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Views on U.S. immigration policy are often shaped by fears and misconceptions about the economic impact of immigration, such as competition for jobs and strains on the welfare state and the education system. While there is some basis for suspecting that heavy inflows of immigrants will cause economic dislocations in the short term, an even stronger case can be made that immigration is good for the economy, on balance. Policy should allow at least enough legal immigration to meet private labor demands across all skill levels, to keep families united, and for legitimate humanitarian purposes. Job opportunities in the U.S. should attract workers; blocking their entry is not in our economic interest. The desire to do so represents a pernicious form of statism.

Limits on the number of legal immigrants to the U.S. has inflamed the current immigration debate in part because it has led to a spillover of illegal immigrants. It is possible to seal the borders completely only at great expense, an expense that is not worthwhile. These illegal residents must be dealt with under any reform proposal. Costly deportation of large numbers of illegals is not a viable option. Many are gainfully employed and are thus contributing to the U.S. economy, and many have other family members in the U.S. Some long-term path to citizenship should be made available. Some illegals (and legals) either are or will be dependent on public assistance, but it is hard to justify deportation based on that fact. Some may be criminals, in which case deportation may be an option.

Recently, Major General John Kelly of the Marine Corps blamed the unfortunate surge in child migrants on the “insatiable U.S. demand for drugs.” In fact, the demand for drugs would have no role whatsoever were it not for the ill-advised U.S. war on drugs. The CATO Institute makes this case very well in a recent commentary. Of course, the war on drugs is another pernicious form of statism.

One very interesting approach to immigration reform would take a federalist approach to issuing visas, as explained in this CATO Policy Analysis. “A state-based visa program would direct immigration to the states that want it without forcing much additional immigration on those that do not. Unlike existing employment-based visas that tie foreign workers to one firm, state-based visa holders would be free to move between employers within the state….” This program would have economic benefits and political viability, the latter by virtue of allowing a strong degree of control over immigration at the state level.