Over the past few years, some in the conservative movement have allowed a legitimate concern over border security to become conflated with anti-immigration politics. As the recent election shows, this confusion threatens to saddle the Republican party with a losing platform that will become even more unsustainable in years to come.
Some conservatives say that whether it’s popular or unpopular, imposing strict limits on immigration is the right thing to do, and it must be defended. Are they correct? Putting aside politics, let us step back and consider, on the basis of first principles, what a proper immigration policy should be.
The bedrock foundation of any rational immigration policy should be to benefit America, rather than benefiting potential or existing immigrants, or any other specific group, whether favorable or antagonistic to them. Therefore, let us consider the effect of immigration upon our economic well-being.
In any economy, the entire population is supported by the part of it that is working. All other things being equal, it thus follows that the most attractive acquisition a society can have is a young adult, whose childhood and education has already been paid for, but whose entire working life still lies ahead. Of course, all other things are not equal. Those with more skills are greater prizes, as they cost more to create and are likely to be more productive in life. This being the case, it is absurd to deny young foreigners who graduate from American universities a path to citizenship.
This logic remains valid for young adults of lesser eminence who still have above-average prospects, including but not limited to those who serve in the military and college-accepted high-school graduates who would be eligible for citizenship under the DREAM Act. They have the skills and the desire to contribute to take advantage of America’s economic freedoms, and we should not banish them back to their countries of origin.
The primary counterargument that has been mustered against this point has been that of labor protectionism. For example, in a PJ Media article attacking the proposal to guarantee a green card to every foreigner who earns a science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM) degree in the United States, Jessica Vaughan, the director of policy studies at the Center for Immigration Studies, writes:
As for stapling the green card to the STEM diploma, this is little more than a marketing tool for U.S. universities to attract more foreign students into paying for degrees in fields that are already saturated. There is no shortage of STEM professionals in the United States; on the contrary, the census shows that there are 1.8 million American engineers who are unemployed or working in other professions.
The illogic of this argument is astonishing. Where does Vaughan imagine that jobs come from? Are they a fixed resource, with only so many to go around? Are the present high American unemployment rates actually being caused by overpopulation? No, jobs are not a resource that exists separately from people. Jobs are created by people. Immigrants are famously entrepreneurial: While immigrants constitute 13 percent of the American population, they own 18 percent of small businesses, and, according to a recent study by the Fiscal Policy Institute, were responsible for 30 percent of the growth of U.S. small businesses over the past two decades.
So immigrants as a whole are net job creators. But of all immigrants, STEM graduates are by far the most promising, because their advanced training allows them to create not only small businesses but large ones, including such recent examples as Intel, SpaceX, Google, eBay, Nvidia, and Yahoo. The nation is indeed suffering from a shortage of such people.