Monday, December 29, 2008

Tired, Poor, Huddled Masses Staying Home

Immigration, both the legal and illegal kind, is way down it seems. According to the Economist, in "the year to September 2008 724,000 fewer people were caught trying to cross into America from Mexico, the lowest annual tally since the 1970s."

Now this really either means that we have gotten really bad at catching people crossing the border or that less people are attempting the dangerous affair. Given that enforcement is supposedly up, it seems that the latter is the more likely explanation. According to the same article, "Border cops have naturally claimed credit for the drop. But the heavy hand of the law is probably much less of a deterrent than the invisible hand of the market."

Simply put, now that there is less demand for labor here in the U.S., especially in the construction industry (because our economy is in the toilet), the supply is increasingly deciding to stay home.

So next time we have an influx of illegal immigrants, before we build a fence, maybe we should remember to count our blessings, because the willingness of foreign workers to cross the border is also evidence that our economy is booming (at least relatively).

In a somewhat counter intuitive way, as the article points out, immigration reform might now be more difficult, despite the drop in number of illegal immigrants. Despite the fact that minute men might not have as much to crow about given these new statistics, it is the slackening labor market that might put a wrench in the works, as it will be tough to convince conservatives that more immigrants should be allowed in the country when the U.S. has an economy in recession and a rising unemployment rate.

In any event, I think it is amazing how quickly we have forgotten. It was only 2006 when Americans rated immigration as the nation’s second-most-important problem after the Iraq war. Now it's barely on the radar at all.

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