Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Cato Institute holds forum on "The Economics of Immigration": why we don't hear appeals for "spare bedrooms" in the US but might in Canada

The Cato Institute in Washington DC held a policy and book forum event at 4 PM, to present the book edited by Texas Tech professor Benjamin Powell, “The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches and Social Policy”, from Oxford University Press.   I purchased the book and will review it soon on the Books blog. On the panel were Alex Nowrasteh, immigration policy analyst at Cato, and Neil Ruiz, from George Washington University, with moderated by Juan Carolos Hildalgo from Cato.

The general findings of the panel are that liberal, open immigration policies by advanced countries tend to lead to more economic growth over time, and tend even to reduce spending deficits. There can be political controversies or special issues and costs in the short run in some cases, such as we see now with the debate over Syrian refugees.

The book, in fact, discusses three major proposals, which I’ll get into more with the book review.  One is a visa auction, one is a “grand bargain” of reducing legal immigration but doing everything possible to assimilate all immigrants, including undocumented, and make them legal; one is open borders.

Of course, the issue of immigration bifurcates into a separate discussion of refugees and asylum seekers, most of whom need considerable economic and sometimes personalized assistance when they land, from family already here (preferred) or from non-profit groups, often faith-based.
On the matter of assimilation, the panel was particularly critical of European countries for “no fire” laws that cause delays in hiring immigrants.  This contributes to the resentment and social segmentation of some immigrant communities, especially Muslims in some countries (like France and Belgium). The panel believes that a more “libertarian” labor market policy would help undo the emotional and social tensions and reduce the terror threat in the long run, because young men would be better assimilated in the labor markets. It's important that US policy encourages refugees to get jobs (although usually menial and minimum wage) as quickly as possible, and the limited number of non-profits that help them resettle do have employment counselors (as in the movie).

I asked a question about assimilation (and referred to the film “The Good Lie”, reviewed on my Movies Blog Jan. 5), mentioning the appeals to the public for sponsors during the Mariel Boat Lift of Cuban refugees in 1980.  (I also mentioned the issue for LGBT refugees from Vladimir Putin's Russia and some African countries.) Nowrasteh answered that for that to happen, the US government has to offer a “Memorandum of Understanding” to specific faith-based groups that can indemnify the public for the cost.  This was also done for Jewish refugees from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.  There has been little accomplished along these lines with the Syrian refugee crisis because of obvious political pressures not to.   On the other hand, Canada is much more vigorous in working with faith groups than the US, and has more legal mechanisms to encourage private groups and churches to help refugees. But in general, the “spare bedrooms” plea has little traction in the United States right now.
Another important point is that employed immigrants often send money home to extended family members, which is a privatized way of providing foreign aid to developing countries.

Also present in the audience was David Bier, Immigration Policy Analyst from the Niskanen Center, with this article (aimed at Ted Cruz), “Would white collar Americans turn against immigration if immigrants were white collar?”  He also has an article at the Foundation for Economic Education, "4 Selfish Reasons to Take in Syrian Refugees".

Here is a Fox video on John Stossel’s “Give Me Liberty” where David Bier debates Mark Krikorian (and Ben Carson makes a remote appearance).

Bier does mention the idea that the Refugee Act could be amended to make it easier for private citizens or faith groups to help refugees, as is done in some other countries (notably Canada).  That could mean that moral pressure is brought to bear on some individuals.

Update: January 7

The Washington Post has a story this morning "Harking back to the 80s, religious groups vow refuge for immigrants" p. A6, by Antonio Olivo, online titled "Religious groups offer sanctuary to immigrants targeted by ICE raids".  This may well be illegal now.  And that seems part of the point.

And note p. A13 of the Wall Street Journal Thursday, "The latest tax on business hits visas for high-skill workers".

Update: January 19

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg pointed out in a posting Jan 18 that 80% of the world's Facebook users are affected or know someone who is affected by the migrant crises (Syria, Central America, possibly Russia). 

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