Immigration: The Vulnerable and the Powerful

On January 24, 2012 United States President, Barack Obama delivered the annual State of the Union address to the United States Congress. During his address, President Obama shared his perspective regarding the status of the nation and described his legislative agenda for the coming year. President Obama’s 2012 address is especially interesting as this speech is delivered in an election year in the midst of competitive Republican presidential primaries. In his State of the Union address, Obama gloated that throughout his tenure he has “put more boots on the ground than ever before,” in support of enforcement strategies along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Congruently, Republican presidential candidates have also pledged to focus on border enforcement in order to reduce the flow of migrants across the U.S.-Mexico border. Restrictive positions on immigration have support from political leaders across various ideologies. This support results in self-defeating policies that have negative effects for citizens on both sides of the border. In order to comprehend the extent to which restrictive immigration policies are counterproductive for American citizens it is critical to analyze what fuels migration into the United States, why numbers of immigrants in the U.S. has risen and we must consider the existence of alternative solutions to the immigration issue.

In a globalized environment where individuals are increasingly mobile it is logical to comprehend what motivates individuals to migrate by taking a look at what motivates you or your friends or family to move across the city, state or country. Similarly as individuals change locations within countries due to economic developments, so do individuals choose to relocate across borders due to economic developments. According to Thomas J. Espenshade in Unauthorized Immigration to the United States,

“International migration is driven by regional imbalances in the supply and demand for labor. These imbalances promote low wages in countries where labor is plentiful relative to the amount of capital, and higher wages where labor is the scarcer factor of production.” (p. 204).

As a result of this, most migrants by doing a simple cost/benefit analysis will come to understand that it is in their benefit to relocate from their low wage location to a higher wage location. Therefore until there is equality in compensation for work globally, migration will always exist.

The global wage differential also creates a demand for low-skilled or low-wage workers within countries that receive high migrant flows. For example, the United States, a capitalist economy, possesses a habitual requirement for foreign workers as a result of the instability of the free-market. Espenshade notes:

“Because the cost of underutilizing capital equipment falls on businesses whereas the cost of laying off workers falls on workers themselves, owners of capital have a natural incentive to deploy capital to meet the most stable portions of demand and to use labor to satisfy the more unpredictable portions (Massey et al 1993). “ (p. 204)

Espenshade is theorizing under a dual labor market theory that for American workers to avoid such instability and economic deprivation, the workers tend to seek more stable and high skilled employment thus leaving a chasm for workers in industries that must be filled to maintain production at low costs.

Another factor behind migration from Mexico into the U.S. is weak markets for credit and insurance in Mexico. Douglas S. Massey notes in his article, International Migration in a Globalizing Economy

“…they seek to use international migration as a means of overcoming market failures that threaten their material interests at home by moving abroad temporarily.” (p. 47).

Massey is explaining that developing and underdeveloped economies currently possess weak markets that do not give individuals the needed safe-guards to protect themselves in the case of catastrophe or to even satisfy their daily human needs. Massey goes onto to explain,

“Without access to unemployment insurance, households self-insure by sending one or more members overseas to work. By allocating one family member to foreign-wage labor, a household can guarantee an income stream during times of economic recession at home” (p. 47-48).

Similarly, as citizens in America purchase insurance policies or make investments to ensure their security. Mexicans respond to the American market’s demand for low-wage labor by sending family members to the United States as a security measure, designed to meet daily consumption needs and to protect themselves against potential disaster.

The above are merely a few justifications for legally migrating into the U.S. from Mexico. What is the justification for migrating illegally that causes U.S. political leaders to vociferously boast and demand intense border enforcement along the U.S.-Mexico border? The simple answer is: restrictive border policies. According to Massey,

“Despite all the public rhetoric about immigrant invasions and floods, the rate of illegal migration into the U.S. has not changed in 20 years. The only thing that has changed has been the rate of out-migration.” (p. 47).

Therefore, it is apparent that what keeps unauthorized Mexican migrants within U.S. borders is, the very solution crafted to keep them out: border enforcement. Prior to heightened border security, which was implemented along with amnesty as a result of Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”), migration was circular. Mexican migrants that were unable to attain their objectives within the United States across all of American history would simply return home.

“Whereas the net undocumented migration ran at around 180,000 per year prior to the border buildup, it is currently estimated to be around 368,000 per year,” (Massey p. 47).

Evidently the heightened state of illegal immigrants that reside in the United States that is a cause of concern to our President and presidential contenders, is not the result of an invasion or threats to American security, it is merely the result of militaristic border enforcement that does not allow migrants to follow magnetic economic flows or to return home in the absence of those flows.

Ultimately the immigration debate continues because the topic has become a political commodity in the United States. Those affected most by the flawed policies are unable to cast votes, and those who are most concerned about the policies appear to be stimulated by false information. As Payne and Nassar note in Politics and Culture in the Developing World, “Globalization stimulates migration in many ways. By intensifying economic competition, globalization is seen as creating a ‘race to the bottom,’” (p. 335). The sooner United States citizens recognize this global conundrum the sooner we can create plausible solutions to the perceived immigration dilemma.

Moreover, the solutions that have been offered by researchers are potential answers to America’s deficit difficulties without compromising domestic job opportunities for citizens of the United States. “American’s billions spent on border enforcement have effectively doubled the rate of undocumented population growth within the U.S.” (Massey 47). Until American citizens recognize the self-defeating nature and ineffectiveness of enforcement only policies along the U.S.-Mexico border, solutions to the current unfavorable immigration system will continue to benefit American politicians to the detriment of American and Mexican citizens.

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  1. #1 by brewski on February 3, 2012 - 1:04 pm

    Melodia,
    Can you tell me how it is in the interest of a low skilled, low education, legal US resident to have more low skilled, low education illegal immigrants move here?

  2. #2 by cav on February 3, 2012 - 1:13 pm

    I thought the segment of the corporate budget for funding labor was headed in just the opposite direction.

  3. #3 by Melodia Gutierrez on February 3, 2012 - 2:04 pm

    Brewski,

    Great question. According to historical and current data which is described in detail by Espenshade in this article:

    http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.so.21.080195.001211

    There is little evidence that legal US residents want the low wage jobs that Mexicans do. Alabama in this sense is a great example as their agricultural product was left to rot in the fields due to their restrictive immigration policies.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/how-alabamas-immigration-law-is-crippling-its-farms/2011/11/01/gIQAg0JvjM_story.html

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/02/02/us-usa-alabama-immigration-idUSTRE81101920120202

    Typically legal US residents will train for higher wage positions as security measures against the boom and bust cycles of a free market economy. Undocumented residents will do whatever work whenever its available.

  4. #4 by brewski on February 3, 2012 - 2:17 pm

    Melodia,
    I agree that legal US residents don’t want to pick tomatoes. It’s damn hard work. Also, I believe I read somewhere that only 3% of illegal immigrants work in agriculture. The other 97% work in construction, hospitality, etc. Also, of course legal residents don’t want low wages, but many of those jobs did not used to be low wages and they became low wage specifically because of the supply of more illegal workers. Jobs such as dishwashing, busboys, hotel maids, etc. 30 to 40 years ago paid much higher real wages then than they do today. So if there were no illegal immigrants, and washing dishes at Olive Garden paid $15/hour, you’d find a lot more legal residents willing to do that sort of work, as I used to do.

  5. #5 by David Francis on February 3, 2012 - 2:40 pm

    ENOUGH IS ENOUGH?

    Nevada–has the same problems as the Sanctuary state of California, Arizona that has been overwhelmed by poverty from the large influx of illegal aliens. The only difference is the legislators in California and Nevada disregard their resident’s pleas for help and still pander to foreign nationals. That’s why all Governors, Mayors and every official, who supports this never ending plague must be removed from office. Every person who wants the 2006 real double fence, The Legal Workforce bill, recognized as E-Verify and The Citizenship Birthright Act amended should join the Tea Party or other strong advocates on this matter. Illegal immigration costs California $10.5 Billion annually, with Nevada annual fiscal burden of immigration to be approximately $630 million as according to the Heritage Foundation. Powerful interests in the state garner the benefits, while the average legal California family gets handed over nearly $1,200 annually. So what’s the real cost in Alabama, Georgia, Utah, South Carolina or any of the other 43 States?

    Fortunately it just goes to show that legal immigrants especially generations of Hispanics are against illegal immigration and are for enforcement, by their positive vote in Florida for Mitt Romney. They too are suffering from the indignation as being blamed from the 500.000 that illegally enters America. Of course Nevada has its own set of problems, for it also has been flooded with illegal aliens. They have infiltrated the service industry, entertainment and worse hit of all—construction. Taking jobs from bonefide US citizens and legal residents, who were rejected as Contractors and sub-contractors could make more money from discount labor. They didn’t have to offer benefits to foreigners, who swarmed into Nevada during the height of the real estate boom. Other then Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, Gingrich and Paul cannot be trusted with their promises to the foreign nationals, as they are against the fence and are calling with a Path to legality–that is not what the general public want?

    In one of the latest polls State of Maine voters were asked about their views on legal immigration. A substantial majority of respondents, 59 percent, judge that overall levels “are too high and should be reduced,” while only 6 percent believe immigration should be increased.

    Among the key findings of the poll:

    65% believe that illegal immigration negatively affects Maine.
    78% oppose in-state tuition subsidies and/or admission of illegal aliens to public universities.
    65% support state involvement in immigration enforcement, similar to policies enacted in Arizona and other states.
    43% believe illegal immigrants take jobs from American workers, while only 32% believe they fill jobs Americans will not do.
    59% support reducing overall immigration to the U.S., while only 6% support increasing immigration.

    In California and Nevada millions of jobs that should be in the hands of citizens, instead have been stolen by people from across the globe. Huge amounts of expenditures have been growing, because of careless use of Taxpayers’ dollars by politicians. Specific to Border States is the spiraling high cost of millions of illegal aliens pouring in, demanding equal rights to US citizens. 22 million Americans are out of work and President Obama has passed executive orders, so hundreds of thousands of unlawful migrants and immigrants without a criminal record can stay here. Farmers want the cheap labor, as they remain exempt for paying their medical issues or even their children’s schooling. Many farmers even charge their workers rent for the room and board they live in on the property, which is illegal. The Guest Worker programs are a subject of fraud by the agricultural community, specifically by recruiters who represent the farmers. These people are often hired thinking they are going to award a Green Card, but are eventually told this is temporarily employment?

    Democrats will look the other way in all elections, as illegal aliens are voting and will again through 2012. These are two unfunded mandates that the US government pays nothing towards, and state compliance laws is mandatory and forced upon Americans by the courts. The low estimate for paying for all these unfunded mandates annually is $113 billion dollars. Except to stay here, you have to have food, medical care and for their children and education. Staying here it means you have to commit a felony, as to find employment you must possess a legitimate Social Security number, unless the employer is committing an illegal act themselves. Therefore using some persons SSN is a victim of identity theft and that is a –FELONY.

    As a patriotic American people we cannot afford to stop pursuing full, mandated “THE LEGAL WORKFORCE ACT” or mandated nationwide E-Verify. Without it our countries businesses will be overrun by illegal workers in every sector of industry. The circumstances have now become so critical, owing to the millions of jobless citizens, legal residents that our government needs to insist full operation of the computer based application. E-Verify is a valuable tool that has expanded to a growing number of honest businesses that have participated in the removal of foreign nationals.

    There is toxicity amongst the Democrats and Republicans, who have an irrational view and are eager to destroy any immigration enforcement at our undermanned border or tourists who overstay deliberately. As it stands a path to citizenship, espoused as Immigration reform wants to legalize all those already here. Can anybody imagine if foreign countries supported their citizens that America would not be suffering the problems of foreign workers and their families crowding the emergency rooms of major cities, educating their children and feeding off the limited benefits afforded the US population? E-verify must not be undermined or thrown into the waste pit of good immigration bills?

    Phone 202-224-3121 is the Washington center switchboard, to express your infuriated feelings and anguish at Senators and Representatives of both parties. Obamacare for all Americans will be inundated with illegal immigrants and will just drive more of them into our nation. They keep declaring no health care treatment for any illegal people, but unl ess the mandated federal bill such as E-Verify is operational, then how can we distinguish from the legal population and those who have broken immigration laws? Under such a Congressional law, the long trek home will begin if illegal workers cannot find a job. Those business owners who fail to comply could end up in prison or fined millions of dollars? All immigration bills need to be passed before Obama tries to pass another failed amnesty, as in 1986.

  6. #6 by Jason Furness on February 3, 2012 - 2:51 pm

    Damn that’s a lot of writing, Francis! Francis conduct the same poll and ask them if they are willing to pay $30 a plate when they go to the olive garden if they will feel the same way?

  7. #7 by brewski on February 3, 2012 - 3:13 pm

    Jason,
    So you think that the economy we had 30 to 40 years ago, its higher wages, and its lower gap between rich and poor was a bad thing?

  8. #8 by Melodia Gutierrez on February 3, 2012 - 3:23 pm

    Brewski,

    Your anectdotal experience is trumped by hard data easily accessible via the article I posted in my previous comment or through a google search. Scholastic research is unanimous that effect on the availability of domestic jobs is microscopic. Moreover, there are solutions that exist to protect the jobs for legal US citizens (not that I agree with that entirely) such as tax credits and/or regulations on employers to ensure domestic citizens have first grabs at the job available.

  9. #9 by brewski on February 3, 2012 - 3:54 pm

    Melodia,
    One of your links asks for $20.

    The other 2 links don’t’ refute my points at all.

    It is not “anecdotal” to point out that the market wages for hospitality and services jobs long before you were born were much higher paying that they are today. That was not due to regulations or government policies or programs. It was the result of the then supply and demand for low skilled labor. It is also not “anecdotal” to expect that if you add millions of new low skilled workers in a labor pool, that the wages for that pool will decline. In economic terms it is a shift to the right of the supply curve.

    Although available data did not distinguish precisely between legal and illegal immigration in their effects on wages and employment of black workers, most panelists agreed that illegal immigration appears to have had at least some negative effects on the wages and employment of workers in the low-skill labor market. The panelists disagreed as to the magnitude of that effect, which ranged from very small to substantial.

    http://www.law.umaryland.edu/marshall/usccr/documents/cr12im2010.pdf

    So your review of the scholarship on this topic, seems to be, how shall I say it? Incomplete.

  10. #10 by Melodia Gutierrez on February 3, 2012 - 4:08 pm

    Okay I’ll take accountability for that statement and then conclude that data is inconclusive in that regard. However, whether or not the effects on the domestic labor market are negative the point of this blog is to posit that there are functional solutions to the immigration dilemma and none of those solutions are being discussed. Rather, we have demagogues grandstanding in favor of restrictive border policies that are proven not to work.

  11. #11 by brewski on February 3, 2012 - 4:24 pm

    Sure. I’ll buy that. There are lots of solutions to lots of problems that don’t get discussed due to political posturing and pandering. That goes for both sides on healthcare, pensions, defense, tax policy, etc.

    But we can agree that the effect on wages is somewhere between a little and a lot. I know that when I was a dishwasher (this isn’t anecdotal since it wasn’t just me it was also every other dishwasher in the dishwasher job market) made about 40% more in real terms than a dishwasher today. Going back to my shift in the supply curve to the right analysis, it is a pretty reasonable conclusion and that anyone who doesn’t even consider that a possibility is…well…posturing and pandering.

  12. #12 by Sponge Bob on February 3, 2012 - 7:19 pm

    I don’t where you guys have been, but Latinos with and without papers are repatriating in droves out of Colorado anyway. Might as well be poor where it’s cheap to live. There is no work in the trades or in tourism to support the population that WAS here from south of the border no matter what the crock media has been peddling for economic news.

  13. #13 by brewski on February 3, 2012 - 10:48 pm

    Yes. That is true. And your point is what exactly?

  14. #14 by Larry Bergan on February 4, 2012 - 10:40 pm

    It’s a hard truth.

    Americans are the most – intentionally – uninformed people in the world.

    Possibly in world history.

    We have to live with that truth and have hope that the rest of the world will understand.

    The prospects are meek.

    Mexicans are not here to harm us!

  15. #15 by Jason Furness on February 5, 2012 - 2:13 am

    What makes it much sadder Larry, is that access to information is so much more accessible here in the USA than any other country aside from Switzerland, Finland, and France. It’s just that sometimes most people tend to access what’s at their arm reach and forget that knowledge takes effort. But shooting of one’s ass, does not.

  16. #16 by Larry Bergan on February 5, 2012 - 2:39 am

    Mr. Furness:

    Is making life harder for those around you not shooting yourself in the ass?

  17. #17 by Termigration on February 5, 2012 - 9:38 pm

    The obama economy solves the illegal immigration problem, and he has been the right proper plant to screw progressives and their dreams to the wall…Onward with bush’s 3rd term!!

  18. #18 by Sponge Bob on February 6, 2012 - 7:08 am

    no escape fools, the die is cast..

  19. #19 by Melodia on February 8, 2012 - 11:33 am

    Larry! Finally some sense. Thank you! Also, as you may have noticed in the blog. There is NO INVASION happening. So rest easy you folks drenched in fear. Immigration is nothing more than a symptom of globalization that can be worked with for the benefit of all involved.

  20. #20 by brewski on February 8, 2012 - 11:51 am

    Except for those whose earnings are driven down because of it.

  21. #21 by cav on February 8, 2012 - 12:53 pm

    If you look at the evolving MAP of the United States over the last two hundred plus years, you’ll understand just why we’re so EXCEPTIONAL

    We’ve been leading the pack of blood drenched conquistadors.

    But immigrants are bad.

  22. #22 by Melodia on February 8, 2012 - 12:57 pm

    Right Brewski…which is why the blog mentions a global wage standard which can solve that problem.

    Cav, ahhh it must be nice to revel in the glory of the colonizer. Good for you. Bad for everyone else.

    I am Mestizo both conquerer and conquered. I can see both sides and only one is the right thing to do.

  23. #23 by Larry Bergan on February 8, 2012 - 2:17 pm

    I get so tired of our leaders having the audacity to divide everybody they can to their advantage. They just keep us fighting each other while they rake in the profits. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, but it’s not their only one. Just one of the worst.

    If I were an immigrant, I wouldn’t always want to speak the English language for fear some seemingly nice American would use something I said against me. Sometimes it must seem safer to just shut up and keep working. There is a lot of fear on both sides that is drummed up but has no value whatsoever to anybody’s survival except the people with the worst motives.

  24. #24 by brewski on February 8, 2012 - 4:41 pm

    I don’t see anywhere in your post a proposal for a global wage standard. I also don’t see a proposal as to how to get the Congress of the US as well as the parliaments of the Philippines and the various dictators of Zimbabwe and other places to all agree on a wage standard. Setting the same wage for New York City as in rural Chiapas would seem to be pretty problematic. It doesn’t sound like that would work for either New York City or Chiapas. So, I don’t agree that all that this idea “solves that problem”.

    Wow, only you can see both sides and you can see which is “right” with your newfound knowledge of freshman sociology? Must be nice to have that kind of wisdom that none of who have lived in the real world have.

  25. #25 by cav on February 8, 2012 - 4:45 pm

    Sorry Melodia, I’m not reveling, (though there certainly are those that do). I just left off the ‘snark tags’. Deep down inside I’m a borderless guy. Borders -another one of those divides Larry (and so many others) rightfully reject.

  26. #26 by Sponge Bob on February 11, 2012 - 9:55 pm

    Hate to break it to you all, but globalization is a big fat failure, and like it or not, the fences (literal and bureaucratic) are going up.

  27. #27 by cav on February 11, 2012 - 10:21 pm

    What…the ‘Globalist’ meddling is causing some blow-back? Who would ever have imagined?

  28. #28 by Larry Bergan on February 11, 2012 - 11:12 pm

    Must have been hard in school with a name like Sponge Bob. Almost makes you want to give up.

  29. #29 by Sponge Bob on February 12, 2012 - 4:36 pm

    Not with friends like Patrick…besides I live at the bottom of the sea, no where to go but up!

    Sticking with obama is giving up, what is the progressive rally cry to be? Almost not like bush?!!

  30. #30 by Eric on February 26, 2012 - 11:59 am

    This is what will fix your problems.

    “Because of the ID card’s proposed universality, it will likely be requested and required by airlines, insurance agencies, health care providers, mortgage lenders, credit card companies, and so forth,” he said”

    http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2010/03/two-id-cards/

  31. #31 by Eric on February 26, 2012 - 12:09 pm

    “Prospective employers would be responsible for swiping the cards through a machine to confirm a person’s identity and immigration status. Employers who refused to swipe the card or who otherwise knowingly hired unauthorized workers would face stiff fines and, for repeat offenses, prison sentences. ”

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/17/AR2010031703115.html

  32. #32 by brewski on February 28, 2012 - 11:12 am

    It seems as though the United States has ceded control of 69% of Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument to Mexico.

    http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/fighting-drugs-border-violence-arizona-organ-pipe-cactus-132342614.html

    At what point will liberals and illegal alien activists admit that we have a problem? When we cede Zions or Arches or Yosemite? Or do we just need to give Organ Pipe to Mexico like we gave Sudetenland away?

  33. #33 by brewski on April 25, 2012 - 2:25 pm

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