Legal and illegal immigration survey results

CT-based Quinnipiac University conducted in February a poll on attitudes about public policy options for legal and illegal immigration. Legal immigration has become more popular: 59% opposed more immigration in 2002, but only 38% in 2006.
Overall results
39% want to reduce current levels of legal immigration, with 24% want increased levels and 33% say maintain current levels. Some 57% say that illegal immigration is a “very serious” problem, 31% say “somewhat serious.”
Immigration: split between red and blue states:
In red states (Bush won by at least 5%) were 42% want to reduce [legal?] immigration. In blue states voters (Kerry won by at least 5% ) were 35% – 36% on the immigration question.
On illegal immigration:
62 – 32% opposed to making it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens; 54 – 41% opposed to making it easier for illegal immigrants to become legal workers. 50 – 42% opposed to eliminating the automatic U.S. citizenship for illegal immigrants’ children born in the U.S.

Immigration bill debate heats up in Washington; filibuster threatened

Both the Washington Post and the New York Times had front page articles today in the immigration debate in Congress. A bush proposal for a guest worker program is still very much alive; so are proposals from McCain, Specter and Frist. The McCain and Specter bills have guest worker provisions; the Frist bill is focused on closing the Mexican-U.S. border to illegal workers, which are now 7.5 million in number.
Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) said to the Associated Press, “Rarely have I seen an issue that divides people so clearly, with so little possibility of seeking a middle ground.” The article printed in the Washington Post refers to the illegal immigrant debate as “an early battle of the 2008 presidential campaign, as his would-be White House successors jockey for position ahead of next week’s immigration showdown in the Senate…. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) announced that he will not accept [a guest worker] program until “we have proven without a doubt that our borders are sealed and secure. At the same time, Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) promised this week to filibuster Frist’s enforcement-only bill.”
The New York Times, also today, says that Bush said Thursday that his message is: ”If you are doing a job that Americans won’t do, you’re welcome here for a period of time to do that job”… “The president is working hand-in-hand with employers who want cheap labor to clean hotel rooms, pick crops and do other tasks that they say keep their businesses competitive. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., says he understands those economic issues, but his focus is on the main concern voiced by the social conservatives — national security.
”The most important thing is that we keep our borders safe, we keep America safe,” said Frist spokeswoman Amy Call. ”It’s obvious there are drugs, there are criminals coming through those borders. There are also people from known terrorist organizations coming through those borders.”
The Times article goes on: Three-quarters of respondents to a Time magazine poll in January said the United States is not doing enough to keep illegal immigrants from entering the country. Roughly the same amount said they favor a guest worker program for illegal immigrants, but 46% said those workers should have to return first to their native countries and apply. About 50% favored deporting all illegal immigrants.”

Washington Post columnist: “We don’t need guest workers”

Robert Samuelson in the 3/22/06 edition of the Washington Post argues that a guest worker program will lock more poor workers into the American economy, taking jobs away from Americans and disincenting employers from making labor saving improvements. He cites as an example the California tomato industry as one which innovated after cheap labor Mexican labor dried up. Two comments: 1. A guest worker program such as the McCain or Specter bill will increase the cost of immigrant labor, thus to some extent rebalancing the labor costs which Samuelson sees as having gone askew. 2. He does not address what we do with today’s 7.5 million undocumented workers.
Below are some excerpts.

Economist Philip Martin of the University of California likes to tell a story about the state’s tomato industry. In the early 1960s, growers relied on seasonal Mexican laborers, brought in under the government’s “bracero” program. The Mexicans picked the tomatoes that were then processed into ketchup and other products. In 1964 Congress killed the program despite growers’ warnings that its abolition would doom their industry. What happened? Well, plant scientists developed oblong tomatoes that could be harvested by machine. Since then, California’s tomato output has risen fivefold.

We’d be importing poverty. Since 1980 the number of Hispanics with incomes below the government’s poverty line (about $19,300 in 2004 for a family of four) has risen 162 percent. What we have now — and would with guest workers — is a conscious policy of creating poverty in the United States while relieving it in Mexico.

It’s a myth that the U.S. economy “needs” more poor immigrants. They’re drawn here by wage differences, not labor “shortages.” In 2004, the median hourly wage in Mexico was $1.86, compared with $9 for Mexicans working in the United States, said Rakesh Kochhar of Pew. With high labor turnover in the jobs they take, most new illegal immigrants can get work by accepting wages slightly below prevailing levels.

Hardly anyone thinks that most illegal immigrants will leave. But what would happen if new illegal immigration stopped and wasn’t replaced by guest workers? Well, some employers would raise wages to attract U.S. workers. Facing greater labor costs, some industries would — like the tomato growers in the 1960s — find ways to minimize those costs. As to the rest, what’s wrong with higher wages for the poorest workers? From 1994 to 2004, the wages of high school dropouts rose only 2.3 percent (after inflation) compared with 11.9 percent for college graduates.

Business organizations understandably support guest worker programs. They like cheap labor and ignore the social consequences. What’s more perplexing is why liberals, staunch opponents of poverty and inequality, support a program that worsens poverty and inequality. We’ve never tried a policy of real barriers and strict enforcement against companies that hire illegal immigrants. Until that’s shown to be ineffective, we shouldn’t adopt guest worker programs that don’t solve serious social problems — but add to them.

Meat processing: an industry engineered to hire immigrants

In the past twenty years the meat processing industry has evolved into a more rural, immigrant-staffed and corporately organized industry. To get to full picture you need to appreciate the interweaving of a number of apparently disparate trends which, together, evolved into a huge immigrant hiring and employment machine: in a way, a completely privatized, but hardly improvised, guest worker program. The industry model was: larger, more efficient and non-union plants; recruitment of immigrant labor to rural sites; and deskilling of jobs in part to facilitate immigrant hiring.
As of 2003, about 43% of meat processing labor was Hispanic, up from 33% in 1998 and 15% in 1990. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 27% of this meat processing workforce is undocumented workers. This trend line suggests that half of the workforce today is Hispanic. Below we describe industry growth and ruralization; concentration, deskilling, and planning for immigrants.

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Non-white populations continue to penetrate more areas of the country

A March 2006 Brookings Institution study reports that between 2000 and 2004, “Hispanic and Asian populations are spreading out from their traditional metropolitan centers, while the shift of blacks toward the South is accelerating.”
It goes on to report that

Of the nation’s 361 metropolitan areas, 111 registered declines in white population from 2000 to 2004, with the largest absolute losses occurring in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Declines were greatest in coastal metropolitan areas and economically stagnant parts of the country. More so than for minority groups, white population growth has dispersed towards smaller-sized areas.

Minorities contributed the majority of population gains in the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan areas and central metropolitan counties from 2000 to 2004. Minority groups remain the demographic lifeblood of inner counties in older metropolitan areas, but they are increasingly fueling growth in fast-growing outer suburban and “exurban” counties as well.

Hispanic, Asian, and black populations continue to migrate to, and expand their presence in, new destinations. They are increasingly living in suburbs, in rapidly growing job centers in the South and West, and in more affordable areas adjacent to higher-priced coastal metro areas. The wider dispersal of minority populations signifies the broadening relevance of policies aimed at more diverse, including immigrant, communities.

The study: Diversity Spreads Out: Metropolitan Shifts in Hispanic, Asian, and Black Populations Since 2000, by William H. Frey, March 2006
Further findings:

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Bill Gates on H1B visas; Manhattan Institute on immigration reform

In keeping track of published opinions about immigration reform, I will cite from a 3/21/06 David Broder column on Bill Gates’ efforts to increase temporary professional work visas, and from a 3/15/06 Wall Street Journal column by a conservative think tank about immigration reform. Bottom line messages: liberalize immigration. The only problem: no politician wants to be accused of somehow backing an amnesty program, and their panic about this means that all immigration liberalization is stalled.
Gates wants a lot more foreign programmers here. He says there is a tight employment market now for computer and mathematical operators (less than 3% unemployment rate), and wants to ceiling on temporary professional worker visas to go from 65,000 to 115,000. An H1B visa holder is a “specialty worker” admitted for a temporary term (including extension possibilities) on the basis of professional education, skills, and/or equivalent experience. In 2003, the ceiling went from 195,000 to 65,000.. I have previously posted a plea by the chairman of Intel to raise the H1B ceiling.
The Manhattan Institute fellow, Tamar Jacoby, in “Bitter Sweet Spot,” says we need to do something about “an underground economy the size of Ohio that makes an ass of the law and endangers our security.” However, Jacoby is clearly at a loss as to how Congress will pass legislation allowing most or all illegal immigrants to stay and not have that called amnesty.
That is a rock upon which no Republican wants to run his or her boat — which is what happened in the past 48 hours to Senator Frist. Out of the blue he proposed a get tough bill without solving the long term status of illegal immigrants, and was slapped down by Senator Specter, intent on getting his own bill through. I posted already an analysis of the worker protections in the Specter bill.
Jacoby sharply critiques the Specter bill because while it provides as the McCain bill does for an adjustment from undocumented worker to form guest worker status, the Specter bill keeps the work permanently in guest status, not offering a citizenship path.
Follow her essentially liberal reasoning:

Continue reading Bill Gates on H1B visas; Manhattan Institute on immigration reform

Does immigration depress wages of native Americans?

Two prominent economists each with many years’ experience in immigration research come down on opposite sides of this question:
David Card of UC Berkeley thinks the adverse impact is scant. His most recent paper is titled,” Is the new immigration really so bad?”
George Borjas of Harvard thinks the adverse impact is large –the new eave of immigrants depresses wages by 3 to 4%. He stakes his position out in a paper presented through the Center for Immigration Studies.
I’ll use a simple model below to highlight that which researchers have to grapple.

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Stalemate for Immigration reform this year?

Per the 3/17/06 Christian Science Monitor (link not available),”Steven Camarota [research director for the Center for Immigration Studies] doubts that Congress will agree on an immigration bill this election year. He sees too great a divide between the views of “elites” and the “public” over the economic and social merit of a massive inflow of foreigners. A legislative stalemate would result in a continuation of what a study for the conservative Heritage Foundation calls “a policy of benign neglect.”

The elites, including business leaders, would like an amnesty for the nearly 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States – though it wouldn’t be called an amnesty but a “guest worker program,” perhaps. They welcome cheap immigrant labor. Contrariwise, polls show the public is strongly opposed to letting undocumented immigrants (many with fake papers) obtain citizenship.

The Republican Party is divided on how to deal with the issue, making a resolution even less likely. Democrats are also divided, but they can just sit back and watch the fuss. Fear of terrorism has led to more calls for reform. Almost four of every 100 people in the country today sneaked across the borders or overextended their visa, according to numbers in a new Pew Hispanic Center report. Some 850,000 illegal immigrants have entered the country annually for each of the past six years. If so many illegals can get in, the theory goes, couldn’t terrorists use the same routes and get in as well?

On Dec. 16, the House passed a tough border-security bill. It includes a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border, the first-ever criminal penalties for illegals, and a requirement that businesses check the status of new hires on a federal electronic database. If enforced, the bill could stem the flow of new illegal immigrants. If Mexicans, Central Americans, and others can’t get jobs in the US, they won’t come. The Senate is still working on legislation. But proposals include a guest-worker program that would include what Mr. Camarota regards as amnesty in disguise for illegals living here now.

In rich nations, no program of guest or temporary workers has ever led to such workers going home after their time was up. To think they will is “just silly,” Camarota says. In Germany, most Turkish “guest” workers have remained. The same is true of South Asians in Britain and North Africans in France. If a tough law is passed to limit illegals, any plan to send them home would not be enforced, Camarota predicts. Politically powerful business and religious groups would block such action. Making matters more difficult, illegals bear some 380,000 children a year. These babies become US citizens automatically.

Smuggling of Chinese workers into the United States

The handing down of a 35 year sentence on 3/16 in New York City brought a kind of closure to one of the most lurid worker smuggler schemes in recent American history: Chinese coming into the U.S. by boat, plane, or via Mexico, under the control of professional smugglers, or “snakeheads,” and Cheng Chui Ping – “Sister Ping” — in particular.
As reported by the New York Times, “The Chinatown businesswoman who calls herself Sister Ping was sentenced yesterday to 35 years in prison for running one of New York City’s most lucrative immigrant smuggling rings and for financing the infamous voyage of the Golden Venture, the rusting freighter that ran aground off Queens in June 1993 with nearly 300 starving immigrants in its fetid hold. Ten of the immigrants died after they leaped into chilly waves off the Rockaways in a final effort to reach American soil.”
According to an article, “A hard road ahead: how the snakeheads rule”,

Driving the flow of illegal Chinese immigrants into the U.S. is the hope of fabulous economic gain. An undocumented Chinese can earn about $1,500 a month working at a restaurant in America. An immigrant who sends half that money home to China can catapult his or her family into the upper class in a country where the average income, according to several international reports, is between $250 and $300 a year. An INS intelligence report estimates that in 1999, between 12,000 and 24,000 illegal Chinese entered the United States, although academics and other experts say the number is much higher. Of these undocumented immigrants, more than 80 percent come from the Fujian province in southeastern China.

Alien smuggling from China began in the 1970s, according to the FBI’s Rose. But it wasn’t until the 1990s that masses of Fujianese began entering the country illegally. Throughout the 1980s, the Cantonese population in New York City’s Chinese communities ballooned, expanding from New York City’s Chinatown into Brooklyn and Queens. In the late 1980s to the mid-1990s, the U.S. government began to relax its immigration policies. One policy implemented during this time came as a result of the Chinese government’s 1989 crackdown on student protesters in Tiananmen Square; President George Bush’s administration allowed all Chinese students in the United States at the time to become legal permanent residents. Encouraged, the Chinese began coming to the United States in greater numbers, increasing the influx of Chinese immigration from a trickle to a flow.

Returning to the New York Times article, “Ms. Cheng, 57, was convicted on June 23 after a monthlong trial in Federal District Court in Manhattan on three counts of immigrant smuggling, money-laundering and trafficking in kidnapping proceeds….. The tough sentence marked the end of a 12-year effort to catch and prosecute Ms. Cheng….. Martin D. Ficke, the special agent in charge of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for New York, said Ms. Cheng’s was the biggest immigrant smuggling operation ever investigated in New York. He said the operation had been shut down.
“An assistant United States attorney, Leslie C. Brown, said at the beginning of the hearing that ….in a two-decade smuggling career, the prosecutor said, Ms. Cheng charged exorbitant rates for a sea trip in which passengers were given little food and sometimes only two sips of water a day. Once they arrived in the United States she hired gang members to ensure that they paid their debts to her, Ms. Brown said.”
Ko-lin Chin wrote “The Social Organization of Chinese Human Smuggling”
Excerpts from “Global Human Smuggling: Comparative Perspectives” (published by John Hopkins in 2001)

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Wall Street Journal article on employer use of illegal immigrants

The article explores at length employer resistance to burdensome documentation requirements. Bottom line: employers need workers and don’t care if they are undocumented workers. The “Basic Pilot” system set up by the federal government in the 1990s to improve verification has huge holes in it – which employers in effect favor.
The article published today (3/16/06) says that “But that can work to an employer’s advantage. As the number of Americans in low-skilled jobs shrinks, employers depend on illegal immigrants for an estimated 400,000 low-wage jobs in need of filling each year. Illegal immigrants keep costs low and the economy humming, so employers have shown little enthusiasm for enforcing immigration laws in the past.”
Business Groups Fault U.S. Plan To Identify Illegal Workers, by June Kronholz

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