Costs and Contributions: The Wave From South of The Border
Every year, hundreds of millions of people enter the US via land ports
of entry, and the INS each year apprehends over 1.3 million aliens at or near
the border. Over 90 percent of those apprehended near the border are Mexicans,
and some who enter the US legally and illegally are carrying drugs into the US.
This influx of illegal immigrants from south of the border has created quite a
stir in many places. Is this good that people are coming to the U.S.? What
will happen if this pattern keeps up? Will they steal our jobs? What effect
will this wave of people have on us? These questions plague many and deserved
to be answered in the following paper on: “Costs and contributions: The Wave
From South of The Border”.
“Dowell Myers (USC) reported on his double cohort method–by age and
year of entry– of analyzing what happened to immigrants arriving in the seven
southern CA counties after 1980. His analysis shows that especially young
immigrants make considerable economic progress after their arrival–as measured
by their total incomes–and that some of their behavior converges rapidly to
that of natives, e.g., they rapidly abandon buses and drive cars to work. In
southern CA, one-third of all bus riders are recent immigrants.
Myers noted that immigration is raising other issues, including
overcrowded housing. The US definition of acceptable housing was two or less
persons per room until 1960, when the definition was change to one or less per
room. However, as immigrants
moved into southern CA, overcrowding jumped, raising questions about how
aggressively cities should enforce housing codes developed during a non-
immigrant era.” Many are haunted by the question: will we be hurt? Over
crowding has had a major impact on families living near the Mexican border
lowering standards of living and living space as well. Also, citizens wonder
about the filthy scum that comes from south of the border-are all illegal
George Vernez outlined an ambitious project that is dealing with the
question of whether immigration is a plus or minus for CA by examining the
effects of immigration on internal migration, on wages, and on public finances
since 1960. Those studies showed that immigrants from most countries do catch up
to similar natives in average weekly earnings after 10 to 20 years, but not
immigrants from the major country of origin–Mexico. Furthermore, immigrant
children tend to follow in their parents’ footsteps, meaning that the children
of Asian immigrants tend to do well in school, etc., while the children of
Mexican immigrants do not.
Is this a problem to worry about? I mean, come on, a few illiterate
children doesn’t hurt anything, right? How many immigrants are there again?
While immigration to the US in 1994 was substantial – 800,000 people –
this still falls far short of the peak year of 1907 when 1.3 million people
entered the country; and since, at the beginning of the century, the total US
population was only around one-third of what it is today, the impact was much
Another economic concern is that immigrants will swamp social services
such as education, health and welfare. Immigrants who arrive traumatized in
their new countries are indeed likely to need considerable support. But other
immigrants generally contribute much more in taxes than they take in benefits.
This means that in contrast to popular belief, legal immigrants actually benefit
the U.S. as a whole. On the other hand, illegal immigrants can cause many
The U.S. is a little leery about people migrating to the U.S. for many
The chief concern is that poverty will drive people in increasing
numbers from developing to industrialized countries. The United States frets
over its border with Mexico – and the 2.6 million illegal immigrants it already
On the flip side of the coin, if there is a minus, there must be a plus.
Money will need to be spent on the education of immigrant children but adult
immigrants are likely to be young and healthy and few will require welfare or
pensions. In the United States, for example, legal immigrants who arrived in
the 1980s have been found to use welfare at a rate well below that of the
natives. Illegal immigrants, fearing detection, are of course even less likely
to use welfare – even though through sales taxes they make a considerable
contribution to the public coffers.
Others worry about the economic impact – nervous that immigrants are
going to steal their jobs. Such fears may be understandable but are generally
groundless. In reality, immigrants do not substitute local workers but rather
complement them – often doing the “dirty, dangerous, and difficult” jobs that
local people refuse. This was spotlighted in the United States in 1993 when the
presidential nomination for Attorney General was found to have employed an
illegal immigrant. She was not alone: the employment of women in the United
States is critically underpinned by 350,000 illegal immigrants working as
domestic help. Despite the continuing international debate on the impact of
immigration on employment, the argument that workers take jobs from existing
residents has usually been shown to be without grounds for accusation.
Immigration can help rejuvenate the population, though it would have to
take place on a really massive scale to have any impact on the age profile.
Cutting off immigration may satisfy populist political sentiment but it is
doubtful whether it makes much economic sense. Apart from making a useful
contribution to the labor force they can also have a useful demographic
contribution. Many industrial countries are facing steadily aging populations –
and will have fewer active workers to support a growing retired population.
In conclusion, it is this detective’s belief that trying to cut off the
influx of immigrants into the U.S. would be, economically speaking, stupid.
There is substantial evidence piling up by the hour that immigrants help the
economy rather than hinder it. Leave the gates open. These people help us in
the right amounts.