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I heard a new point made the other day from someone who was arguing with someone else about whether immigrants should be allowed in America. I first heard the argument that immigrants pay less in taxes than they use in social programs and therefore are a net drain on the US. I won’t address that now, but even if the raw data shows this to be true (it seems to be) the conclusion far from follows.

In that discussion I heard a particular example given when I asked a question. The question I had asked was that even if it is the case that immigrants send their kids to American public schools, and that immigrant taxes do not make up for how much the “society” pays for the provision of those public schools, wouldn’t one want to look at more than just the taxes versus spending, but rather how well the immigrant children do after leaving the school system?

To which I was told (my eyes popped out as I heard this), “well, but they don’t come out of the public schools any better off than when they went into them.” Now this leaves open a nice little paradox.

  1. If I accept your claim that this indeed is true – then please remind me again why we have public schools? Isn’t the entire point of government schooling that the external (spillover) benefits of sending people to school are so large that “all of society” has an obligation to provide it freely to all? And wouldn’t we therefore all be very happy to send an immigrant to school because the whole point of it is that he should not have to pay for it in the first place? That’s the progressive argument, not mine. And if you wish to argue that people should have to pay for it, I’d like to see on what grounds schools then ought to be government run. Wouldn’t you be implying that … Oops.
  2. If I do not accept your claim that this is true, i.e. that I think schools do improve the immigrant children, then tell me why, again, why you propose to ban immigrants from coming here? After all, if it is just a cost issue, isn’t the solution simply to ask immigrants to pay the costs? Not allowing them to come at all seems a bit draconian, no?  And reflecting on this for a moment longer, isn’t the typical argument for public support, progressive programs, and the like that we don’t like the inequality that results from accidents of birth? Wouldn’t allowing immigrants to come to use US public goods be precisely the sort of thing that remedies these accidents?

Note, this post is not a general analysis of immigration, I think there are some legitimate issues to bring to bear on the topic as a whole, I mean to focus on this particular aspect of the question.

4 Responses to “A New Take on Anti-Immigration”

  1. netbacker says:

    There is BIG difference between ILLEGAL immigrant and the legal ones.
    The media and hence everyone else groups all immigrants into one category.
    Why don’t you rewrite/re-read your post with the word illegal in front of every instance of immigrant/immigration and see the effect.
    I first heard the argument that illegal immigrants pay less in taxes than they use in social programs and therefore are a net drain on the US.

  2. Harry says:

    I get WC’s points, and they are well-taken. You had hoped to restrict the discussion.

    Netbacker makes a valid point, too.

    The point is that we should welcome immigration. While I think we have to keep enemies out, there have been tens of decades or more when we have been unselective. Had we have been, I and most of the readers of this page may not have been conceived, let alone be here. Getting into the US should not require getting a green card, or even knowing English. All you should have to do is swear allegiance.

    Now, maybe you should have to sign some papers that you will forego government benefits, but that is our problem, providing a free life to everybody who happens to be around before they closed the door.

    Much has been made of our demographic problem, couples not replacing themselves with two children. As our country gets older, who is going to be around to do the work?

    One solution to the demographic problem is to let in more people, and that is easy, because we are the envy of the world, a free country. If you want to come for the welfare, that is a separate problem, our problem. How we treat immigrants once they are here is our problem, and if they are one of us, theirs as well.

  3. mike says:

    This is a very good argument to make against an immigration restrictionist who is also politically progressive and a big supporter of government schools. Good luck finding one though.

  4. Greg says:

    Regarding illegal immigrants – all states agree to educate these students, at a cost. Then we throw away this investment by making it nearly impossible for them to go to college – they can’t attend public universities at the reduced rate most people can. Frustrating issue I’ve seen many times.

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