Market-Style Immigration Reform

MARKET-STYLE IMMIGRATION REFORM….Over at Tapped, Ezra Klein summarizes an LA Times article explaining how we could go a long way toward cracking down on illegal immigration without thousands of miles of Iron Curtain-style fences or vast mobs of vigilante groups lining the borders. Instead, the single most effective policy would probably be the simplest: enforce the law that prohibits businesses from hiring illegals. The problem, of course, is that this would require Republicans to pass laws that their corporate contributors don’t like, and we all know what that means. Let’s put up a fence instead!

As for me, I’m basically in favor of a market-style approach that tweaks incentives to increase the cost of immigrating illegally while decreasing the cost of immigrating legally. At some point, if you can enact the right basket of policies to get the costs right, you’ll reduce illegal immigration to a point we can live with.

So: crack down on employers because that’s probably the the cheapest and easiest way of discouraging illegal immigration. If it’s hard to get a job, you’re less likely to cross the border. At the same time, make it easier to immigrate legally with a reasonable path to citizenship. This makes “getting in line” more attractive. Do these things right and there just aren’t very many people left who find the illegal route more attractive than coming over legally.

It also goes a long way toward solving the wage problem. There’s no question that immigration from Mexico drags down wages for unskilled labor, but today it drags it down even more than it has to because illegal immigrants have no bargaining power. An increased supply of legal immigrants would still put downward pressure on wages, but not nearly as much as illegal immigrants do.

And remember: one of these days we’re all going to retire. When we do, we’re going to be glad we let our population grow by adding a large number of citizens whose sole motivation for coming here was to work and make money. That’s the same reason my ancestors came over, after all, and that all turned out pretty well in the end.