A year of Trump and immigration

A good review of the first year of the administration’s effort to reverse the nation’s course on immigration, with much new detail. In the NY Times, by Michael Shear and Julie Hirschfeld. Very much consistent with what I have been posting.

World migration trends

The Conversable Economist blog cites and comments on new U.N. report on migrants worldwide.  Here are excerpts:

“….there were around 244 million international migrants in the world in 2015, which equates to 3.3 per cent of the global population…. In 2016 there were 40.3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide… the total number of people estimated to have been displaced globally is the highest on record. …

“The wages that migrants earn abroad can be many multiples of what they could earn doing similar jobs at home. For example, a study conducted in 2009 found that the ratio of wages earned by workers in the United States to wages earned by identical workers with the same country of birth, years of schooling, age and sex, and rural/urban residence) abroad [has a median ratio of 4.11.

“….according to a recent report by the World Bank, immigrants from the poorest countries, on average, experienced a 15-fold increase in income, a doubling of school enrollment rates, and a 16-fold reduction in child mortality after moving to a developed country,

“According to the World Bank, in 1990 migrants remitted around USD 29 billion to lower- and middle-income countries in 1990. This amount had more than doubled to USD 74 billion in 2000 and reached USD 429 billion in 2016. Globally, remittances are now more than three times the amount of official development assistance.

“….it is increasingly recognized that migrants can play a significant role in post-conflict reconstruction and recovery.

“… Immigration increases both the supply of and the demand for labour, which means that labour immigration (including of lower-skilled workers) can generate additional employment opportunities for existing workers. Of course, immigration can also have adverse labour market effects (e.g. on wages and employment of domestic workers), but most of the research literature finds that these negative impacts tend to be quite small, at least on average.

….in contrast to popular perceptions, a recent OECD study found that the net fiscal effects of immigration, i.e. the taxes migrants pay minus the benefits and government services they receive, tend to be quite small and – for most OECD countries analysed in the study – positive.”


The economics of dreamers

The Congressional Budget Office released on December 15 an analysis of the fiscal impact on the federal government if the DREAMERs were to be given full permanent legal status. An anti-immigration group, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), immediately said that the report justifies denying the dreamers the dreamers legal resident rights.

The CBO report is a woefully incomplete profile of the economic and federal fiscal impact of dreamers. Here is why: it focuses on incremental federal outlays for the healthcare of these now legal workers without taking into account their contribution to economic production and to federal income tax payments.

It’s sort of like saying that hedge fund managers living in Greenwich CT. are a net cost to the city because they demand a higher public school budget.

The report, after analyzing a bill submitted in Congress in 2018 to give permanent legal status to dreamers, estimates that, with some expansion of the dreamer population by this bill, two million persons are covered. The analysis does not address the workforce contribution of these persons, and thus leaves out their financial contribution in federal, state and local taxes.

A rough estimate of their income tax payments is as follows. It is reasonable to assume that at least 75% of these two million persons, when they are of working age, will be in the workforce. The median annual wage in the U.S. is about $37,000. Let’s assume that the average annual income of these 1.5 million workers is $28,000. Federal taxes on an individual earning that amount is about $3,400. This totals to $5.1 billion annually in federal income taxes.

The CBO report pretty much assumes that these persons prior to legalization do not receive Medicaid benefits or Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) premium subsidies. It estimates these costs after legalization to average, over the first ten years after legalization, at about $1.05 billion a year. The CBO lists other federal expenses but they are minor compared to these healthcare benefits.

This roughly one billion a year incremental cost is (1) less than one fifth of their annual federal income tax payments, and (2) consistent what legal American workers are receiving right now in health subsidies. These costs are the result of making 1.5 million workers legal, allowing them to progress in their work, during their early working years, towards higher wages.

A typical day at U.S. borders


Per the federal government, Border control people, on average each day, process 1,069,266 passengers and pedestrians, 326,723 incoming be air, 53,786 by boat, and 688,757 by land. 1,140 apprehensions among the 328 ports of entry and 135 border patrol stations. Customs and Border Control personnel stationed in 51 countries. Collect $122.7 million in fees, duties, and taxes. $6.3 billion worth of imported goods come into the US. Employ 59,221 CBP employees, including 22,910 CBP officers and 19,828 Border Patrol agents.

How many of the incoming persons are non-Americans? In 2016, 79 million foreigners visited the U.S. Of them, 38 million or 48% were Canadian or Mexican. This suggests that the vast majority of the daily million-odd border crossing involve American citizens, Mexicans and Canadians others who repeatedly cross by care for business or other near-daily purposes.

The “Northern Triangle” immigrants

The term applies to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The Pew Research Center issued a report on how immigration from these countries surged since the Great Recession, while Mexican immigration has lagged. In 2000, legal and illegal Mexican entrants were estimated by Pew Research at 725,000, vs 100,000 from the Northern Triangle. Their respective figures in 2014 were 165,000 and 115,000.  The Northern Triangle countries are much more dependent on their citizens in the U.S. than is Mexico.

Populations: In 2015, 12 million Mexican immigrants lived in the U.S (125 million in the homeland). El Salvador had 1.4 million immigrants in the U.S. in 2015 (6.3 million in the homeland); Guatemala, 980,000(16.25 million); and Honduras, 630,000 (9 million). Some 57 million persons in the U.S. self-identify as Latino. Most have been born here.

Of the 3 million Northern Triangle immigrants living in the U.S. as of 2015, 55% were unauthorized, according to Pew Research Center estimates. By comparison, 24% of all U.S. immigrants were unauthorized immigrants.

Immigrants account for most of the 4.6 million U.S. residents with origins in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras and are the main driver of the group’s growth. By contrast, two-thirds of Mexican Americans were born in the U.S., and births to U.S. residents are the main contributor to the group’s population growth.

Why Immigrate? Among Guatemalans deported from the U.S., 91% cited work as a main reason for coming, as did 96% of Hondurans deported from the U.S. and 97% of deported Salvadorans. Surveys of Northern Triangle migrants who were apprehended in Mexico while on the way to the U.S., then deported, also found that nearly all said they were moving to find work.

A 2013 Pew Research Center survey in El Salvador found that high shares of people living there – 90% or more – said crime, illegal drugs and gang violence were very big problems in their country. The same survey also found that most Salvadorans not only knew someone already living in the U.S., but also wanted to move to the U.S. themselves.

Remittances: In 2016, according to World Bank estimates, remittances to the three nations totaled $15.9 billion, of which most came from the U.S. Those remittances were the equivalent of about 17% of the total economic output (as measured by gross domestic product) in El Salvador, 11% in Guatemala and 18% in Honduras in 2016.  Remittances to Mexico in 2017 were $27 billion, or about 2.7% of GDP.

A World Bank brief about global remittance trends, published in October, noted that money sent home by Northern Triangle and Mexican migrants went up despite an increase in deportations from the U.S. The increase in remittances “is in part due to possible changes in migration policies. Migrants are sending their savings back home in case they must return.”

In the Political Battle Over Immigration, Trump Is Winning

Written by me and published by the Valley News (LebanonNH) on 12/7/17: Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign with a slur against Mexicans who have come to the United States. Since January, the executive branch has been doggedly determined to stem immigration. Trump is succeeding, both in a ground game of executive branch actions, and in projecting a get-tough image.

National Democratic politicians have done basically little or nothing to forge an alternative vision of immigration. Their failure is likely to lead to a debacle in the 2018 congressional elections, when Trump will take one more step to remold the Republican party into an anti-immigration party intent on ending 50 years of liberal immigration.

A casual look at polls about immigration suggests that the public thinks favorably about it, and even has been more supportive recently. If Democrats, in gauging the public’s attitudes about immigration, rely only on general national polls, they might infer that the country disagrees with restrictive policies.

But it’s not as simple as that. A March 2016 Pew Research poll asked people to respond to these statements: “Immigrants today strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents. Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” Fifty nine percent said that immigrants strengthen the country, while 33 percent said they burden it. This was the most pro-immigration response to this question since the pollsters began posing it in 2011.

The overall positive glow of this polling result is a mirage. Pew Research also asks people, by party affiliation, their thoughts on immigration. Its latest such poll, in September 2015, revealed a sharp division between parties on the pace of immigration. Two-thirds of Republicans say immigration to the U.S. should be decreased, compared with one-third of Democrats.

Responses to other questions reveal how soft support for immigration is. Eighty-one percent of Republicans said immigrants generally want to hold on to the customs and way of life of their home country, compared with 66 percent of independents and 55 percent of Democrats.

The rhetoric of Democrats, to the extent that there is any, appears be a kind of sleepwalking, a rote restatement of the liberal arguments for a more open immigration policy that served as a platform for immigration reform long ago. That reform took place in 1965, when both forms of immigration, legal and illegal, were at far lower levels than today. Democratic politicians appear unwilling, or unable, to articulate to a country now flush with immigrants and their children why immigration should remain relatively open going forward.

The case for a liberal immigration policy can be made on grounds of morality, cold economics and our role in the world as the most heterogeneous major power. But no one of national stature is making this argument in an up-to-date way.

One step, which is long overdue, is to create a trusted source of analysis of labor market needs. It would show that in nine out of 10 cases immigrants materially help Americans to prosper. Immigrants do not just do menial jobs; they also win Nobel Prizes.

To be sure, Democratic politicians have, and will, castigate the Trump administration for its restrictive policies regarding refugees, dreamers and other vulnerable immigrant groups. But there appears to be no strong political will, much less sustained strategy, behind these castigations. Their howls may have the effect of validating in the minds of restrictionists that Trump is being successful in closing the door.

Already, the administration has severely tightened refugee inflows, raised barriers to awarding work visas, launched an aggressive campaign against sanctuary cities, equivocated about the future of dreamers, and reportedly filled top immigration jobs with immigration skeptics.

Trump’s strategy comes in three themes: law and order, jobs and civil culture. It will avoid the traps of comprehensive legislative reform and the consensus-inducing task forces of Washington.

So the administration forges ahead. The Washington Post reported on Nov. 21 that “the White House … said it had conducted a “bottom-up review of all immigration policies” and found “dangerous loopholes, outdated laws, and easily exploited vulnerabilities in our immigration system — current policies that are harming our country and our communities.”

The administration will avoid the pitfalls of large-scale raids on work sites with many undocumented workers. That tactic was tried under President George W. Bush and led to news stories about mothers of American citizens being rounded up for deportation. New actions will be more selective. In September, the federal government fined an American company $95 million for systematically hiring undocumented workers. That kind of action gets the attention of the business community without the hard-to-explain front-page stories.

And this kind of action may very well play in the 2018 congressional elections, by which time this administration will have advanced much further its agenda for a return to the restrictionist policies of the post-World War I years.

Mexican educational assimilation in the US

An important concern among immigrant research and policy communities is whether Mexican Americans progressively attain higher educational outcomes over generations, as do about all other immigrant groups, or whether progress stalls. Until now, research showed that progress stalled, that 3rd generation Mexican Americans failed to achieve higher education than 2nd generation.

A new study, using a hitherto unused data source, finds that education attainment has in fact progressed. This study corrected for two biases in previous studies. The authors were able to track Mexican origins even among people with this origin who no longer self-identify as Mexican, and they sorted out 3rd generation from later generations. They thus have a more accurate picture.

According to them, 84.25% of third generational Mexican Americans graduated from high school compared to non-Hispanic whites (86.17%) and blacks (74.97%). Yet four-year college completion was low (19.74%) compared with whites (39.34%). Hispanics are known to make use of community colleges. Among Hispanics, 53.53% have some college, compared with white (65%) and blacks (52.08%).

The study is by Brian Duncan et al, New Evidence of Generational Progress for Mexican Americans. NBER, November 2017.

Excerpts from the study:

We focus on education because it is a fundamental determinant of economic success, social status, health, family stability, and life opportunities.

Mexican Americans with mixed ethnic origins are less likely to identify as Mexican or Hispanic and also display higher levels of average attainment.

Ethnic attrition takes place when U.S.-born descendants of Mexican immigrants do not subjectively identify as Mexican American or Hispanic. Previous research indicates that ethnic attrition is substantial among later-generation Mexican Americans and that such attrition typically arises in families with mixed ethnic origins….The lack of information on grandparents’ countries of birth also implies that analysts cannot distinguish 3rd-generation from higher-generation Mexican Americans.

[From a new data source] We find substantial educational progress between 2nd- and 3rd-generation Mexican Americans. For a recent cohort of Mexican-Americans, our analysis thus provides promising evidence of generational advance. In particular, for this cohort of individuals born in the years 1980-84, the high school graduation rate of 3rd-generation Mexican Americans is only slightly below that of later-generation non-Hispanic whites.

Other measures of educational attainment—completed years of schooling, college attendance, and bachelors degree completion—also show sizable gains for Mexican Americans between the 2nd and 3rd generations. In contrast with high school completion, however, for these other education measures 3rd-generation Mexican Americans maintain large deficits relative to non-Hispanic whites, despite their generational gains.

Ultimately, our findings suggest that Mexican Americans do indeed experience substantial socioeconomic progress beyond the 2nd generation, and that this progress is obscured by limitations of the data sources commonly used to look for it.

US withdraws from UN migration pact

The U.S. has withdrawn from the unbinding U.N. compact on migration. According to The Guardian,” The announcement of the US withdrawal from the pact came hours before the opening of a UN global conference on migration scheduled to begin on Monday in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. In 2016, the 193 members of the UN general assembly unanimously adopted a non-binding political declaration. The initiative had the enthusiastic backing of Barack Obama, and was embraced by U.N Secretary General Antonio Guterres as one of his major challenges for 2018.

The compact said, “We are witnessing in today’s world an unprecedented level of human mobility. More people than ever before live in a country other than the one in which they were born. Migrants are present in all countries in the world. Most of them move without incident. In 2015, their number surpassed 244 million, growing at a rate faster than the world’s population. However, there are roughly 65 million forcibly displaced persons, including over 21 million refugees, 3 million asylum seekers and over 40 million internally displaced persons.

“No one State can manage such movements on its own….We acknowledge a shared responsibility to manage large movements of refugees and migrants in a humane, sensitive, compassionate and people –centred manner….Large movements of refugees and migrants must have comprehensive policy support, assistance and protection, consistent with States’ obligations under international law.”

The signatures committed themselves to:

protect the safety, dignity and human rights and fundamental freedoms of all migrants, regardless of their migratory status, and at all times;

support countries rescuing, receiving and hosting large numbers of refugees and migrants;

integrate migrants – addressing their needs and capacities as well as those of receiving communities – in humanitarian and development assistance frameworks and planning;

combat xenophobia, racism and discrimination towards all migrants;

develop, through a state-led process, non-binding principles and voluntary guidelines on the treatment of migrants in vulnerable situations; and strengthen global governance of migration, including by bringing IOM into the UN family and through the development of a global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration

Canada’s success with immigration

From the Migration Policy Institute: More than one of every five Canadian residents foreign born. Nearly 47,000 refugees were resettled in 2016—the highest level in Canadian history.

Three oceans (one frozen most of the year) and a developed country to the south act as a buffer from large-scale uncontrolled migration. Furthermore, Canadian history made the country more multinational in character from its start than a traditional nation-state.

The widely held perception among Canadians that immigrants are an economic boon and cultural asset to the country has made public opinion on the subject generally resilient, even as sharp backlashes have unfolded in the United States and Europe.

In the 1960s, Canada made dramatic changes liberalizing immigration. It did away with race-based selection criteria in 1962, and subsequently established the more neutral points system in 1967 to assess potential immigrants based on their ability to integrate quickly into the workforce (e.g., language, education, experience, skills, and job offers).

Immigrants admitted under economic preferences have consistently accounted for half or more of newly arrived immigrants. Taken together, these shifts have had important implications for Canadian integration policy and outcomes.

The government has frequently adjusted the points system to further improve labor market integration, most recently with the 2015 introduction of the Express Entry system to fast-track those skilled workers deemed most likely to integrate successfully. Upon arrival, policies and programs targeting settlement, citizenship, and multiculturalism further facilitate integration.

Central to Canada’s success has been its commitment to stay true to the early definitions of integration, while being flexible and open to policy change and refinement. Policymakers and bureaucrats regularly evaluate programs; systematically collect data on integration; analyze commissioned and noncommissioned research; consult with nongovernmental organizations and provinces for their expertise; assess experiences of other countries; and monitor mainstream and ethnic media to identify issues related to integration outcomes. This evidence-based approach forms the basis of advice to the government, with respect to ongoing and emerging issues as well as political priorities.

One key element to Canada’s resilience thus far is the confidence of Canadians that their government controls and manages immigration.