The current United States legal immigration system whereby extended family members and relatives of naturalized U.S. citizens are able to readily enter the country is “really hard to justify as a rational immigration policy,” a Harvard University economist says.
In an interview with Talking Points Memo, economist George Borjas explained that the current legal immigration system — whereby the U.S. admits more than 1.5 million legal immigrants a year, mostly through family chain migration — could be easily done away with under Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and Sen. David Perdue’s (R-GA) legal immigration-cutting RAISE Act legislation.
The numbers issue, let me be totally blunt about this. There is no single economic study that predicts what the right number of immigrants should be. The political instability created by the high levels of immigration over the last twenty years suggests to me that we’ve gone beyond the line of what is best. That we are on the too much side, rather than on the too few side. 550,000 is the number that the Jordan commission came up with twenty years ago.
Not many people are proposing that we have completely open borders. That means that if you are in a reasonable span of the political spectrum, you are going to favor some kind of limit. So one question becomes how many, and the other question then becomes which type. Most of the cuts in Perdue Cotton bill come from cuts in the family preference system as it applies to extended families. You go to the United States, that spouse of yours comes, then the siblings come, and their spouses’ parents, and so on. That kind of branching out is really hard to justify as a rational immigration policy. The way to go from a million to half a million immigrants is by getting rid of all these extended family connections.
I am not sure what is right. But do you really want to have policy in place where the entrance of an immigrant provides a path for the entrance of the immigrant’s wife’s sister’s husband’s parents? That’s not clear. I would say we need a much more reasonable way of establishing who can come in and who can’t. And what I would say is that in so far as no one in the reasonable political spectrum is really advocating open borders, we have to decide on a number, and it is hard to do that by relying on evidence from economic studies.
Family-based chain migration is the leading reason for legal immigration levels to the U.S. rising over the last five decades. As Breitbart News reported, immigrants coming from countries like Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador have a tendency to bring between three to six relatives with them to the U.S. once they are granted citizenship.
This chain migration system has led to a record number of nearly 44 million immigrants in the U.S. in July 2016, as Center for Immigration Studies researcher Steven Camarota explained in a recent immigration brief.
Borjas also noted how through the mass immigration of the last five decades, the U.S. has operated the world’s “largest anti-poverty program” at the expense of Americans, as Breitbart News reported:
“Since 1965, we have admitted a lot of low-skilled immigrants, and one way to view that policy is that we were running basically the largest anti-poverty program in the world,” Borjas said. “That is actually not a bad thing at all. Except someone is going to have to pay the cost for that.”
“This is the question that most progressives don’t want to face up to,” Borjas continued. “They really want to believe that immigrants are manna from heaven. That everybody is really better off and that everybody is happy forever after. What they refuse to confront is the reality that nothing in the world is like manna from heaven. In any policy change, some people benefit a lot and some people don’t. And this point also applies to immigration, which has created the dynamics of where we are now.”
John Binder is a reporter for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter at @JxhnBinder.