The Danger To America Of Need-Based Immigration: Why We Must Prioritize Merit-Based Immigration

America’s high average personal income and high level of personal consumption make it an immigration magnate.  The Gross Domestic Product per Person (GDPP) for US residents in 2015 was about $48 thousand; 3 times higher than in neighboring Mexico, and a staggering 15 times higher than the $3 thousand mean in Sub-Sahara Africa, the former home for Minnesota’s estimated (Census) 40,000 Somali residents.  MacDonald’s workers use the same skills world-wide, yet the average pay per employee in the US is 4 times higher than in China, and 6 times higher than in Latin America.  How could such a difference not recruit the poor and unskilled?

Everyone agrees that these standard of living factors allow our nation to pick and choose new residents in ways other nations cannot.  However, in 2015 as the total number of US immigrant residents reached 47 million, four times as many as second ranked Germany’s 12 million immigrants (Pew Research), questions about when is enough were raised, including whether our recent priority to act as a world welfare agency made sense any longer.

It was this question about immigrant selection that encountered President Trump’s preference for “Merit Based Immigration” on January 11, when he asked his staff, “Why are we having all these people from shit-hole countries come here?”

At its core, the president’s question – why do we take so many harder to assimilate, impoverished, low educated and unskilled immigrants, when we could get those most beneficial to our country’s economy – seems fundamental.  And although asked in a way that was insulting to the countries mentioned – seems worth knowing.  Yet the importance of his question for public policy seems to be acknowledged only by those who agree immigration to America should benefit our nation as the highest priority.  However, there are many in government and our media that do not believe benefit to America should come first.

For example, Variety reported on the same day that Trump raised his question, that CNN’s Anderson Cooper (who apparently once had a Haitian teacher) broke into tears on TV.  Not to be outdone, Democrat member of congress, Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, accused the president of, “Wanting to make America white again.”  And New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo attempted to improve his own future president Bona fides stated, “Trump has degraded the office of president.”

Although we may feel charitable about serving as the world’s welfare agency, what are the costs to the US economy for this feeling?  Apparently all agree the cost of a first generation immigrant from these impoverished nations is negative, but there is a belief that later generations (after 20 years) are positive – perhaps even as positive as they would have been from year-one for immigrants who entered the US based on merit.  These 20 year later benefits of course are impossible to know, but even the higher first generation costs seem to vary be source.

The NYT reported in September 2016 that just “America’s illegal immigrants cost the US economy $57.4 billion each year.”  FAIR reported (September 27, 2017) that the annual cost of the same 12.5 million illegal immigrants was a much higher $46 billion to federal taxpayers, and $89 billion to state taxpayers, for a total of $135 billion a year.  Remember, this is just for the illegals.

Newly elected President Trump reported (December 15, 2017) that the direct cost of all immigration to US taxpayers is about $300 billion a year, every year.  That estimate was criticized by Politifact, which called it a “half-truth,” because the later generations of these immigrants would actually benefit the US economy (starting 20 years later) — implying this $300 billion cost to taxpayer are actually an investment.  Hmm.

But some in the academic community are wondering if these contemporary annual costs are the only costs of need based immigration.  Their concern is based upon the well-known social pattern that as immigrant groups grow in size, as have they in America, they tend to create communities which reproduce the cultural norms and values of the country from which they came.  After these communities reach a certain scale, they tend to assimilate less, and place less emphasis on gaining the skills (such as language) which is necessary for financial success in countries such as the United States.

The World Bank called these necessary human factors “intangible wealth,” because they are not based on material items like natural resources, infrastructure, and machinery.  Instead this wealth springs from the institutions, values, talents, and actions of people.  The World Bank also found that the US has the highest intangible wealth per person of any nation in the world, and that they are responsible for our nation’s comparative success.

And especially important, the World Bank also noted that “The existence of these factors are responsible for the massive economic differences between nations, and they also determine HOW IMMIGRANTS AFFECT THE US.” (Just the Facts Daily).

Johns Hopkins University explained what this means, “If immigrants come to the U.S. with mentalities that produced poverty in the nations they left, they now tend to keep them instead of adopting new principles that create prosperity.”  They add that the immediate surroundings of these low skilled and poor immigrants is usually inner city neighborhoods, “Where opportunities are few, the youth culture is anti-academic, and oppositional” (to an expectation of success).  The National academy of Sciences (NAS) added that this “intangible wealth” shortfall is a strategic danger.  “Recent immigrants [for example] have made less progress in learning to speak English than did earlier immigrants.  This is significant because communication is essential to productivity, and productivity is essential to prosperity.”  And workers with the same skills, but limited English proficiency, earn 25-40 percent less than their English speaking counterparts.  [Strategically] Even those immigrants with higher skills now tend to stay in unskilled jobs” (Brookings Institution).

These data imply that such groups present the possibility of their becoming a costly permanent underclass, which through economic frustration, take political stances hoping to increase the size of government to equalize their situation —  an expansion beyond that desired by current Americans (think California).

The factors that make the US standard of living higher have been studied.  Ours is not driven by natural resources.  Ours are cultural and freedom based.  Maintaining this American success culture is essential to our future prosperity and sustainability of our freedoms and high standard of living.

Recent trends are that this problem is no longer being overcome in one generation.  Although long-term, the likely damage to the United States economy seems inescapable, and that President Trump’s implied question remains a good one: “Why do we take so many high risk, harder to assimilate, impoverished, low educated and unskilled immigrants, when we could get those most beneficial to our country’s economy?”

Why indeed.

Jim Van Houten