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!”

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  • maureen vincent

    I can only speak from my experience with a large number of illegal immigrants working in the landscaping business my sons were squeezed out and had to start another business because they couldn’t compete with the under the table wages of these companies. I also have had bad experiences in the school systems where our kids were told they couldn’t defend themselves if hit which led to the many local youth being abused in school by the spring influx workers from mexico. I did address this after watching my children come home crying and frustrated. I think we need to be careful how we welcome visitors to our country. I have felt at times that the visitors get so many more privileges than locals that it can cause animosity.

  • Mary

    Bp. Thomas Wenski:

    The so-called “illegals” are so not because they wish to defy the law; but, because the law does not provide them with any channels to regularize their status in our country – which needs their labor: they are not breaking the law, the law is breaking them.

  • Mary

    Pope Benedict XVI on Immigration:
    “Besides this, short-term measures: It is very important to help the families above all. In the light of the conversations that I have had with the bishops, the principal problem is that there be protection for the families, that they not be destroyed. What can be done should be done. In the same way, naturally, all that is possible must be done to work against the instability of the situations and against all the violations, and to help so that they can have a truly dignified life where they find themselves in this moment.”

  • Judy G

    Immigrants are not a problem….Illegals ARE. Please stop calling Illegals “Immigrants”. One is here legally, to become a citizen and contribute to our nation. The other is a criminal who broke our laws when they snuck into our country.

    • Mary

      The “other” contributes to our nation as well. The undocumented workers who help plant and harvest the food you purchase in the grocery store, who clean motel rooms, who work in construction – they ALL contribute to our nation’s economy and to you, personally. They are not looking to sponge off of the government. They are looking for work that they cannot find in their own country.

  • Ann

    You entirely missed the Top #1 concern about immigrants: they are a threat to our national security. I have absolutely no objection to immigrants who are here lawfully. But giving amnesty to proven scofflaws is a bad way to run a nation. Worse, our failure to control our borders amounts to providing aid and comfort to the enemy–the terrorists who would destroy our nation and our democracy. We’ve gone nuts about letting anybody who wants to be here into the country–and tragedies have resulted. Boston Marathon, anyone? If you’d like to read about so-called “political asylum seekers” gaming the system, click here:

    • Mary

      Ann, you make no sense. The Boston Marathon bombers WERE here legally, yet you say that you have no objection to legal immigration, then cite them as the big caution. The vast majority of people trying to come across our southern border are simply looking for work so they can better their lives – the way our own ancestors did. These guys are about as far from terrorists as you can get. Most of them are Catholic, poor, job seekers, families. They don’t exactly fit the terrorist profile. Scofflaws? I bet you’d think that Rosa Parks was also a scofflaw. To paraphrase Bishop Wenski, they are not breaking the law – the law is breaking them.



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