Are Immigration Controls Working?

Two articles posted by NPR twelves hours apart made me think the same thing: Yes, that was the intent.

NPR: With Fewer Available H-2B Visas, Employers Struggle to Find Seasonal Workers

NPR: Deportation Fears Prompt Immigrants To Cancel Food Stamps

Both of these articles were written from a negative point a view, describing harmful consequences of the Trump administration’s push against immigration, legal and illegal alike.  The authors seem to miss the point that these outcomes were exactly the intent and that Trump voters will see this as vindication of these policies.

What’s truly astonishing is that the populist goals on the left and the populist goals on the right are two sides of the same coin, and neither side seems to notice.

Let’s start with the first one.  The allocation of fewer H-2B visas means that employers will have fewer low-wage workers from which to hire.  Yes, that must be disappointing to the employers, because now they will have to raise their wages to attract workers who already live in the US.  The populists on the left want higher wages, which is why they keep pushing to raise the minimum wage.  The populists on the right want higher wages, which is why they keep pushing to limit foreign competition for US jobs.  However, the populists on the right say they don’t want to raise the minimum wage because it will hurt small businesses, and the populists on the left say they don’t want to curb immigration because they empathize with the people driving wages down.  Neither side can see the irony.

The second article is so obvious, it’s almost ridiculous.  Immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, using food stamps is exactly the sort of problem that the conservatives are up in arms about.  From their perspective, cutting the use of food stamps for any reason is a positive, but especially among immigrants.  If anything, conservatives will be surprised and delighted that these effects have begun so quickly and easily, with merely the looming threat of enforcement yielding results already.

I have to say, I have mixed feeling about illegal immigration, and about immigration controls in general.  On the one hand, immigration controls are a rational form of protectionism to maintain equitable standards of living for the working and middle classes.  Illegal immigration undermines that, and it is a significant factor contributing to the low wages and underemployment we face today.  People who enter this country illegally are knowingly taking a risk, and the fact that enforcement has been intentionally lax means the risk has been low, and that has simply encouraged more of the same.  On the other hand, the standard of living for those living outside of the US is also important, and classifying people as foreigners is just a convenient excuse to disregard their needs and their poverty.

Should we solve the world’s problems by letting them all move here?  Our economy can’t handle it, even if we had room for everyone.  And the argument is not trivial that the world will bring its problems here.