Immigration is Not Threatening Your Economic Security

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Thu, Jan 7 - 2:32 pm EDT | 2 years ago by
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Corridors of Power - Immigration

It’s a common theme throughout human history: Hard economic times send people in search of scapegoats. The most frequent iterations of this tend to have a tribalistic, often ethnic bent, with members of one group blaming outsiders of various sorts for their woes. Whether it was dehumanizing the Irish in Civil War-era New York City, excluding the Chinese during the late 19th century, blaming Detroit’s Polish immigrants for early 20th century decline, or the anxiety toward blacks during the Great Depression, these relatively few U.S. centric examples barely scratch the surface of a longstanding trend.

Unfortunately, this attitude continues to rear its ugly head today, particularly within a populist subset of the conservative movement. Donald Trump kicked the presidential cycle off in earnest last year with talk of a border wall and derogatory statements about Mexicans. His commentary spread like wildfire through the echo chambers of right-wing media, and as is often the case in politics, the loudest group falsely assumed the mantle of representing the majority.

In reality, polls conducted last summer show that at least 53% of Republicans, if not more by some measures, support extending legal status to undocumented workers presently in the United States. This is a view in line with Ted Cruz’s 2013 amendment to the “Gang of Eight” immigration bill that he passionately defended at the time, but now unconvincingly claims he was lying about. In a prior EveryJoe column, I chronicled his rapid turnabout on immigration: “Cruz went from proposing a 500% increase in H-1B visas while extolling the free market virtues of immigration, to seeking protectionist restrictions on allowing people to enter the U.S. and work legally; all in a span of two years.”

This week, Cruz doubled down on his protectionism, resorting to Bernie Sanders style economics with a new, nonsensical ad featuring an emotionally jarring but factually inaccurate title: Invasion! As an early supporter of the bygone free market Cruz of 2012, this spectacle made my blood boil.


The fact is, illegal immigrants make up a mere 3.5% of the U.S. population, and their numbers have been in decline over the past decade. The same economic strife that brought about the present scapegoating of unauthorized workers since the Great Recession is what has led to a natural slowdown in undocumented immigration. But it’s not even the inaccuracies around the premise of an “invasion” that bother me the most about this ad: it’s the incoherent economics.

Contrary to charges that I’m for “open borders” upon expressing support for loosening current restrictions and allowing more legal immigration, I believe strongly in border security. A country ought to know and control who is entering, particularly for purposes of keeping its citizens safe from criminal activity and terrorism. This is why my views were sufficiently aligned with the version of Ted Cruz I supported four years ago. He never referred to immigration, be it the unskilled labor the government arbitrarily deems unlawful or that which falls under higher-skilled visas, as an “economic calamity” as he does in this ad. It’s this newly adopted Sanders-style protectionist thinking that has me so angered at Cruz. He’s intentionally conflating illegal and legal immigration and their alleged economic impacts to encourage and profit electorally from the kind of scapegoating popular among Trump’s supporters.

“I understand that when the mainstream media covers immigration, it doesn’t often see it as an economic issue,” says Cruz. “The politics of it would be different if a bunch of lawyers or bankers were crossing the Rio Grande, or if a bunch of people with journalism degrees were coming over and driving down the wages in the press,” he adds. Frankly, the absurdity of this argument isn’t hard to see. As Dave Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Niskanen Center wrote of Cruz’s ad, there’s little evidence that this opinion is correct.

“The highly educated are most in favor of immigration by workers of their own skill level–meaning they favor workers who compete with them,” wrote Bier. “In 2011, researchers from MIT, Harvard, and Columbia analyzed the immigration views of Americans by education level. They found that support for immigration increases with education level, and that the majority of postgraduates favor increasing immigration by other highly skilled workers, while only a third favors doing so for lower skilled workers.” And these opinions aren’t merely hypothetical, as new immigration is skewed as equally toward high-skilled professionals as it is to those on the lower rung.

Bier went on to further explain that last year, a record 73% of Americans from all educational backgrounds said on the whole, they view immigration as a good thing. Yet here we have Cruz, gambling his free market bonafides on a group that makes up a loud minority – even within the Republican Party. It’s an interesting path to victory, and one that shows Cruz isn’t afraid to tell lies he knows better than to believe in order to pander.

The truth is, immigration and higher labor force participation have contributed to economic growth. As Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration analyst for the Cato Institute explained, “From 1948 to 2012, the size of the U.S. labor force went from 60 million to 156 million, a two-and-a-half-fold increase. Over the same time, the number of people employed in the U.S. labor market has increased from 58 million to 148 million. There would be about 90 million fewer employed Americans today than there are if new workers entering the labor market actually prevented older workers from getting jobs.”

Ted Cruz undoubtedly knows this. You can’t explain 90 million aggregate new jobs in this context and say that immigrants are “stealing jobs,” or that they’re to blame for depressed wages. But politics creates monsters, and Cruz has decided that there’s a big enough potential electoral return on trading “courageous conservatism” for the Bernie Sanders argument that immigration is a Koch Brothers conspiracy. What a nightmare this presidential cycle has devolved into. Wake me up when it’s over.

Photo by MCCAIG/Getty Images

Corie Whalen Stephens is a libertarian-conservative activist and writer based in Houston, Texas.

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