Politics & Policy

Illegal Detour

Thinking reasonably about immigration.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the March 27, 2006, issue of National Review.

Illegal immigration is not a big problem in America. Okay, let me amend that before pots and pans and worse things come flying at me. America has some serious immigration problems, but they are not distinctively problems of illegal immigration. If we focus narrowly on illegal immigration, we are likely to come up with counterproductive solutions.

#ad#Almost all of the things that cause people to complain about illegal immigration are true of much legal immigration as well. If your worry is that illegal immigrants tend to raise government spending, for example, then you ought to be worried about legal immigrants, too. Half of legal immigrants have not gone past high school. Like illegal immigrants, they cost federal and state governments billions of dollars each year.

Or perhaps you’re concerned that illegal immigrants hurt low-income workers by driving low-end wages down. If so, you should be almost as concerned about legal immigration. Illegal immigrants tend to be paid less than legal immigrants, but the difference is small and largely reflects the fact that on average illegal immigrants have slightly less education than legal immigrants.

Maybe you’re afraid that the United States is importing social problems through illegal immigration. Without illegal immigration, we would have fewer poor people and fewer people without health insurance. There would be less strain on our health-care system and less likelihood that your taxes will go up in the future to take care of these problems. The difference with legal immigration, especially the unskilled kind, is one of degree…

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Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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