Who are you rooting for?: George Borjas on the Economics of Immigration



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What type of immigration policy should the U.S. pursue and should it be inspired by what immigration economics teaches us? The answer goes beyond mere facts and has more to do with what we want immigration policy to accomplish and the type of country we want the United States to be.

To say things more simply, who do we care for more?

Immigration Economics teaches us that the presence of low-skilled immigrant workers tends to lower the wages of American low-skilled workers. If we care about the well-being of low-skilled American workers who are being hurt by additional competition, our immigration policy will be geared towards minimizing or stopping the entry of low-skilled immigrants. That is one hat we can put on.

But there is another hat we can wear.

Let us assume we are driven by our humanitarian sensibility and care about the poor from all over the globe. Immigration policy, in such a case, is viewed as an immense anti-poverty program giving millions of low-skilled workers a chance to experience the American dream. Despite the price attached to our generosity, a price our disadvantaged low-skilled workers are going to have to pay, our humanitarian hat is on and our doors open for the poor.

Facts alone do not determine our immigration policy. What it really comes to is our set of values: What hat do we have on and whose well-being do we care most about?


June 2014