Immigration is the Reverse Black Death?

Let’s consider the political goals of righteous Americans today:

  • higher wages for the average person
  • an improved environment with less human impact on the land
  • less concentration of wealth in the hands of real property owners
  • more affordable housing for the working class

While listening to An Economic History of the World since 1400 by Professor Donald J. Harreld, I learned that all of the above goals were achieved in the 14th century via the Black Death, which reduced the European population by approximately one third.

  • wages for workers, including unskilled agricultural workers, increased as much as 40-50 percent
  • food prices fell
  • land and housing prices fell
  • the least productive farmland was allowed to return to natural forest (contrast to conditions before, from the course notes: “By about 1300, Europeans had just about all arable land under cultivation, including marginal and poorly producing lands, to sustain the growing population”)

Is it fair to think of immigration as the reverse of the Black Death? We’re dramatically growing our population via immigrants and children of immigrants (see “Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065” (Pew)).

What seems surprising, then, is that the people who say that they want to see all of the economic results of the Black Death simultaneously say that they want to adjust U.S. demographics in precisely the opposite direction of the Black Death.

Is the apparent inconsistency resolved because only about 2 percent of U.S. workers are directly employed in agriculture?

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“If Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders, Fascists Will”

Federico was kind enough to send me “If Liberals Won’t Enforce Borders, Fascists Will” (Atlantic). I think that the article might answer the question that I raised in If our laws haven’t changed and Central American countries are experiencing less violence than 30 years ago, why do we see more immigrants from those countries today?

immigration is accelerating so rapidly in the 21st century less because of pervading misery than because life on our planet is improving for so many people. It costs money to move—and more and more families can afford the investment to send a relative northward. “Every boat person I’ve met has been ambitious, urban, educated,” says Doug Saunders, a Canadian journalist who has reported extensively on global population movements. “They are very poor by European standards, but often comfortable by African and Middle Eastern ones.”

The article reminds us that the best way to build a high-achieving society is via a flood of unskilled immigrants:

This massive new wave of immigration has brought many benefits to the United States. Of the 122 Americans who won a Nobel Prize from 2000 to 2018, 34 were immigrants.

In other words, it wasn’t a handful of targeted visa applications by universities bringing in graduate students or faculty that resulted in these 34 folks settling here, but rather a “massive new wave of immigration” that blessed us with their presence. We can never know which caravan member will suddenly become a tenured professor of physics, so one sensible approach to dominating the Nobel scoreboard is to start by admitting unlimited caravans.

The author doesn’t say how many of these 34 were undocumented immigrants versus how many got in through relatives, a visa lottery, or any of the other programs that Donald Trump has tried to scale back. Nor does he raise the question of whether there might be cheaper ways to lure Nobel winners to the U.S. We spend $18.5 billion per year on health care for the undocumented (Forbes). What if we offered Nobel winners and anyone who seemed to be on track for a Nobel the opportunity to split $18.5 billion per year on condition that they move to the U.S.?

The article makes it plain that the U.S. has been transformed and will eventually be unrecognizable:

In the 60 years from 1915 until 1975, nearly a human lifetime, the United States admitted fewer immigrants than arrived, legally and illegally, in the single decade of the 1990s.

By 2027, the foreign-born proportion of the U.S. population is projected to equal its previous all-time peak, in 1890: 14.8 percent. Under present policy, that percentage will keep rising to new records thereafter.

… When natives have lots of children of their own, immigrants look like reinforcements. When natives have few children, immigrants look like replacements. No wonder that, according to a 2016 survey conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and The Atlantic, nearly half of white working-class Americans agree with this statement: “Things have changed so much that I often feel like a stranger in my own country.”

The author reminds us that Barack Obama, at one point in his life, had to talk to a car mechanic!

Barack Obama, in his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, lamented, “When I see Mexican flags waved at pro-immigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I’m forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration.”

(It was too audacious for him to hope that he could learn a language besides English?)

The author proposes a fuzzy line and a policy that is as clear as mud:

Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand have called for abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Gillibrand denounced the agency as a “deportation force”—as if it were possible to enforce immigration laws without deportation. While it would be destabilizing and impractical to remove all the people who have been living peaceably in this country for many years, it does not follow that any nonfelon who sets foot in the U.S. has a right to stay here.

People who got over the border a month ago have a better entitlement to permanent residence and citizenship than people who got over the border this morning? What’s the logical basis for this and how can this kind of reasoning be applied in practice?

Donald Trump and the people who voted for him are idiots:

The Trump-era debate about a wall misses the point. The planet of tomorrow will be better educated, more mobile, more networked. Huddling behind a concrete barrier will not hold the world at bay when more and more of that world can afford a plane ticket. If Americans want to shape their own national destiny, rather than have it shaped by others, they have decisions to make now.

But at present, the most important immigration decisions are made through an ungainly and ill-considered patchwork of policies. Almost 70 percent of those who settle lawfully in the United States gained entry because they were close relatives of previously admitted immigrants. Many of those previously admitted immigrants were in their turn relatives of someone who had arrived even earlier.

Every year some 50,000 people are legally admitted by lottery. Others buy their way in, by investing a considerable sum. In almost every legal immigration category, the United States executes its policy less by conscious decision than by excruciating delay. The backlog of people whose immigration petitions have been approved for entry but who have not yet been admitted is now nearing 4 million. (Only spouses and children are exempted from annual numerical caps.)

On average, a settled immigrant will sponsor 3.5 relatives to follow him or her into the United States.

Why is it obvious that most people who apply for a tourist visa should be given one and that, afterwards, anyone who shows up in the U.S. by plane can, as a practical matter, stay forever? (see for one current technique) What would stop the U.S. from tracking residents more intensively such that it was practically impossible to live and work as an undocumented immigrant?

Atlantic raises some of the same questions that I raised in

Under present immigration policies, the U.S. population will exceed 400 million by 2050. Nobody is seriously planning for such population growth—building the schools and hospitals these people will need, planning for the traffic they will generate. Nobody is thinking very hard about the environmental consequences, either. The average American causes the emission of almost 17 tons of carbon dioxide each year, quadruple the annual emissions of the average Mexican and 45 times the emissions of the average Bangladeshi.

The article makes the same point as Milton Friedman, i.e., that you can’t run a Welfare state and open borders:

Too little immigration, and you freeze your country out of the modern world. Too much, or the wrong kind, and you overstress your social-insurance system—and possibly upend your democracy.

But why is it obvious that there is a risk of being frozen out of the modern world? China has a low rate of immigration. Is China frozen out of the modern world? Newark is modern (27 percent foreign-born) and Shanghai is old and crummy?

All of the choice spots in the U.S. will eventually be primarily populated by immigrants, albeit in crummy cramped living conditions:

Americans in the 2010s are only half as likely to move to a new state as their parents were in the 1980s. What has changed? Economic researchers have refuted some possible explanations—the aging of the population, for example. The most plausible alternative is directly immigration-related: Housing costs in the hottest job markets have grown much faster than the wages offered to displaced workers. Simply put, a laid-off Ohio manufacturing worker contemplating relocating to Colorado to seek a job in the hospitality industry is likely to discover that the move offers no higher pay, but much higher rent. An immigrant from Mexico or the Philippines faces a very different calculus. Her wage gains would be significant. And while her housing options may seem lousy to someone accustomed to an American standard of living, to her they likely represent a bearable sacrifice for all the other opportunities offered by life in the United States—and possibly a material improvement over living conditions back home.

(see also for why the mobility stats may be coming down; it is tougher to switch states when you’re receiving means-tested welfare benefits, such as a subsidized or free house)

Wikipedia lends support to the theory that the places in the U.S. that were formerly considered the nicest are heavily settled by immigrants. Miami, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Honolulu, Boston, and San Diego have foreign-born populations between 25 percent and 56 percent.

After reminding readers that Trump voters are stupid, the author inadvertently suggests that they are likely rational:

… the gains from immigration are divided very unequally. Immigrants reap most of them. Wealthy Americans claim much of the rest, in the form of the lower prices they pay for immigrant-produced services. Low-income Americans receive comparatively little benefit, and may well be made worse off, depending on who’s counting and what method they use.

Estimates from the National Academy of Sciences suggest that on average, each immigrant costs his or her state and local governments $1,600 more a year in expenditures than he or she contributes in revenues. In especially generous states, the cost is much higher still: $2,050 in California; $3,650 in Wisconsin; $5,100 in Minnesota.

Immigrants are expensive to taxpayers because the foreign-born population of the United States is more likely to be poor and stay poor. Even when immigrants themselves do not qualify for a government benefit—typically because they are in the country illegally—their low income ensures that their children do. About half of immigrant-headed households receive some form of social assistance in any given year.

Assertions that federal tax revenue from immigrants can stabilize the finances of programs such as Medicare and Social Security overlook the truth that immigrants will get old and sick—and that in most cases, the taxes they pay over their working life will not cover the costs of their eventual claims on these programs. No matter how many millions of immigrants we absorb, they can’t help shore up these programs if they’ll need more in benefits than they can ever possibly pay in taxes.

The author says that immigrants are making Americans less self-destructive because immigrants are less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol or commit suicide: “white people commit suicide at nearly three times the rate of ethnic minorities.” But this is semantics. The definition of “Americans” is not held constant. The people who were “Americans” before the immigration wave aren’t experiencing a life free of drugs, alcohol, and suicide. They’re just being diluted statistically.

American workers, even as many demand Socialism to ensure that they are paid more, are less educated and lower skilled and therefore have less value to employers:

In 2007, ETS—the company that administers the SAT—warned of a gathering “perfect storm”: “Over the next 25 years or so,” it said, “as better-educated individuals leave the workforce they will be replaced by those who, on average, have lower levels of education and skill.” This warning shows every sign of being fulfilled. About 10 percent of the students in U.S. public schools are now non-native English speakers. Unsurprisingly, these students score consistently lower on national assessment tests than native speakers do. In 2017, nearly half of Hispanic fourth graders had not achieved even partial mastery of grade-level material. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, these children are at significant risk of dropping out of high school.

But here’s something more surprising: Evidence from North Carolina suggests that even a fairly small increase in the non-native-speaking presence in a classroom seriously depresses learning outcomes for all students.

Perhaps indicating a huge advance in functional

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Provincetown Public Library

One of the exciting things that I am able to do after 18 years of flight training is go to public libraries in different towns. The photos below are from a recent rare calm-wind, above-freezing day in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

Adjacent books in the featured Young Adult Non-Fiction section:

From the rest of the shelf:

What about New (and/or featured) Children’s Fiction?

I do hope that at least one candidate in 2020 adopts Gordon Jack’s slogan of “When they go low, we go slightly lower.”

In between the fiction and non-fiction sections:

What about for little kids? The library is in a converted church and makes great use of the high ceilings:

There is a restroom:

The little kids have their own books, in which it turns out that adults and cisgender boys are guilty of cisgender-normative and hetero-normative prejudice.

The reviews of I’m a Girl on Amazon:

  • A wrongheaded picture book attempts to celebrate “girl power” and the rejection of traditional gender roles but ends up perpetuating stereotypes. … The damaging fallacy extends in every direction, though, as the bystanders’ sometimes derisive comments, which assume that she’s male (“Ugh! Boys are so messy.”), support an additional set of (binary) gender stereotypes.
  • Besides the message of “you can be as annoying as you want as long as you’re breaking gender stereotypes,” having to read “I’m a girl!” with emphasis throughout the entire story gets tedious.
  • Intentional or not, it’s about gender identity and being misgendered. … It never says she is trans, but could easily be read that way

And of 10,000 Dresses:

  • I am building a collection of books and lessons to help my children understand what the GLBTIQ crowd experiences to help teach them how to treat others and how NOT to treat others.
  • I selected this book as part of an independent English literature course that I am taking that involved examining LGBT experience through literature. This is an excellent selection for starting discussion on transgender identity in childhood. The author’s use of pronouns is especially insightful and overall it’s a reaffirming story. I removed one star from my review because the main character’s parents and sibling are rude and intolerant and the book in no way addresses this.
  • I do have a problem with the girl running to a stranger’s house and going in as if that is a perfectly safe behavior.
  • I returned mine today and was appalled as I read the story to my son before reading it to myself. Kids need to feel safe at home, especially when dealing with gender non-conformity.
  • This book seems intended to be positive about a boy wearing dresses, but in the story, the boys’ parents and sibling reject him, and one girl becomes his friend and makes dresses with him. The issues with his family are never resolved.
  • [From American University] 10,000 Dresses is a true depiction of what a young child goes through when feeling that they do not fit in. … There are also no diverse races in this book; every character that is depicted is Caucasian. Since children of color are unable to see themselves represented in the book, they cannot relate to the greater message behind the story.
  • The story is poorly conceived: the parents are unsupportive and cold, while a stranger provides comfort.
  • A child is systematically mocked by each member of his family, only to find refuge with a random stranger.

Should these paper forms be called “Normally aspirated tax”?

From the convenience store, we learn that customers are passionate about marijuana, but that the claimed health benefits for humans do not translates into health benefits for our canine companions:

What’s happening in the rest of the town?

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Why weren’t families coming over the border to seek asylum 30 years ago?

“Border at ‘Breaking Point’ as More than 76,000 Migrants Cross in a Month” (nytimes):

The number of migrant families crossing the southwest border has once again broken records, with unauthorized entries nearly doubling what they were a year ago, suggesting that the Trump administration’s aggressive policies have not discouraged new migration to the United States.

At least 70 such groups of 100 or more people have turned themselves in at Border Patrol stations that typically are staffed by only a handful of agents, often hours away from civilization. By comparison, only 13 such groups arrived in the last fiscal year, and two in the year before.

The difference is that the nature of immigration has changed, and the demographics of those arriving now are proving more taxing for border officials to accommodate. Most of those entering the country in earlier years were single men, most of them from Mexico, coming to look for work. If they were arrested, they could quickly be deported.

Now, the majority of border crossers are not single men but familiesfathers from Honduras with adolescent boys they are pulling away from gang violence, mothers with toddlers from Guatemala whose farms have been lost to drought. Most of these migrants may not have a good case to remain in the United States permanently, but because of legal constraints, it is not so easy to speedily deport them if they arrive with children and claim protection under the asylum laws.

… the practical effect is that most families are released into the country to await their hearings in immigration court. The courts are so backlogged that it could take months or years for cases to be decided. Some people never show up for court at all.

Given U.S. law and policies, all of this makes sense. But why was it different 20 or 30 years ago? We haven’t changed our laws or policies, have we?

Is it Guatemala that has changed for the worse? The population was 8.9 million in 1990 and is now over 17 million (Wikipedia). In other words, there are twice as many people trying to share whatever resources they have down there. But, on the other hand, from 1960 to 1996, the country was embroiled in a civil war. Despite the pressure from the near-doubling of population, surely life in Guatemala today is better than during an actual war.

How about Honduras? Population was 4.9 million in 1990 against 9 million today (Wikipedia). But the 1969-1999 period is summarized as “Wars and corruption” by Wikipedia. Life in Honduras overall should be better today compared to 30 years ago.


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New York City without Amazon

I’m just back from working with a team at an 850-lawyer firm (as an expert witness in a software and hardware patent infringement case). Despite the top pay, none of the associates were able to afford living in Manhattan. Most lived in New Jersey and would cross the Hudson River by train or bus every day. An associate who lived in Jersey City said that a PATH train on at least one line came approximately every four minutes and that he could take either line to get to work. Awesome, right? “I usually can’t get on, though,” he said. “The trains are already full when they get to Jersey City so there is at most room for 3 additional passengers.”

Given his experience of infrastructure pushed to its capacity limit, of course I couldn’t resist asking what he thought about migration and population growth. He said that he was “neutral” and had no opinion on the merits of expanded immigration.

Crosstown traffic was predictably horrific and made worse by construction. The city definitely needs an Elon Musk tunnel every five blocks.

Starbucks was packed at 9 am in Midtown, with 50+ people in line at both the Starbucks and the Starbucks across the street from the Starbucks. Maybe this is a peak hour phenomenon? Every retailer in New York could make money with a coffee robot in the corner, assuming that the quality were guaranteed consistent?

I am not sure that the packed-like-sardines public transit riders of NYC will mourn the loss of Amazon HQ2!

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How would the Wall work through Big Bend National Park?

The U.S.-Mexico border is 1,954 miles long, of which 580 miles was fenced (not “walled”!) prior to Donald Trump taking office (Wikipedia). That leaves 1,374 miles of proposed new barrier (immoral “wall” if built by Trump; moral “fence” if built by others?). Of those 1,374 miles, 118 miles are part of Big Bend National Park.

Reading The Line Becomes a River, by a former Border Patrol agent (2008-2012), made me wonder how Trump’s proposed barrier can work along this part of the border. Some excerpts:

On a hot Texas evening at the edge of Big Bend National Park, I watched a man ride his horse across the Rio Grande.

I gestured at the village across the river and asked the man if he lived in Boquillas. Of course, he said, beaming with pride. I asked what he did for work and he nodded at the unattended souvenirs and handmade crafts that had been set out atop the rocks. No hay trabajo, he complained—we make our money from tourists. I asked if many Americans crossed over to visit. Sure, he said, Boquillas is very safe. Narcos don’t bother us, even the rangers and la migra leave us alone. He paused. You know, he said, there’s a nice restaurant in my village. Is there breakfast? I asked. Of course, he smiled. I’ll come for you in the morning.

The next morning, as the sun grew pale and white in the eastern sky, I met my guide at the banks of the river. He instructed me to climb onto his horse, and then, like it was nothing, he spurred the animal across the river into Mexico. We spoke little as I jostled atop sauntering haunches and grasped at the back of his saddle. Passing the first cinderblock homes of Boquillas, I considered the extent to which my safekeeping depended upon this stranger, leading me into the silent and unfamiliar streets of his village.

Our young fit fluent-in-Spanish half-Mexican hero bravely makes a trip that, during my visit to Big Bend, was mostly being taken by senior citizens after exiting from their RVs. The “river” is more like a wide shallow stream at this point in its course. Neither the U.S. nor Mexico was bothering to do any border control at the border. In the case of the U.S., there were checkpoints across the roads about 50 miles north. I enjoyed my time in Boquillas, especially the town’s dusty museum (unattended by any guard; pay into a box via the honor system).

The National Park Service now has an official guide to visiting Boquillas. It seems that the ability to walk to Boquillas and get a taco was one of the freedoms we supposed lost after 9/11 (Wikipedia; except that the author made it across easily!), but since 2013 (Wikipedia) there is a formal border crossing.

I wonder how Trump’s political promise can be implemented in this part of the country. Here are some possibilities:

  • Despite the idea that national parks are supposed to be mostly natural, we install an ugly fence along our side of the river. It will appear in every visitor’s snapshots from Big Bend.
  • We build a fence on the north edge of the park, with checkpoints at the handful of roads that would cross the fence. Any caravan of migrants that has made its way to Mexico City can ride a bus for another 18 hours, get off in Boquillas, walk across the Rio Grande and tell the nearest park ranger “I am seeking asylum” (or give birth to a baby who will then be entitled to bring the parents in 18 years from now, thus saddling U.S. taxpayers with the cost of public housing, health care, food stamps, etc., for the now-older parents)
  • We pay the Mexicans to build a monster fence somewhere on their side of the border, out of sight of the tourists who come to Big Bend (but the Mexicans have their own state park on their side).

Is there any other alternative that is consistent with Trump’s campaign promise?

[Also, given that it is easy to walk into the U.S. at Big Bend, why aren’t migrant caravans choosing this route right now? Why wait near the border in Tijuana, for example, when one could just as easily be over the border and on one’s way from Big Bend?]

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The Line Becomes a River: Birthright citizenship is the root of the fight over family separation

The Line Becomes a River is by a guy who worked as a Border Patrol agent between 2008 and 2012. He is outraged by U.S. policies that result in families of migrants being separated:

No father should be kept from his family this way, no father should have a young son and wake up unable to hear him in the next room.

A big portion of the book concerns two undocumented immigrants whose children were born on U.S. soil. Due to “birthright citizenship,” the children are U.S. citizens despite the illegal status of their parents. When the father is caught and deported, the parents decide that the children and mother need to remain in the U.S. so that the children can have maximum opportunity (and once the 15-year-old turns 18 he can sponsor his dad by right for a Green Card).

From Mom to the immigration bureaucrats:

Lupe wrote in Spanish on lined school paper borrowed from her children: I Lupe Balderas declare that José Martínez-Cruz is my husband since the year 1999. We have 3 boys age 15, 10, and 8. … now we miss him very much because I Lupe cannot take my boys to the park because lately I have been unwell. My husband took my boys to play soccer every Wednesday and on weekends he dedicated his time to us to eat and go out and now we miss him. My husband has given sixteen years of happiness and love to my sons and me but we won’t return to Mexico because my boys don’t know anyone there and they speak very little Spanish and it’s very difficult to adapt to another country when their whole life has been here they were born here and they are growing here. For us as parents we want the best for our sons Diego, José Junior, and Vicente. … we give hope to God that very soon we will be together because God does not like to see his children separated.

From a son:

Hi I’m Diego Martínez I’m the son of José Martínez I’m his oldest son I am 15 years old. I have two younger brothers. One is 10 and the other is 8. I’m working to keep my brothers happy to buy them what they want to keep them happy. Well my dad José is the nicest guy I know my dad is like my best friend and my father. I treat my dad with so much respect he’s the father any kid would want to have. My mom and my whole family broke down when we saw him at court on the first court he had everyone started crying. … I miss my dad he knew how to cheer us up when we were down. He took us to the park on Monday and Wednesday to play soccer with our church friend he got along with everyone at church my dad was the coolest person most nicest, most religious, most caring person always made my mom happy, always putting a smile in our faces every single day he’s also very smart and very funny. … How I feel right now about my dad being in jail and seeing him like this makes me really sad depressed my father isn’t here with us everyone that asks me about my dad makes me sad to say he’s in jail. My heart kinda stops pauses and breaks down on every letter they send him he was a man with three children and one woman. Each one of my friends I’ve had for many years loved my dad because he took us to places like to any place appropriate, to mountains in the west to parks to many places in the city. My dad did anything to make us happy now my life is depressing hollow my dad’s not here. A missing place for him here waits.

Thanks to modern telecommunications and transportation, the family can talk 24/7 and actually get together regularly:

I asked Lupe about the boys and she told me that an uncle with papers had offered to take them across the border so they could see their father.

A week later I checked in again with Lupe. Did the boys see José? I asked. Yes, she said, but not Vicente. He just got his arm put in a cast. He’s a little sad, she explained, he hasn’t seen his daddy since he was in court. Lupe told me that José was still at the border, that he planned to cross again soon, maybe this weekend, that everything was fine, that he told her not to worry.

I wanted to confess to her that I wished I had the courage to smuggle José myself, to ferry him safely through the desert, past the sensors and watchtowers, past the agents patrolling distant trails and dirt roads, past the highway checkpoints.

From the father:

For a while, you know, a couple months ago, after I had tried to cross again and again, I finally started to think that maybe my family could come live in Mexico until Lupe and I could arrange our papers. I even mentioned it to the boys on the phone. We don’t want to live in Mexico, they told me. We don’t know anyone there. We like it here, they said, we like our school.

When Lupe and I went to get married, the pastor told us that it was important to grow a family, that it was important for children to see their parents together. Es de mucho valor una familia unida. Family should stay together. If I must stay in Mexico and my wife raises my boys alone, they will be getting less care, less love, and so the family will slowly deteriorate. Being a parent is a job that you share, it’s a job you have to be present for.

Some politicians in the United States think that if a mother or father is deported, this will cause the entire family to move back to Mexico. But in fact, the mothers and fathers with the best family values will want their family to stay in the U.S., they will cross the border again and again to be with them.

If I am arrested crossing the border, I understand it’s part of the system. I realize that I am crossing illegally. But it’s complicated, you see. I know I’m breaking the rules, but it is necessary because my family is there. I don’t want to cause harm to the country, but I have to break the law. I have to. Es una necesidad. It is a situation of emotion, of love. Those who accept staying apart from their family are without love. Their children grow up without love. So I must fight against this.

I don’t want to carry drugs across the desert, I don’t want to get myself into more problems, but sometimes it’s not a choice. The same people who control the drug smuggling control the human trafficking, so in some places if you want to get across, you have to carry a load.

To be honest, I would rather be in prison in the U.S. and see my boys once a week through the glass than to stay here and be separated from my family. At least I would be closer to them. So you see, there is nothing that can keep me from crossing. My boys are not dogs to be abandoned in the street. I will walk through the desert for five days, eight days, ten days, whatever it takes to be with them. I’ll eat grass, I’ll eat bushes, I’ll eat cactus, I’ll drink filthy cattle water, I’ll drink nothing at all. I’ll run and hide from la migra, I’ll pay the mafias whatever I have to. They can take my money, they can rob my family, they can lock me away, but I will keep coming back. I will keep crossing, again and again, until I make it, until I am together again with my family. No, no me quedo aquí. Voy a seguir intentando pasar.

The final paragraph above is actually the last paragraph of the book, prior to a brief Epilogue.

The book reveals what I think is a fundamental contradiction in our laws occasioned by birthright citizenship. We cannot bear the idea of the federal government separating families. At the same time, we won’t simply allow anyone who claims to be the parent of a minor child to enter and stay in the U.S. forever. If the child is a U.S. citizen, however, there is no way to implement our stated values. We cannot deport the child. We insist on deporting the parent. But we also insist that the federal government should never separate parents from children.

[Separately, the author is a product of U.S. state government separation of parents from children via our no-fault divorce laws. His mom has been through family court so many times that the author thanks “three fathers” in the Acknowledgments. Mom of author did not meet her own father until she reached the age of 17. Until that age, the only contact that she had with her mother’s former partner was a photograph. Like Elizabeth Warren, Americans are eager to see children separated from one parent in the event that an American adult wants to have sex with some new friends (and will offer significant cash incentives for this behavior), but they’re inconsolable if children are separated from one or both parents in the event that a parent is detained and/or deported.]

Helicopter enthusiasts and Airbus salespeople will appreciate The Line Becomes a River. Whenever there is a need for transportation, a Border Patrol Eurocopter spins up. It might be a dehydrated migrant. It might be looking for a corpse in the desert.

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez takes an anti-immigration position?

At lunch on Friday, a friend bragged a bit about his daughter, a whip-smart Computer Science graduate working for one of the most prestigious Wall Street banks: “She’s making a ton of money.”

Really, I asked. She won’t need a car in Manhattan so let’s say that she can spend half of her after-tax earnings on rent. Within a 20-minute walk of her office, how big of an apartment would she get? “Not even a one-bedroom,” he replied. The young energetic works-all-the-time college graduate has to share an apartment. So, she’d have an objectively higher standard of living if she were a programmer for the State of Indiana? “Yes.”

Let’s look at what happens when a big rich employer moves into this environment.

“Ocasio-Cortez and progressives score a victory in Amazon fight” (CNN):

Ocasio-Cortez hailed the Washington Post report on Friday as a victory of the citizen over the corporation, when she tweeted a link to the Post article and added: “Can everyday people come together and effectively organize against creeping overreach of one of the world’s biggest corporations? Yes, they can.”

Let’s also consider “Ocasio-Cortez leads immigration rally outside White House” (The Hill):

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Tuesday used a pro-immigration rally outside the White House to call for permanent residence for people in the U.S. with temporary protected status (TPS).

“We are a nation that turns peril into promise,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We are here to make sure that all TPS recipients become permanent members of the United States of America.”


Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday called on Congress to cut funding to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and accused the agency of criminalizing Latinos in the United States, which she called “native land.”

I wonder if everyone’s favorite member of Congress has figured out that the immigration of Amazon into Manhattan is likely to be a net negative for most of her constituents. Plainly, property owners will be better off. There will be more demand for office space, retail space, and apartments.

What about renters? Consider the school teacher, age 32, who has been working for NYC Public Schools since graduating college at age 22 and has earned an online master’s degree. If I’m reading the salary schedule right, this puts the teacher at $87,160 per year. If the teacher has no children, earning $87,160 is above the eligibility limit for public housing.

Why is the teacher better off after Amazon moves in? The teacher’s salary is set by union contract and won’t go up. Amazon was forecast to pay an average of $150,000 per year. This is great news for the teacher’s landlord, who now has 25,000+ new potential renters earning $150,000 per year. Why is it great news for the teacher?

If we consider the teacher a “native” and the Amazon workers “immigrants,” I wonder if this is the same situation as the immigration question on which Ms. Ocasio-Cortez takes the opposite view.

An extra 50 or 100 million immigrants plus children of immigrants is wonderful news for property owners (the government will pay to rent a migrant family an apartment), the health care industry (more customers and the government will pay for nearly all of them!), folks who work in the welfare industry, etc. But for a renter with low skills, the immigrants will drive up the cost of an apartment and drive down the market-clearing wage.

Readers: Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being inconsistent here in advocating for migrants to come through the southern border and for Amazon to stay out of Queens? Does the own vs. rent dichotomy explain most of the disagreement in New York City on whether Amazon HQ2 was a positive or a negative?

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The Line Becomes a River: Illegal immigrants want to work

The Line Becomes a River is by a guy who worked as a Border Patrol agent between 2008 and 2012. It is a worthwhile book if you want to understand the texture of land-based illegal immigration and border control (only a subset of illegal immigration; a lot of our uninvited permanent guests showed up in an airplane on a visa of some sort and then either asked for asylum or simply stayed).

The book repeatedly makes the point that illegal immigrants are good people and want to work:

At the station I processed the man for deportation. After I had taken his fingerprints he asked me if there was any work for him at the station. You don’t understand, I said, you’ve just got to wait here until the bus comes. They’ll take you to headquarters and then on to the border. You’ll be back in Mexico very soon. I understand, he assured me, I just want to know if there is something I can do while I wait, something to help. I can take out the trash or clean out the cells. I want to show you that I’m here to work, that I’m not a bad person. I’m not here to bring in drugs, I’m not here to do anything illegal. I want to work. I looked at him. I know that, I said.

My mother sighed and looked up at the ceiling. There are ways to learn these things that don’t put you at risk, she said, ways that let you help people instead of pitting you against them. But that’s just it, I offered—I can still help people. I speak both languages, I know both cultures. I’ve lived in Mexico and traveled all across the country. I’ve seen towns and villages that were emptied out by people going north for work. Good people will always be crossing the border, and whether I’m in the Border Patrol or not, agents will be out there arresting them. At least if I’m the one apprehending them, I can offer them some small comfort by speaking with them in their own language, by talking to them with knowledge of their home.

it I saw two figures lying on a blanket that had been spread out between the pews and the altar. As I approached, a man looked up at me and squinted, holding out his hand to block the light. We were resting a little, he said. It’s just that we are lost, muy desanimados. A woman huddled close to him, hiding her face. The man propped himself up on one elbow and told me that they had crossed four days ago, that their guide had left them behind on the first night when they’d failed to keep pace with the group. They were lost for days, he said, with nothing to drink but the filthy water from cattle tanks. Puede ser muy fea la frontera, I told him. The man shook his head. Pues sí, he replied, pero es aún más feo donde nosotros vivimos. The man told me that they came from Morelos. My wife and I, we’re just coming to find work, he said. He rubbed his eyes in silence. I have fresh water for you, I told them. At the station there’s juice and crackers. The man looked at me and smiled weakly, then asked for a minute to gather their belongings. He stuffed some things into a backpack, then helped his wife to her feet. Her face was streaked with dried tears, and when she turned toward me I saw that she was pregnant.

The author describes encounters with drug smugglers and other criminals, but stresses that the majority of illegal immigrants are looking for work that would be legal if they were documented U.S. residents or citizens.

So the book supports the open borders abolish-ICE point of view? Yes, but it also inadvertently supports the “build the wall” point of view! The immigrants described, no matter how long they’ve lived in the U.S., never graduate from Welfare. They work at minimum wage and have 2-6 children. Thus they’re entitled to subsidized public housing, food stamps, Obamaphones, and either Medicaid or subsidized Obamacare health insurance policies. So they are simultaneously workers cheered by advocates of expanded immigration and lifetime welfare recipients decried by opponents. Example:

Agents found Martin Ubalde de la Vega and his three companions on the bombing range more than fifty miles north of the border. The four men had been in the desert for six days and had wandered in the July heat for over forty-eight hours without food or water.  … I had been charged with watching over de la Vega until his condition was stable, at which point I would transport him to the station to be processed for deportation. I settled in a chair next to him, and after several minutes of silence, I asked him to tell me about himself. He answered timidly, as if unsure of what to say or even how to speak. He apologized for his Spanish, explaining that he knew only what they had taught him in school. He came from the jungles of Guerrero, he told me, and in his village they spoke Mixtec and farmed the green earth. He was the father of seven children, he said, five girls and two boys. His eldest daughter lived in California and he had crossed the border with plans to go there, to live with her and find work. We spent the following hours watching telenovelas and occasionally he would turn to ask me about the women in America, wondering if they were like the ones on TV.

So this guy will be earning a middle class wage as soon as American employers need a lot of Mixtec speakers. The drug dealers, at least, have credible plans to make money:

We caught our first dope load only two days after arriving at the station. We were east of the port of entry when a sensor hit, just three miles away. … Two hundred fifty pounds of dope—not bad for your second day in the field. I asked Cole if we should follow the foot sign up into the pass, if we should try to track down the backpackers. Hell no, he said, you don’t want to bring in any bodies with your dope if you can help it. Suspects mean you have a smuggling case on your hands, and that’s a hell of a lot of paperwork—we’d have to stay and work a double shift just to write it up. Besides, he said, the prosecutors won’t take it anyway. Courts here are flooded with cases like this.

On the ride back to the station, the kid regained some composure. He told me he was eighteen, that he had planned to go to Oregon to sell heroin, un puño a la vez.

The book leaves some questions unanswered, e.g., why didn’t all of the people the author catches immediately claim asylum and thus delay their deportation for a few years? Why didn’t everyone find a young companion (who at least can credibly claim to be under 18) with whom to cross the border and then stay together after being caught under the Obama Administration’s policy of releasing parents if they had been snagged with a child?

As a taxpayer, I was horrified to read about the money being spent. The cost of border patrol agents, including pension and benefits, is staggering. Helicopters are flying constantly, notably for medical evacuation of dehydrated migrants found by these highly paid border patrol agents. These aren’t $350/hour Robinsons, but $1,500/hour Eurocopters (which become $4,000/hour Eurocopters when federally operated; 40,000 aircraft hours per year in 2014!). I wonder if we could simply pay the Mexicans to patrol the border. If we offered them $10 billion per year and then subtracted the cost of lifetime welfare (about $2 million?) for every unauthorized person who slipped through, I have to believe that they would be a lot more efficient and effective. It would also cut down on gun fights between U.S. agents and bad guys, which have killed 123 officers since 1904. The author of the book makes the job sound incredibly dangerous and spends quite a few pages recounting his vivid dreams. The Marines on Iwo Jima faced only token resistance by comparison. The author never explains why Border Patrol agents are able to purchase life insurance at a lower cost than other federal employees from an independent nonprofit association. Either the underwriters are pinheads or carrying a gun for the Border Patrol is actually less hazardous than sitting at a desk in a D.C. bureaucracy.

Given that immigration policy will determine the future of the U.S., I recommend reading the book. I don’t think it will change anyone’s mind, though. Folks who support more immigration will be cheered by the stories of all of the big-hearted hard-working migrants who come to the U.S. to work. Folks who are against more immigration won’t be surprised to learn that the best-case scenario painted by the author is someone who earns minimum wage, is entitled to nearly every variety of U.S. welfare, and doesn’t commit any crimes.

More: read The Line Becomes a River

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Wall-o-nomics: Calculating the cost of refugees to the U.S. economy

The proposed Wall/fence that dominates the news right now is at least partly about economics. People who make it across the border are then entitled to make an asylum claim and live in the U.S. for years of administrative processing and, if successful, live in the U.S. forever. They can collect welfare while doing this. Their children and grandchildren born on the U.S. side of the border can collect welfare as well. Advocates for an open border (“A wall, in my view, is an immorality.” — Nancy Pelosi) say that taxes paid by migrants exceed the welfare cost. Let’s look at this…

A reader of an earlier post cited “The Economic and Social Outcomes of Refugees in the United States: Evidence from the ACS” (NBER) as evidence that we are running a profit on our refugee industry:

“By the time refugees who entered the U.S. as adults have been here for 20 years, they will have paid, on average, $21,000 more in taxes to all levels of government than they received in benefits over that time span, according to a working paper released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research that examined the economic and social outcomes of refugees in the U.S.”

So if we believe the expert economists at NBER and don’t dig into the paper, we make a profit of $1,050 per year on every refugee who arrives as an adult. The Federal deficit of $779 billion for FY2018, therefore, could be wiped out if we simply admitted 741,904,761 adult refugees, e.g., by asking most adults in India or China to move here and spin an abuse yarn.

When we dig a little deeper, though, it seems that the economists have had their thumbs on the scales (or somewhere else?). An “adult” is defined by the researchers as 18-45, but refugees are admitted without any age limit. A disabled 70-year-old has the same right to asylum as an able-bodied 22-year-old.

Suppose that all refugees were actually aged 18-45 and the economists had gotten the rest of the analysis correct. Would refugees yield a net profit? They’re paying more than they’re taking so they’re not “takers,” right? The Abstract reveals one question to explore: “After 6 years in the country, these refugees work at higher rates than natives but they never attain the earning levels of U.S.-born respondents.” Even for this cherry-picked age subset, the idea is that we’ll become richer overall by having lower earnings on a per-capita basis (and of course anyone in the U.S. income inequality industry will have an uglier statistic to wave around). Can that work?

The paper looks at six government welfare programs: “There are six social insurance programs that account for the majority of government payments to U.S. citizens: welfare, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security, food stamps, Medicare, and Medicaid.”

What if we subtract the cost of these programs from the total cost of running local, state, and federal government and then see if $1,050 per year per person will pay for the remainder? If we budget the above subset of welfare at $2 trillion per year and subtract from about $7.5 trillion per year in total spending (source) we get $5.5 trillion. Divide by a population of 328.4 million (popclock) and we find that it takes $16,748 per person to fund our government minus these headline welfare programs.

Each refugee paid a net $1,050 per year and consumed an additional roughly $15,700 in government services (roads, schools, libraries, police and fire protection, etc.). Over a 20-year period, then, the refugee took approximately $314,000 from other taxpayers.

Did the economists even begin to do a full cost accounting, though?

As of 2012, there were 79 Federal means-tested welfare programs (Heritage). The NBER looked at only 6.

Since the refugees never get to the median U.S. income, the typical refugee never gets above the 400 percent of poverty disqualification threshold for Obamacare health insurance subsidies. The typical refugee would also be eligible for public housing, a program that can be worth $60,000+ per year per family in the NBER’s home town of Cambridge, Massachusetts and yet they didn’t think it was worth including.

If we assume $5,000 per year in health insurance subsidies and $20,000 per year in public housing subsidies per refugee, over a 20-year period the best-case refugee now costs $814,000. That best-case refugee showed up during his or her core working years.

Once across the border, of course, the best-case refugee or asylum seeker should live for longer than 20 years. Would it be fair to round up the total cost to $2 million? Therefore if $5 billion is spend on an immoral wall/moral fence it has to stop 2,500 migrants in order to pay for itself in pure economic terms?

[Of course, there is more to life than money. We might have other reasons for wanting an open border, e.g., superior morality, loneliness if the U.S. population remains stuck near 330 million, etc.]

Readers: Did I miss anything? Or is $814,000 over 20 years a reasonable estimate? Also, how can people imagine that someone who pays a net $1,050 per year in tax is going to be of any real help in keeping the U.S. government going?

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