Don’t Blame Immigrants for Seeking a Better Life

Español More information is emerging about the surge of unaccompanied children crossing the southern border. President Obama said that overfilled detention centers, which are housing up to 90,000 immigrant youths, are a “humanitarian situation” that require action. A 2013 Gallup poll found that 140 million people worldwide would leave their home country and move to the United States permanently if our border was open. The estimated 12 million total immigrants in the country pales in comparison to that number, begging the question of why so many immigrants want to live in the United States.

According to Gallup’s 2013 poll, about 13 percent of the world’s adults, approximately 630 million people, said they would like to leave their home country and move somewhere else permanently. The top destination for potential migrants is the United States, with about 140 million people. The United Kingdom, Canada, and France are near the top of the list, but combined still do not equal the United States’ totals.

More than 25 percent of all adults in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Haiti, and the Dominican Republican want to call the United States home. Approximately 19 million people in China want to move to the United States permanently, 13 million from Nigeria, 10 million from India, and 6 million from Brazil and Bangladesh.

Immigrants are driven across international borders because of opportunity and the chance to live a better life for themselves and their families. The Ellis Island mindset of early US history allowed for near-universal entry into the United States if immigrants did not have disease or a criminal record. This created the US melting pot we enjoy today, with unbelievable diversity across the country. Immigrants are able to live in the United States, achieve new economic opportunity, and still reside in cultural communities that reinforce their home country’s cultural norms.

Secondly, economic opportunity in the United States is a tremendous reason for emigration from other countries. For example, if a Haitian resident arrives in the United States looking to do the same job he performed in his native country, his wage will increase tenfold compared with what he was making back home. For Mexicans moving to the United States, the increase is threefold. For Vietnamese, that number is six. The global median is four times the wage that a worker would receive in his home country. Think about that fact for a moment: moving to the United States drastically improves the quality of life for many people, while not hurting American citizen’s wages.

Merely moving enables some of the world’s poorest to achieve levels of wealth nearly impossible in their home country. This is because immigrants are more productive in new places where free markets are the dominant economic system and property rights are secured through the rule of law and not violated by the arbitrary whims of corrupt leaders. Highly-skilled immigrants will greatly increase the overall size of the economic pie and low-skill immigrants will fill in gaps in the labor market. Overall, immigration improves the lives of new immigrants and settled natives.

Taken to its most extreme, there is strong evidence that the loosening of all global restrictions, termed as “open borders,” would greatly expand global wealth. The average of four major academic studies on this topic estimate open borders would create more than a 100 percent increase in world GDP. But total open borders is not needed to increase wealth tremendously.

Currently, about three percent of the world’s population lives outside the country where they were born. Remittances — money sent back to a home country — for this three percent equal about US$450 billion annually. By loosening immigration restrictions, assuming just 15 percent of global workers migrate and remittances increase accordingly, this would translate to $2.5 trillion sent back to home countries annually. This enables more economic development and eases the pressure to emigrate. The general economic consensus is clear: more open immigration policies would significantly increase the world’s wealth.

As we hear more horror stories about cramped detention centers for young immigrants, it’s important to ask ourselves why people would choose to illegally and dangerously leave their country and come to the United States. The United States is the top destination for immigrants worldwide for a reason. This country offers massive economic benefit and opportunity. We should proudly take on this role as a beacon of freedom to the world.

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