February 24, 2005

Immigration Reform: Posner

Richard Posner recommends charging people to immigrate here if we think they'd be a net drag on the economy and welfare state. It's a creative and sensible enough solution, but I have a couple reasons why we shouldn't spend time doing it:

1) Most of the people trying to walk across the border are not going to have the education, contacts or language skills to test well on the interview to determine if they have to pay for admission. However, they tend to avoid most welfare in my anecdotal and informal observations and tend to work often. They pay their taxes and they love to make money (of the many immigrant pizza drivers I've worked with, most of them were positively money-making machines). So while they may have no education and limited language skills, they can still provide a net benefit to the economy by working without drawing excessively from public funds.

Perhaps a way to make sure that immigrants will continue to take little welfare is to reduce or eliminate the amount of welfare non-citizens can legally request. Once they get their citizenship they can take welfare like any other citizens.

2) If we start charging the immigrants that fail the interview process, then what will they do? These are the people with less money and less education - it would be a very regressive fee. The poorest immigrants would probably end up paying the most. Since there's basically already a thriving black market on immigration, they'd ignore the fee and just get into the country anyway. In the end, little revenue would come from the fees, as few of those required to pay it would be able to do so. Most people would come in the same way - cutting through the fence.

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