What Is it About Immigration???

by Don Boudreaux on December 9, 2005

in Immigration, Myths and Fallacies

In a comment on this blog-post, Ivan Kirigin repeats a claim asserted frequently by people who are suspicious of open immigration: "illegal immigrants are more likely to be a burden on society through higher taxes."

I doubt that this assertion is true, but I confess that I don’t have any numbers to present at the moment to support my position.  But I do have handy a widely known fact whose persistence is evidence against Mr. Kirigin’s claim.

This fact is the government’s many restrictions on the ability of foreigners to work lawfully in the United States.  If immigrants come to these shores largely to free-ride on taxpayers, Uncle Sam wouldn’t have to spill so much ink and spend so much effort trying to prevent them from working.

But I confess that it’s possible that the numbers might show that the typical illegal immigrant (or even typical immigrant) drains more from taxpayers than does the typical native-born American.  If so, this fact does not mean that the net contribution of these immigrants is negative.  Against the amount they consume in taxes must be weighed not just the amount they pay in taxes but also the amount of value they add to the economy.

But let’s assume for the moment that the net contribution of immigrants, even properly measured, is negative.  Rather than restrict them from coming to America, the first and best step surely is to remove all restrictions aimed at preventing them from working.  Removal of such restrictions would surely increase immigrants’ contribution to the economy and reduce their reliance upon government.

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