impasse,” they demand. Fine: but the impasse has nothing to do with the more liberal admission of the immigrants they cite—those with advanced degrees or investment capital. Who would not gladly give these immigrants green cards and a path to citizenship, as Canada or Australia does? Who does not think it is irrational to admit young Chinese nationals as grad students to Caltech or MIT, only to send them home to hack U.S. computers for the People’s Liberation Army? Either don’t let them in in the first place, or else make them promise to stay here and give them green cards to allow them to do so.

The trouble with a piece like the billionaires’ op-ed is that there are really two immigration debates, and their article will turn up as an exhibit in the immigration argument they don’t endorse. They join hands with the Silicon Valley magnates who want more H1-B visas for tech Ph.D.’s, and I’m happy to join with them in supporting that argument, though I can’t help but notice that some of the most fabled names in the tech business allegedly have conspired to fix the wages of their highly qualified engineers by forming illegal non-competitive hiring pacts, so it’s hard to tell just how pressing the demand for engineering talent really is. Still, since human knowledge and ingenuity are the most valuable of all natural resources, it’s impossible not to think that the more of them we have, the better. And if our own schools and colleges aren’t turning out enough of such skills, by all means let’s import as much as we can.

But this argument has nothing whatever to do with the massed children at our southern border, admitted through a foolish loophole unintentionally created by the Bush administration and exploited by the Obama regime as a way of changing the character of the American people, both by enlarging the underclass whom Democrats can claim it is their mission to rescue with ever more generous welfare programs, and by creating yet more Democratic voters, if these kids ever become citizens—or if they become anchor babies who can then legally bring in their parents and siblings under our existing, and harmful, family-unification immigration policy.

The real immigration debate is over illegal immigrants like these—Hispanics with no skills, little social capital, and less education. To be sure, they have been a boon to industries that depend on cheap unskilled labor, from agriculture to construction to hotels and restaurants. And they are a boon to the prosperous, who hire them as nannies, pool-boys, gardeners, butlers, what-have-you—though I take for granted that our billionaire-authors make Social Security payments for such employees, after making sure they are legal immigrants.

Anyone who thinks in static, rather than historical, terms will see these hardworking young immigrants as a boon. How could it not be an economic advantage to have people who will bike your dinner from the restaurant in the snow for a modest tip or babysit your child for more hours per week than the law—or decency—allows? But when you look at the statistics showing the welfare dependency or crime rates of their American-born children, you have to note that such workers come with a cost that is not paid by those who are their immediate employers. It is paid by the taxpayers. As for the hardworking immigrants themselves, they do wear out: and then the cost of their emergency-room health care gets added into the premiums of everyone who pays for health insurance. The upshot: according to Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, the net cost to American society of illegal immigrant households is $54.5 billion a year right now, even accounting for the fact that FICA and income tax get deducted from their wage checks, when they are not paid in cash off the books. And none of this takes into account the cost to the native-born welfare underclass: in an economy in which illegal immigrants didn’t work for such low wages, maybe a tough workfare system would get Americans to do the jobs that American currently won’t do—at immense cost to their own and their children’s morale and self-development. After all, as a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies shows, all of the new jobs created since 2000 went to immigrants.

So, as the social scientists always tell us: let’s disaggregate. Which immigrants are we talking about? Which immigrants is the immigration debate about? A piece like that of the billionaires, whatever their motives, only confuses the issue. The real point is that we need an immigration policy that chooses, among all the world’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free, those who will turn out to be net contributors to our national wealth and well-being. In an age of an all-pervading welfare state, and with our culture of self-reliance being elbowed aside by an entitlement culture and a street culture that turns immigrants into gangstas as easily as it turns them into tycoons or dentists, it’s no longer possible to say, well, our greenhorn grandparents made it, despite their apparent disadvantages. They were different people, and that was a different country.

Myron Magnet, City Journal’s editor-at-large and a recipient of the National Humanities Medal, is the author of The Founders at Home, recently published by Norton.

    next>>
TOP|Go to desktop version

Follow City Journal: