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No Limit on Immigration

Commenting on this recent Cafe post, John Cunningham asks:

Prof Boudreaux, would you set any upper limit on the number of illegal immigrants to be welcomed in? about 60-70% of this year’s entrants on the southern borders are adults, of 300K or so. as Steve Sailer points out, there are 5 billion people in the world living in countries poorer than Mexico. would you be OK with 30 million immigrants yearly? what about 60 million? do you have an upper limit?

I can’t tell if the question is asked sarcastically or not.  I will assume not.  Either way, though, my answer is that I oppose any upper limit.  None.  I am for open borders.

Many people (I think) imagine that if the U.S. had open borders – or even if we returned only to the immigration regime that we had in, say, 1881 – that the great majority of non-Americans who are poorer than Americans would flood into the U.S. indiscriminately.  Concerns about where to live and whether or not a job was likely to be found would be, apparently, ignored by almost every one of the poor immigrants.  But that’s not how the world works.  (If it were, then the places those poor people would be fleeing from would be so utterly miserable and inhumane that we Americans should be especially eager to help such people by allowing them to live in the U.S.)  Market and social forces – such as relative wages and prices, and job availability – govern immigration patterns just as they govern other economic and social phenomena.

There are no legal limits on the number of people who are allowed to seek residence in Manhattan.  And the U.S. is full of people who are poorer than is the typical resident of Manhattan.  Yet we don’t witness New York City being deluged to the point of inability to cope with immigrants from poor states such as Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, and West Virginia flooding indiscriminately into that city.  Why should we expect to see a different outcome when the borders in question happen to be national as opposed to state or local?