On Immigration

by Don Boudreaux on May 22, 2007

in Immigration

His eyes and mind ever-sharp, here’s my co-blogger at Market Correction Andy Morriss on immigration; this is a letter that he sent recently to the Wall Street Journal:


Your editorial on the proposed immigration bill does an excellent job of summarizing the policy issues at stake (“Immigration Opening,” May 19) but leaves out a crucial important dimension to the debate. The proper way to think about all immigration restrictions is as barriers to trade in what economists term “human capital,” the skills and education each brings to his new country. The proposed bill makes this explicit with its $5,000 “fine” for illegal immigrants wishing to regularize their status, which is more properly thought of as a tariff.

Tariffs on goods are bad because they reduce trade. Restrictions on importing capital are foolish because they reduce investment. So too are tariffs on human capital, for even unskilled immigrants bring an important human capital contribution to the United States: Immigrants are risk takers by definition. They leave homes and families and for a new land, where they are unfamiliar with the culture and often cannot speak the language. These are precisely the people who create economic growth because they are willing to take such a risk to gain a better life for themselves and their children. In short, every immigrant is a potential entrepreneur and every entrepreneur is a benefit for the rest of us.

Of course, just as every country has the right to inspect goods coming into its territory, every country has the right to regulate immigration to a limited extent. For example, nations are entitled to ensure that criminals do not immigrate just as they are entitled to inspect agricultural goods for hidden pests. But the fundamental principle underlying immigration should be the same as it is in all areas of trade: the presumption is free trade and the burden is on those proposing restrictions to show both that their restrictions are justified and that they are the minimum needed to accomplish their purpose. The proposed immigration bill flunks both these tests.

Andrew P. Morris
H. Ross and Helen Workman Professor of Law
University of Illinois, College of Law



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