Immigration: why we should like it

The “we” in the title can refer to two groups: Americans and Catholics. Americans, particularly those of a more conservative bent, tend to view immigration with a hefty dose of skepticism. The thinking is that immigrants take our jobs, depress wages, increase unemployment, bloat the welfare rolls, and widen the gap between rich and poor. However, it’s hard to see how this skepticism can square with economics and statistics. As evidence…

#1 Top three myths about immigration

#2 The impact of immigration on jobs and income

#3 Why unskilled immigrants are good for the economy

To the “stealing our jobs” argument, it should also be noted that most immigrants to the U.S. are either very highly skilled or very low skilled (I believe I heard Ben Powell from video #1 make this argument but I can’t find it online). The U.S. native population, like most countries, has a bell-shaped skill distribution with relatively few people having either very low or very high skills and the vast majority of people in the middle of the bell curve. Therefore, when low- and highly-skilled immigrants come in, they only add to the already-small number of people at the tails. In other words, they don’t compete with the vast majority of people for jobs; they complement them.

I suppose the argument could be made that they still compete with the U.S. workers in the tails, and thus immigration should be prevented for the sake of those people. I’d respond that

  1. That is a fairly small number of harmed Americans to justify keeping out immigrants who on net provide a large benefit to the U.S. as a whole. Hopefully the U.S. government isn’t in the business of changing its laws to suit only a tiny minority of its populace. (Oh, wait…)
  2. Even if unskilled immigrants compete for jobs with low-skilled Americans, it seems the obvious remedy consistent with subsidiarity is to provide education and skills training to those low-skilled Americans, rather than to construct an elaborate bureaucratic system complete with long lines, countless documents, armed border agents, and super-duper high walls.
  3. Even if highly skilled immigrants compete for jobs with highly-skilled Americans, I find it hard to see the downside of having more smart people here. But admittedly I’m not at that end of the skill distribution anyway, so I’m sure a comboxer will set me straight…
Highly-skilled immigrant to Rome

Highly-skilled Roman immigrant

Catholics should like immigration purely on humanitarian grounds. Actually, I may be preaching to the choir because the USCCB says “Nearly eighty percent of Catholic voters support earned citizenship.” Unfortunately, as with most polls of Catholics this one does not distinguish between those who self-identify as Catholic and those who, say, are weekly Mass goers. We know, for example, how most Catholics voted in the most recent presidential election. But I would hope the results would not differ much if the pollsters made such a distinction. Cardinal Dolan lent his support to legislative efforts to reform the immigration system.

Those who argue for the morality of keeping immigrants out usually go back to the welfare argument that was addressed in video #3 above; “Even if it’s a small number, some poor immigrants come here just to take advantage of our generous welfare benefits.” Wouldn’t it seem that the obvious remedy is to fix the broken, dependency-creating welfare system, rather than keep it in place but forcefully keep out most or all immigrants because we think that some of them will become welfare queens?

Others argue that immigration is immoral because most of it is done illegally, creating disrespect for U.S. law. I can think of lots of other laws that would seem to create this disrespect much more so than immigration laws, from the truly awful (Roe v. Wade, free contraception in public schools, legal protection of pornography, etc.) to the ridiculous (the TSA, no Big Gulps in Gotham, low-flow toilets, etc.). It would seem there are bigger elephants in the room.

Let’s hope that xenophobia does not carry the day in this debate. Lest we forget, the Good Samaritan was a foreigner, Jesus Himself was questioned because of His place of origin, and I’m going to go out on a limb and presume that most of you readers have an immigrant or two in your own ancestry. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free!”

  • SubjectVerb

    You seem to fail to draw the line between LEGAL immigration (which is awesome) and ILLEGAL immigration. Many want those that cross the border illegally are afforded a special opportunity to become Americans, mostly because they are closer…what about those that live in Asia, Europe, and Africa? Everyone should have to stand in the same line. You don’t get to skip in line because your country is closer.

  • Gerard

    With all due respect, you put forth the same tired cliches as to why we should have open borders. I am going to bet you do not live in an area that has been significantly impacted by legal and illegal immigration as I have. I don’t have the time or space to go through all of the negative effects of open orders so I will just list a few: 1. Tens of thousands of Americans are murdered, raped, molested, robbed, injured and assaulted by illegal immigrants every year and I personally know a few of those victims. Where is the compassion from my fellow Catholics for these folks? 2. The sons and daughters of low-skilled immigrants are much more likely to be on welfare than their parents – this is the first time in US history the second generation is worse off than the first 3. Low-skilled immigrants do in fact bring down the wage rate. 4. They are net tax-consumers – where I live that is a fact. I didn’t even touch on the negative cultural and environmental impact or the unfairness to legal immigrants of open borders. So I have to ask you when did open borders become a good idea? Our history is one of controlled, legal immigration that takes into consideration the effect immigration has on Americans.

  • Mary

    Thank you for a useful article on the benefits immigrants have to offer our society. It might also be pertinent, on a Catholic website, to include some moral aspect of this topic. For example, the church has a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable. Immigrants usually fall into that category, particularly the low-skilled workers. In the gospel, Jesus instructs us to welcome the stranger, and equates himself with the least fortunate. (Mt. 25). Also, Jesus himself was displaced in a foreign country when Joseph followed the angel’s instructions and took Mary and the baby into Egypt.

    • Tim Shaughnessy

      Excellent points, Mary

  • Peter

    When Democrats and “Progressives” stop trying to facilitate illegal immigration so that they can mobilize large voting blocks on misinformation, there will be a bipartisan concensus on solving the problem. It was Ronald Reagan who signed the first bill on a promise that the border would be secured. Conservatives are much more compassionate than liberals.

  • Tim Shaughnessy
  • Nicolas McAfee

    No one argues that immigration is itself problematic. Nor does anyone argue that our system needs streamlining. The problem is that this dialogue is secondary to the incredible security risk posed by the lack of effective border control. Humanitarian concern is not an excuse to break immigration laws when people like my grandfather have had to work just as hard as any illegal to raise a large, Catholic family in a new country. Those who circumvent our laws not only endanger their families but are a disgrace to those who earned their way into this great nation.

    • Nicolas McAfee

      Nor does anyone argue that our sustem doesn’t need streamlining.* Typo there. We obviously can improve some things, but first things first. Secure our border.

    • Joe M

      I think that angle is a little tricky since, if the laws are changed so that it’s easier to immigrate here, fewer people would be endangering their family or disgracing those who came legally.

    • Rose

      Perfectly stated.



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