The Corner

Prebutting the New York Times on Immigration

The New York Times editorializes today against cracking down on illegal immigration:

Now let’s examine the cost to the economy.

If you do back-of-the-envelope calculations, you’re gonna need a big envelope. The American Action Forum last year estimated that expelling all unauthorized immigrants, and keeping them out, would cost $400 billion to $600 billion, and reduce the gross domestic product by $1 trillion.

I just happen to have written a post a few days ago about why this is a foolish way of thinking about the economics of immigration. What the number mostly tells us is the completely uninteresting fact that if you assume illegal immigrants leave the U.S., they will do their producing and consuming elsewhere. George Borjas has calculated that more than 97 percent of illegal immigrants’ additions to GDP accrue to the illegal immigrants themselves.

The Times editorialist comes closer to quantifying the economic benefit that illegal immigrants provide to the rest of the population in the next sentence:

Mr. Trump describes immigrants as rapist-murderer-terrorists, but what they really are is a pillar of the American economy, producing a net benefit of about $50 billion since 1990. 

This link takes you to an article where you learn that Borjas is the source of this estimate of the annual “surplus” that native-born Americans, in aggregate, derive from illegal immigrants. But Borjas knows that our economy is roughly $19 trillion. Here’s how Borjas himself put it in Senate testimony last year:

Finally, the economic gains from immigration accruing to natives are relatively small—less than three-tenths of one percent of GDP, or roughly around $50 billion annually. 

Some pillar.

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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