David Frum

03.22.13

Immigration Amnesty: The Path to Poverty

Barry Williams/Getty Images ()

In 2008, Mark Krikorian published an important new book arguing against permissive immigration. The book's central idea: what has changed since Ellis Island days is not the immigrants; it's the society they are immigrating to.

In 1913, a Sicilian who migrated to New York City to do manual labor would discover a society willing to pay a high wage for his effort.

In 2013 … not so. Yesterday's New York Times reports on a new study confirming Krikorian's insight.

People of Mexican descent in New York City are far more likely to be living in poor or near-poor households than other Latinos, blacks, whites or Asians,according to a study to be released on Thursday.

Nearly two-thirds of the city’s Mexican residents, including immigrants and the native-born, are living in low-income households, compared with 55 percent of all Latinos; 42 percent of blacks and Asians; and 25 percent of whites, said the report by the Community Service Society, a research and advocacy group in New York City that focuses on poverty.

The rates are even more pronounced for children: About 79 percent of all Mexicans under age 16 in New York City live in low-income households, with about 45 percent living below the poverty line — significantly higher percentages than any other major Latino group as well as the broader population.

While the Mexican immigrants enjoy exceptionally high rates of employment, their salaries are not sufficient to support young families, the study’s authors said.

Things are not improving in the second generation either.

Mexican youth who have left school — native-born and foreign-born alike — have considerably lower levels of educational attainment than their peers, with more than half lacking a high school diploma.

“The fact that native-born Mexican young people are less likely than other Latinos (and other racial/ethnic groups) to attain high school diplomas and enroll in college is extremely troubling,” the report said.

Other work has found Mexican-American educational deficiencies persisting into the fourth generation after migration.

The United States is already evolving into a society much harsher and less hospitable for the less-skilled. Yet American elites seem determined to enlarge and perpetuate a problem they already don't know how to solve: how to create economic opportunities for the least economically competitive half of the population.

Yesterday, the Center for American Progress released a study of the projected economic effects of the president's immigration proposals. It asserted that immediate full amnesty - residency plus citizenship - would raise immigrant incomes and thereby government revenues.

Over 10 years, that additional tax revenue would sum to $184 billion—$116 billion to the federal government and $68 billion to state and local governments.

CAP gets its impressive number with a crummy trick: omitting the increased costs of legalization. Previously illegal immigrants will become eligible for Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits, unemployment insurance, food stamps, and other federal and state programs. Because the illegals are predominantly very low-income, their demand on such programs will be heavy - and not only long-term, but likely multigenerational.

Why on earth would we deliberately expand the ranks of the least skilled by tens of millions more people imported from abroad, whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren will still require government aid into the 22nd century? That's the question to keep in mind as the American elite tumbles its way to unthinking consensus in favor of a second large immigration amnesty in 30 years.