by Lindy Davies
In the fiscal year that ended in June, 52,193 undocumented minors were caught crossing the United States’s Southern border. That is twice as many as the previous year. Many of these children were unaccompanied. The vast majority are from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, into which drug gangs and violence have spread from Mexico. There are persistent rumors in these countries that children who cross the US border wil be allowed to stay. An industry has arisen of “coyotes” who collect large fees for a promise to get people across the border. Their services are, of course, unregulated, and many children have reportedly been subject to abuse, and rape, along the way.
Undocumented minors coming into the US from Canada or Mexico are routinely sent back home. However, because of a 2008 law (proudly signed by George W. Bush) designed to protect undocumented children from various forms of abuse, minors from non-contiguous countries must undergo a more detailed fact-finding process — and they must be housed during their stay in the “least restrictive setting” available.
Quite a few Americans have reacted shamefully to this. However one feels about immigration policy, it’s ugly to scream and curse at a busload of scared, hungry children. It is also unproductive, to say the least, to call these people “invaders,” and to rail at the president for “failing to do his job” of Securing Our Borders. (It’s also worth mentioning that the 52,193 minors were only about a quarter of the total number of “illegal” aliens apprehended by the Border Patrol.) US Customs and Border Protection estimates a cost of $22.4 billion to erect a fence across all 1,969 miles of our sudden border, and cautions that fences can be breached, climbed or tunneled under. There is an Invisible Hand helping undocumented immigrants cross the border; it’s called economic opportunity. Anyone who has eaten in a restaurant or stayed in a hotel recently has benefited from the industrious work of “illegal” immigrants.
President Obama has asked Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with the current crisis. It seems likely that a good portion of that allocation would be spent on beefed-up border security. Nevertheless, Speaker Boehner (am I the only one who is unable not to mispronounce that name?) has angrily stated that this crisis is Obama’s fault (presumably because the administration is abiding by the 2008 law). The House of Representatives, Boehner says, isn’t about to give Obama a “blank check.” That got me thinking (considering what we taxpayers spend on, say, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and other fabulously expensive weapons) about what $3.7 billion could buy.
So let’s think about this: 52,193 undocumented minors were caught at the border, in the recently-ended fiscal year. Most of these kids entered the United States in Texas. Texas spends $8,400 per year on its public school students, but that’s low; Texas ranks 45th on per-student spending. So let’s be generous and allow $10K per year for public-schooling each immigrant child.
I looked at two Texas colleges for estimated annual room and board costs; they came out a bit below $10K, so let’s say another ten thousand for room and board.
According to the National Institutes of Health, average annual medical expenditure for a teenager is under $1,500, but many of these kids are probably sick, or malnourished, or have been traumatically abused, let’s figure $2,500 per year for medical care costs.
A fair amount of gummint labor will be expended in processing and transporting all of these kids. I have no idea how to compute that, but the Federal Government is not the most efficient organization in the world, so let’s add another $3,000 for processing and transporting each child.
Let’s give each kid another $3,000 per year for pin money.
That gives us an annual cost of $28,500 for taking care of each immigrant child. Multiplied by the 52,193 that were caught in the past year, that comes to $1.49 billion.
So, in other words, for the amount of money the president has requested for dealing with this crisis, we could feed each undocumented minor caught in the past year, clothe, house and educate them, fill out their government forms and treat them to a few dinners and movies — and still spend $2.21 billion on enhanced border security. Is there a problem?
With their new high school diplomas in hand, these kids would soon become highly motivated and productive members of the labor force, for whom our lowest wages seem refreshingly high in comparison with what they and their families have known.
Ah, but where would they work? That’s really the thing. Whose jobs would they take? The real problem with immigration has always been the idea that jobs are scarce. That “our” jobs — which provide a minimum standard of living suitable to “our” civilization, can be stolen by newcomers, who are not as civilized as us, and therefore are willing to work for less. We’re not wild about admitting it, but: when people like Sarah Palin talk about “American exceptionalism,” this is really what they mean: that American workers deserve protection because they are tax-paying citizens of the best gol-durn country in the history of the world.
Whether the US is the best country ever is debatable (I’d think that Costa Rica and New Zealand would be contenders). We do know, however, the exact remedy for the surplus of workers that drives wages down. Everywhere you look, you see idle or inefficiently-used land, and wasted capital. Why aren’t people using these resources? There are two forces that work together to keep our economy massively wasteful and inefficient:
- Land is held mostly as an investment, and only incidentally as a factor of production. It is very often more profitable to use land only a little, or not at all, while waiting for its value to rise.
- Taxes penalize every form of production.
It really is as simple as that. When the United States had lots of free land, immigration was actively encouraged, because everyone benefited from it. Well, guess what? The US doesn’t have any FREE land today — but it has lots and lots of unused land. And a very big portion of that unused or ill-used land (in terms of its value, which is the important consideration) is in urban areas — exactly those areas toward which new immigrants gravitate, to struggle and strive in this land of opportunity.
Friends, we do not have an “immigration problem.” We have a fundamental economic problem, a public-revenue system that locks in injustice and inefficiency. There is a solution: to eliminate taxes on production, and collect the rent of land for public revenue. There’s no time to waste. We need to understand this remedy, and demand it.