Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I came across an interview Laura Ingraham was doing with a a Long Island mayor this morning while driving to work. The subject was illegal immigration, and the mayor was explaining why local officials did not have any responsibility to help enforce immigration laws. He cited two reasons.

First, it was not the responsibility of local officials to make up for a failed federal immigration policy/system. Reasonable enough. His second reason was the economy of his upper-class New York suburb depended on illegal immigrants for labor. In his view, American citizens and legal immigrants are unwilling to do the jobs done by illegal workers. Basically, he took the same position often espoused by President Bush and the Wall Street Journal editorial page.

Setting aside the security problems posed by our inability to control the movement of people across our borders, the problems with this reasoning are twofold. First is the disrespect for the rule of law that happens when we turn a blind eye to illegal immigration. Why should anyone go through the legal processes required to immigrate to the US legally when there is essentially no penalty in coming here illegally?

Second is the distortion of the labor market due to the presence of large numbers of illegal workers. When someone says that legal residents of the US are unwilling to do a job, what they are really saying is they are unwilling to do the job at the price the complainer is willing to pay. Not to mention doing the work under conditions that would normally be considered unsafe or unfair. Are legal residents willing to do dirty jobs? Yes, if paid enough. For anecdotal proof, one could watch a few episodes of Dirty Jobs, which documents all sorts of tough, dirty jobs. Fact is, if there were not illegal workers here to do those kinds of jobs the mayor was depending on them for, the price of doing those jobs would go up, and legal residents could then be found to do them. Illegal competition in the job market by illegals drives down wages and distorts the market. This makes life even harder for people who work the lower wage jobs by increasing competition in a market that is already extremely competitive. Appparently, that didn't bother the mayor much.

It's funny how the WSJ types decry market distortions caused by regulation when it raises costs for owners, but encourage government negligence in controlling our borders when it drives down labor costs. A fellow could get the idea that it's just all about the money or something.

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