Open Immigration: It’s the Economy, Stupid

EspañolA hidden economy lies beneath the immigration debate in the United States, and nobody is paying attention.

Thousands of migrant workers are part of the heart of the US economy. Despite the usual portrayal of immigrants as “taking our jobs,” they are an often-ignored wheel of the economy. Vice News’ documentary The Worst Job In New York: Immigrant America tells the story about an unauthorized worker at a dairy farm and shows his struggle against immigration policy and the fear of deportation. This is the story of millions of immigrants.

“Immigrants boost the overall size of the U.S. economy for the existing native-born population. Free trade in labor, like trade in goods and services, frees existing Americans to do what’s in their comparative advantage,” writes economist Benjamin Powell, head of the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University, in a compelling economic argument for immigration when the immigration reform of Arizona in 2010 was a national debate.

Migration restrictions, particularly barriers to exit, are usually found among authoritarian regimes such as Cuba or North Korea. While those countries ban their citizens from traveling abroad, the US federal government has ignored immigration reform for many years now and forced people out or to work in the informal economy. A nation once proud of being a “melting pot” is now mirroring authoritarian behaviors and rejecting the right to free movement. Instead of not letting people out, they are denying the entry of foreigners.

“Immigration laws trap people in countries where workers produce far below their potential. When Haitians move to the United States, their wages easily increase twenty-fold. That’s not +20%. It’s plus +2000%. The reason isn’t that American employers are nicer than Haitian employers. The reason is that Haitians produce vastly more in America than they do in Haiti. Think about how little you could contribute to the world economy if you were stuck in Haiti,” said Bryan Caplan said, professor of economics at George Mason University and senior scholar at the Mercatus Center last April during a debate on open borders.

What Caplan describes is another point often ignored: immigration reform won’t only offer relief to the lives of migrants but make the country richer, as occurs with freedom of choice elsewhere in the economy. Adopting a policy of open borders is a fundamental step, in terms of both human and economic considerations, towards the best outcome for everyone.

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