July 1, 2022

Why America’s “Illegal Immigration Problem” Is a Blessing in Disguise

There are two crises in the US that could simply make each other disappear.

The New York Post in late 2021 revealed scandalous actions by the Biden administration, carried out under the cover of darkness: “Planeloads of underage migrants are being flown secretly into suburban New York in an effort by President Biden’s administration to quietly resettle them across the region, The Post has learned.”

The Post’s on-the-ground reporting, analysis of flight-tracking data, and other sources suggested that migrant children, teens, and men in their 20s were being flown away from the ongoing border crisis in Texas, where local immigration officials have been overwhelmed for months. Thousands of migrants seem to have been secretly transported to places including White Plains, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, and Woodbridge on charter flights and in buses marked “out of service,” at times making use of routes such as the Hutchinson River Parkway, a road off-limits to commercial vehicles.

If these and myriad other actions by the Biden administration in response to the southern border crisis seem extreme, it is partly because the migrant situation has reached an unprecedented magnitude. US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has encountered almost 1.78 million migrants at the southwest border since the start of Biden’s presidential term, a number that has been growing at increasing rates since the start of the presidency.
CBP recently reported that about 178,840 illegal migrants were apprehended along the southern border in December alone, which is the largest number on record and about 100,000 more than the previous December. The administration releases the majority of migrants caught, and Border Patrol estimates that hundreds of thousands enter the country with no interception whatsoever. And December’s numbers were no outlier. Illegal immigration has been ramping up throughout much of Biden’s term, with 21-year records having been broken in mid 2021.

Unsurprisingly, responses from Republicans to the Biden administration’s recent handling of the migrant crisis have been largely hostile. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis responded with outrage to the New York Post’s recent findings, according to the Post. “If the Biden Administration is so confident that their open-border policy is good for our country, why the secrecy,” asked DeSantis’s spokeswoman Christina Pushaw. “Why is the Biden Administration refusing to share even the most basic information about illegal alien resettlement in communities throughout our state and the entire country?”

Work? No Thanks

Perhaps even more significant than the number of migrants flowing into the US is the number of employers currently struggling to find workers. Job openings hit historic highs last year, and record numbers of people have simply chosen not to go back to work after leaving the workforce during COVID-19 lockdowns. “Companies in just about every industry, from hospitality to finance, are desperate to hire people to keep up with demand. But the numbers willing to work for them are way down,” the Economist reported in January. “America has about 3m fewer workers now than on the eve of the pandemic, a 2% contraction in the labour force.”

What is the impact of such a tight labor market? As explained in the Economist, “Wage growth (at least in cash terms) is strong, especially for those on low incomes. For America as a whole, though, it is a bigger concern. If the population is near to full employment—meaning that just about anyone who wants a job can find one—then economic growth is already straining at its upper limits. An overheated jobs market would add fuel to the inflation already spreading through the economy, making it that much harder to stabilise prices.”

Whether we notice it or not, these millions of tasks being left unaccomplished throughout our economy have a negative impact on the everyday lives of consumers nationwide. Fewer products being manufactured means higher prices, tables going unstaffed in restaurants means longer wait times, and so on.

There is good reason to doubt that America’s labor market will rebound any time soon. Many workers say they’re not interested in going back to work regardless of what employers are offering. According to the Washington Post, “There has been especially fierce wage competition for lower-paid positions, especially since many former service sector workers say they won’t return at any price due to long hours, grueling work and increased exposure to the virus.” And those aren’t the only factors keeping people out of the workforce. CNBC reports that record-high savings balances, early retirements, and increased childcare responsibilities are among the many factors persisting to keep people out of the workforce.
A Morning Consult poll showed that 1.8 million out-of-work Americans turned down jobs due to unemployment benefits, and the actual number is probably much higher.

The Economist concludes, “For much of the past two years, a fair assumption was that as the pandemic ebbed, people would go back to work in droves. That looks less plausible today. Some of the decline in the number of workers appears likely to be permanent.” So, what should become of all the jobs that are going unfilled because too many people simply “won’t return at any price”? Should we just get used to paying more for our products, having fewer services available to us, and watching our children’s future prosperity vaporize before our eyes as the country’s economic growth continues to flatten?

The Laborers at the Gates

Unlike the large subset of Americans who are simply uninterested in the work that is available, there are countless people trying to enter the US who would gladly fill these jobs if they were only given the opportunity. They would love to be in the US making sandwiches, repairing automobiles, or performing other helpful services for the wages being offered. This would grow the US economy and improve the living standards of the vast majority of Americans in several ways.

First, it would create a greater abundance of goods and services, reducing the general cost of living by lowering the prices people would have to pay for their products. Further, due to the innovations that some immigrants would likely come up with after immigrating, it would also increase the number of different types of goods and services available to US citizens, granting them access to products they currently can’t buy at any price. And in addition to all of that, it would increase the division of labor in the United States, improving the efficiency of the market by allowing for greater levels of specialization.
It is for reasons such as these that Bryan Caplan, economist at George Mason University and author of the book Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, has called the liberalizing of immigration “the efficient, egalitarian, libertarian, utilitarian way to double world GDP.” And that claim about GDP is hardly an exaggeration, as shown in the famous paper “Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?,“ which Caplan discusses in his book.

Caplan argues in an interview that, “The very best way that we know of increasing the production of mankind is to move people from poor countries to rich countries. It is almost like magic. You take a Haitain who’s making a dollar a day in Port-au-Prince, move him to Miami, and suddenly he’s making forty dollars a day. His productivity increases by a factor of forty, and you’re like ‘how is that possible?’… And the answer is, his labor is extremely unproductive in Haiti and extremely productive in the United States.”

Caplan also notes, “And of course, if you understand the basics of trade, this doesn’t just benefit the immigrants, it benefits everyone who is consuming that product. …Right now, Haiti is pretty much irrelevant to the global economy. If you were to move those Haitians to Florida, suddenly the global economy would be richer by a very large amount, and a lot of the extra production would be consumed not just by the Haitains, but would be consumed by the people that are eating at Haitain restaurants, by the people that are hiring Haitain nannies or Haitain gardeners.”

When Problems Can Simply Disappear

Given the troubling labor shortage that faces the country, Biden’s leaky border policies are more likely a blessing in disguise than the curse that the Ron DeSantises of the world believe them to be. In order to maximize individual prosperity and rescue long-term economic growth in America from the weaknesses of a declining labor market, the Biden Administration should be letting more immigrants into the country, not fewer.

Our “problem” with understaffed businesses and our “crisis” on the Mexican border are largely self-inflicted. Countless enthusiastic workers from Mexico and elsewhere would gladly fill most of the empty positions in the US if they were only allowed into the country. And for those Americans choosing to stay out of the workforce, a freer immigration system would help them afford a leisurely lifestyle by increasing the production of affordable goods and services.

When left to their own devices and allowed to freely associate, trade, and move from place to place, humans are almost always able to improve their own and each other’s lives through mutually beneficial relationships and other productive activities. Those forcefully preventing an untold number of foreigners from entering the United States are not just subjecting those foreigners to the needless misery of being stuck in a relatively horrible country—they are robbing American citizens of the opportunity to live more prosperous lives by participating in a wealthier and more flourishing economy.

This article, Why America's "Illegal Immigration Problem" Is a Blessing in Disguise, was originally published by the Foundation for Economic Education and appears here with permission.  Please support their mission.