- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

The mass migration of uneducated, unskilled, non-English-speaking aliens from Mexico into the United States has reached the tipping point. We can no longer ignore what is a threat to our economic prosperity. We must close the border to illegals, and then rewrite our immigration laws to serve the best interests of the American people.

In the competitive global economy, our ability to succeed will depend on a highly skilled, highly educated, culturally congenial population that can flourish in a liberal democracy.

The immigration policy of the United States should be to recruit and offer citizenship to the most highly educated, highly skilled and best English-speakers available. Right now, the policy is exactly the opposite. Current policy is to severely restrict the number of high-performance people allowed to come to the United States and work, even temporarily, and those most fluent in English are not given a preference.

There are millions of highly educated people around the world who are perfectly fluent in English. Given the opportunity, many would opt for U.S. citizenship, bringing their education and skills here and quickly becoming enormously valuable economic assets. And, because of their language proficiency, they would be culturally congenial, quickly assimilating and becoming part of the broad community of Americans.

Think of the value to the nation of a newly minted citizen from Canada, already trained as a chip design engineer and, at age 26, making $90,000 a year at Motorola’s new facility in Austin, Texas. Or a bilingual Polish physicist with a Ph.D. from a major European university — or an Indian neurosurgeon trained at a top U.S. medical school. During a lifetime, any of these individuals is likely to add at least $8.4 million to our gross domestic product (GDP) and to pay at least $3 million in state and federal taxes.

The new 21st century economy provides extraordinarily high rewards for people of education and skill — and we need more of them in all lines of work, not just in the hard sciences, and definitely not just techies.

What America does not need is more unskilled labor that the new economy values less all the time. Already, too many Americans have no skills at all and too many other Americans have only skills that are being rapidly outmoded. There is also no shortage in America of poor people. More than 12 percent live in poverty. And, sadly, we already have more than enough undereducated people of our own. Nearly 15 percent lack a high school diploma. Worse, 1 in 7 Americans is borderline illiterate.

It is outrageous to import millions more poor people from Latin America who are without education, without skill and without even the ability to speak English, and who are, therefore, almost certain to remain poor — depleting budgets for assistance to the needy, overburdening public facilities and driving down wage rates.

All this is to the special detriment of poor, low-skilled, and undereducated Americans already in need. It is to these and other citizens, not to the people of Mexico, that the president and the Congress owe their sworn duty.

Mexico’s highly prosperous ruling elite must be stopped from continuing to push their indigenous, much-abused underclass northward in what is an astonishingly lucrative across-the-border raid on the U.S. economy.

For two decades, Mexico has been converting poor people into cash by exporting to America millions of its citizens, who now send about $14 billion back to their home country each year — while partaking liberally, at our expense, of subsidized life in generous America.

They get medical care, food stamps, education, housing assistance and all the other “safety nets” available at the local, state and federal levels to low-income people. Many also work — some quite hard because they have large families. Yet most earn so little they are officially excused from paying federal income tax — even if they are legal and inclined to do so. Instead of paying money to the Internal Revenue Service, they typically receive a cash payment from the IRS under a notorious provision that subsidizes the “working poor” to the tune of $40 billion per year. It is a program rife with fraud.

From Mexico’s mercantilist perspective, the millions of Mexican citizens relocated to the United States, with thousands more on the way daily, are highly valuable foreign-sited assets that yield beaucoup U.S. dollars — more than tourism and second only to petroleum exports.

But from America’s standpoint, as the host country, the contribution of these people to GDP is relatively low, the civic costs they impose are relatively high, and overall their economic value to America is either small or negative. A recent study concludes illegals have reduced wages on average by 4 to 6 percent and have helped create a black market cash-wage system that costs the IRS about $35 billion yearly. It also projects future “safety net” costs for them and their families, payable in some future economic downturn, are accruing at about $30 billion yearly.

When we also count the “opportunity costs” — the national income and taxes lost by importing low-producing instead of high-producing workers — the damage to America is so huge we cannot in the long term afford it. Low-wage busboys for restaurants, maids for hotels, grass mowers for golf courses, nannies for rich kids, and laborers for other consumption uses are not the building blocks of the high-performance economy America must have. Even with extraordinarily high rates of GDP growth in the future, it will be a struggle to pay for the expensive health-care and prescription drug entitlements government has already promised to American citizens. It is absurd to make matters even worse by importing millions of poor people who will overburden entitlements for generations to come, while paying little of the costs.

If all the illegals from Latin America put down their tools and went home tomorrow, the gigantic American economy would go right on without even a hiccup. And the tasks they perform would not go undone.

Filling these jobs with Americans is simply a matter of price, often only a few dollars more per hour. If the price goes up by more than that, so what? The notorious addiction of the Boomers to self-indulgent overconsumption does not need to be further subsidized at taxpayer expense. America already consumes more than it produces, and has the international trade and current account deficits to prove it.

And, finally, let us consider the moral aspects of what we have done by failing to secure our borders. With a wink and a nod, we have brought millions of poor people to America and, because of their illegal status, held them in a form of servile bondage in which they must quietly, for nearly slave wages, do our dirty work and “stay in their place.” As a nation, America will somehow have to deal with those who are already here illegally — and many should be sent back as humanely and as quickly as possible.

America should resolve to sin no more. Close the border to illegals.

Ernest S. Christian and Gary A. Robbins are former Treasury tax officials who are writing a book about the relationships between economic growth and personal liberty in America.

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