Immigration policy myopia
It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry when you read the rhetoric about immigration in the US media. It is of course natural for a country to exhibit some symptoms of xenophobia at a time of economic stress; that’s the normal blame game. The populist mantra of ‘they are taking our jobs and using our service for free’ plays well to some sectors of the populace such as the unemployed and working poor. It also has a resonance with the more extreme inward-looking crowd who confuse nationalism with racism.
Not only has Arizona decided to get tough with immigrants, now there is an attempt to change the 14th amendment to the US Constitution that grants anyone who is born on US soil the right of American citizenship. That really is an attempt to roll back the clock and make America what it used to be…but in actuality can’t be any longer.
In the US, those opposed to this form of granting citizenship would like to revise the 14th amendment, which says, in part:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside ….
The14th amendment was passed after the Civil War with the intent of clarifying that former slaves were citizens and entitled to Constitutional rights. Since then, the Supreme Court has consistently upheld that birthright of children born to foreigners in the US, including a 1898 challenge concerning children of non-citizen Chinese immigrants.
How many children of illegal immigrants are born in the US each year?
No one really knows.
The sad thing is that this immigration debate is playing against US medium term economic interests. America, like most high GDP countries, is facing the potential of an aging population sans immigrants. Wealthy advanced societies tend to have smaller family sizes, and over a few decades this sees the aging of a community. This adversely impacts the society as it results in fewer workers having to fund required taxes and social programs at a time that an aging population needs more and more services. Examples of these phenomena can be seen in Japan and parts of Europe who face major economic challenges as a result.
Hispanic immigration rends to have a primarily positive economic effect for the US. For example, Hispanics are estimated to make up 40% of first home buyers spurring the construction trade. The first few generations of Hispanics have more children on average who add to the diminishing worker pool and they start more small businesses than Americans creating job growth. They also enlist and serve in the US military as a means of gaining citizenship status. It is an ironic fact that economists project that Arizona will need to start attracting more immigrants by 2015 in order to serve its rapidly aging American population. Without immigration the US won’t grow and the economy will contract, all in a matter of a few decades. Short term xenophobic panic is a dangerous way to plan a future strategy for the country.
I particularly like grand strategist Tom Barnett’s observation that the US is already creating policy behind the curve as Mexico’s birthrate is dropping as its GDP grows. The very source of population growth that the US is reliant on is running out of steam. Mexico itself will need to look to immigration to fund its growth in the not too distant future. Populist positions are often to the detriment to the strategic interests of a nation; it just generally requires a generation or so before the issue becomes apparent to the masses.
The call-out text tells you everything you need to know: “The fertility rate in Mexico has undergone one of the steepest declines in history.”
Leveraging Michael Barone, I made this point in “Blueprint for Action”: There is a combination of decreasing birthrate and increasing per capita income that usually turns off the emigrant flow out of any developing economy.
With Mexico, these developments are tied to the progressive economic integration of the northern Mexican states with the US economy.
No, that doesn’t mean the flow of illegals from the South goes away completely just because Mexico is leveling off. Over time, I think it simply means people are both traveling farther to get to the US and, in some measure, stopping when they hit the improving conditions in Mexico.