March 27, 2006


Many people are eager to fight the Battle of the Borders. The idea is to prevent illegal immigration. In addition, what I might call the “new xenophobia” is eager to fight the Battle over Outsourcing and the Battle over Foreign Ownership. In my view, all of these battles represent misplaced priorities.

I believe that illegal immigrants bring relatively little economic benefit and cause relatively little economic harm. I believe that there are substitutes readily available for the work done by illegal immigrants. Legal residents could do some of the work. Other labor could be replaced by capital or by alternative production techniques. By the same token, because there are many substitutes available for unskilled labor, the salvation of American workers does not lie in immigration restrictions.

I’m not sure how much of the political resonance comes directly from economics, though. I think there’s a political aspect, too, having to do with the effort of people who aren’t citizens, and aren’t here legally, to wield political power within the United States. I think this has a particularly unfortunate resonance in light of recent events in Europe. It’s not The Camp of the Saints, but I think it has overtones of that sort.

Meanwhile, the obvious tendency of this weekend’s marches to provoke a backlash makes me wonder why they’re happening. One possibility is that the organizers are dumb, and don’t think there will be a backlash. The other possibility is that the organizers aren’t dumb, and figure that they’ll benefit from a backlash if it occurs. Either they win (which means they win) or they lose, and get a prop. 187 type response, leaving both illegal and legal Latino immigrants polarized and looking to them for leadership (which means they win). Given the GOP’s inroads into the Latino vote, this may be, in part, an effort to sabotage any Latino realignment toward the GOP.

Mickey Kaus thinks that this will wind up hurting the Democrats more than the Republicans. I’m not so sure — but I am pretty sure that the march organizers don’t think so.

UPDATE: Of course, the march organizers may not care as much about how this issue affects the Democrats vs. the Republicans as they care about how this impacts their own political positions. The creation of a visible Angry Latino bloc may hurt the Democrats, but still help those seen as the leaders of the bloc.

Meanwhile, Arnold Kling responds to my comments on his piece: “I can see his point. I would rather see immigrants assimilate first and become a political force later, rather than the other way around.” That seems to work better. As Jim Bennett likes to say: Democracy, Multiculturalism, Open Immigration — pick any two.

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