The United States is polarized by the debate on immigration with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump wanting to build a billion dollar wall to keep Mexican immigrants out, and a promise to round up millions of existing but undocumented immigrants and deport them. The Democrats, by contrast, seek to integrate immigrants into U.S. society and provide a path to citizenship despite illegal entry.
The U.S. Senate passed a bill to recognize the status of undocumented immigrants in 2015, but the bill never became law; and anti-immigrant party members have vilified Republicans who supported the bill, including Marco Rubio.
Globally, the tide of anti-immigrant opinion contributed significantly to the vote for Britain to exit the European Union, which makes no inherent economic sense. Anti-immigrant parties throughout Europe seem to be gaining popularity as more immigrants flee Africa and the Middle East.
The greatest fear of immigrants seems to be that new arrivals will take the jobs of existing residents and drive down wages and working conditions. The facts suggest otherwise. In countries that have a more open immigration, GDP typically increases compared to countries that are more restrictive toward immigrants.
Every study I have seen indicates more jobs are created by immigration and more income generated than when there are fewer immigrants.
If you look at job creation and growth in the U.S. and the U.K. compared to Japan, for example, the economic benefits of a more open society are clearly evident.
Multiple economic studies such as Harvard’s G.J. Borjas (The Impact of Immigration on the Labor Market) fail to show a negative correlation between wages or unemployment and immigration. The likely explanation is that immigrants do jobs that natives do not want, thereby expanding the labor market, some replacement by immigrants the bottom skill levels does occur, and an increase in wages and employment at the higher skill levels also happens.
There have been countless economic analyses of the effects of NAFTA and other trade agreements. Virtually all the studies conclude that there have been more jobs created than lost since NAFTA was implemented, but politicians argue about what would have been without NAFTA. That’s an easy political topic without accountability because no one knows what would have happened. In my view, NAFTA has made the U.S., Mexico, and Canada better off. Economies have improved and net new jobs have been generated in all three countries. Ironically, the improvement to Mexico’s economy offers opportunities to Mexican workers and reduces the need for them to immigrate to the U.S. for work.
So why are so many afraid of immigration and world trade? Why are citizens susceptible to the false accusations of fear mongering politicians? Partly, especially in Europe and Great Britain, it may be a fear of loss of culture as foreigners with different languages, religions, and customs arrive. The U.S. is a nation of immigrants, however, and is already comprised of a range of ethnicities.
In the U.S., the issue is probably more the fear of job or economic loss, especially by workers who have suffered from job loss or stagnant or declining wages, and not participated in new opportunities created. These workers, or their friends or family, have lost or fear the loss of good paying blue-collar jobs, especially in the manufacturing and mining sectors. These real and potential job loses, however, are not generally caused by immigration or freer trade.
If not, what is the cause? The answer is obvious, but it does not lend itself to political demagoguery or easy solutions.