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Immigration Consensus


     
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Finally a consensus has been reached on immigration. No, not among politicians, who can't agree on a rational immigration reform. The agreement is among professional economists.

In an open letter sponsored by the Independent Institute to President Bush and Congress last week, more than 500 prominent economists, including five Nobel laureates, proclaim that “immigration has been a net gain for American citizens.” The letter adds that “while a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to the economy, including lower consumer prices. As with trade in goods and services, gains from immigration outweigh the losses.” Alan Greenspan often made this same point about the benefits of immigration while he was Federal Reserve Chairman.

What is striking about this immigration letter is that it is signed by economists from different fields of research, political affiliations and ideologies. It is possible that no other issue in the economic field, with the exception of the benefits of free trade, inspires such unanimity of professional opinion as immigration does.

Several years ago the Cato Institute surveyed the past presidents of the American Economic Association and the past chairmen of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. Eighty percent agreed that immigration has had “a very favorable impact on the nation’s economic growth,” and 70% said that even illegal immigrant workers “have a positive economic impact.” These experts agree that on balance immigrants don't displace native workers, depress wages or abuse welfare. If only these economic facts could break through an immigration debate that is dominated by emotion and political fear.