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Immigrants and Culture

Here’s an e-mail to a correspondent who objects to my recent op-ed in the New York Daily News:

Mr. G_____________

Dear Mr. G______________:

Skeptical of my economic case for more open immigration, you write that “The best conservatives understand what libertarians don’t.  Culture is more critical than economics.”

While I’m unsure how to compare the importance of culture to that of economics, I do agree that culture matters – which is one reason why it’s important to offer principled arguments in support of freedom of movement and of association, both of which are violated by immigration restrictions.  Acquiescence in such restrictions further erodes our culture of openness and of liberty.

More specifically, conservatives (which you obviously are; I do not say this as a criticism) proudly champion family values.  As such, conservatives especially should welcome immigrants to America – each one of whom, on average, sends annually to his or her family back home roughly $1,600.*  (These “remittances,” totaling in 2010 $51.6 billion,** are about 25 percent larger than Uncle Sam’s foreign-aid budget.)  People who care so deeply for their families – and who, contrary to myth, come to America overwhelmingly to work – surely should be applauded for dedication rather than apprehended for deportation.

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

* In Feb. 2011 the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Immigration Statistics estimated that, in 2010, the number of legal foreign residents in the U.S. was 21.2 million while the number of unauthorized immigrants living here was 10.8 million.  Thus, the total number of immigrants living in the U.S. in 2010 was approximately 32 million.  32 million divided into $51.6 billion (the dollar value of remittances sent that year from the U.S.) yields a figure of just over $1,600.

UPDATE: It occurs to me that some – I don’t know how much, and cannot easily find the dollar value of – remittances sent from the U.S. to other countries likely comes from naturalized U.S. citizens rather than from authorized and unauthorized non-citizens living in the U.S.  This fact means that my estimated annual per-immigrant remittance figure of $1,600 is likely too large.  Nevertheless, I believe that the point of this paragraph in my letter still stands (especially because we know that $51.6 billion of remittances were indeed, regardless of who sent these dollars, sent out of the U.S. in 2010, and because we can reasonably assume that very few of those remittance dollars were paid by Americans whose ancestors have been in the U.S. for several generations).  As best as I can estimate from a quick survey of data available on line, there were in 2010 about 15 million naturalized U.S. citizens in America.  (If someone has more-reliable data on this matter, I’d appreciate your pointing me to it.)  So adding the 15 million naturalized U.S. citizens to the 32 million authorized and unauthorized non-U.S.-citizens living in the U.S in 2010, yields an annual per-immigrant remittance figure of $1,098.  That’s still an impressive sum.

** Data available here under “Annual remittances data / Outflows


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