- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008


As I perused the Dec. 26 editorial on immigration in The Washington Post, the page kept slipping to the left in my hand for a decidedly one-sided read.

The editorial was an attack on a tough new law on illegal immigration passed by the Arizona state legislature. The law, effective Jan. 1, punishes companies that knowingly employ illegal immigrants by temporarily suspending their business licenses for a first offense and revoking them for a second offense. Federal judges have refused to block it.

The Post raised the question of “how much pain a state is willing to endure, and inflict, in the name of ridding itself” of illegal immigrants. That question can be turned around — how much pain are the citizens of Arizona willing to endure before coming to their own defense?

Even with border controls, illegal immigration cannot be effectively restrained without putting employers’ feet to the fire. At the federal level, sanctions against employers are not enforced save for a handful of token raids for publicity’s sake. The Bush administration is trying to look good, but after only nibbling at the problem it still has egg on its face.

Despite election year rhetoric, there is little likelihood Congress or the White House will do much to reverse illegal immigration in 2008, thanks in part to the big campaign bucks business and agricultural interests are spreading around.

Is it any wonder, then, that a border state like Arizona, inundated by illegal aliens, has taken matters into its own hands? Politicians, at least the smart ones, heed the will of their constituents, and it is the voting citizens of the sovereign state of Arizona who are demanding action. Other states and localities will likely follow its lead.

Isn’t it interesting, though maybe not surprising, that on selective issues an editorial by a leading liberal newspaper would fail to mention that little something called the will of the people? At other times it suits The Post to wave the flag of democracy.

In its editorial, The Post parades out the shop-worn economic arguments of the pro-illegal immigrant constituencies.

Those illegally in the state of Arizona “contribute enormously to its economic growth and prosperity,” declares The Post, citing a study by a University of Arizona researcher. That study “and others like it, including in Texas, refute the arguments that illegal immigrants are an overall burden on state economies because of the education, health care and other services they require.”

Never mind that there have been scholarly cost-benefit studies that have delved deeply into this question and found just the opposite — that illegal immigrants cost American taxpayers far more than they contribute economically (e.g., see the Web site of the Center for Immigration Studies). Steven Camarota, research director of the CIS, has estimated the net fiscal cost at the federal level alone to American taxpayers of illegal immigrant households in one year at about $10 billion.

Says The Post, “Illegal immigrants have flocked to Arizona for years to fill jobs that native-born people don’t want.” We’ve heard that before, including from President Bush. Never mind that in the occupations which heavily employ illegal workers the great majority of employees nationwide are native-born. In the absence of illegal immigrants, competition would cause wages to rise and attract more Americans into the job market — a phenomenon known as the law of supply and demand. For a job and decent pay, legal workers have even been known to move to other states.

Unsurprisingly, you won’t find any mention in The Post’s editorial of studies such as those by Harvard University professor George J. Borjas, probably the nation’s leading authority on the economics of immigration, showing immigration reduces the earnings of the native-born workers, particularly the less-skilled and African Americans.

Nor will you find any mention of productivity studies, such as the one by economist Ethan Lewis of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, showing low-wage immigrant labor has slowed the adoption of technology in manufacturing. Other researchers have reported similar findings for other sectors of the economy, including agriculture.

Cheap immigrant labor substitutes for investment in technology. Less investment in technology translates to slower productivity growth and a reduced standard of living for all Americans. And with less efficiency, we lose out to foreign competition.

The Post editorial expressed concern that existing databases used to check workers’ legal status are subject to error — “a recipe for chaos and confusion.” Databases are fixable. Meanwhile, even if some workers are falsely identified as illegal, they can be given the time and the opportunity to prove otherwise.

The Post’s partial prose is a reminder of why the Washington area needs two major newspapers with competing perspectives so that the public can get a balanced view on issues.

Alfred Tella is former Georgetown University research professor of economics.

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