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Frustrated with Immigrants? Just Wait until They Leave

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The enforcement of laws against illegal immigrants remains a bone of contention between states and the federal government (and on the GOP presidential campaign trail), and the U.S. Supreme Court has now agreed to weigh in on the issue. There is, however, an irony to this battle that appears to be lost on deportation proponents: many people are already leaving voluntarily or choosing not to come.

That’s right, for the first time in sixty years, net illegal migration from Mexico has gone to zero; it may even have tipped into the negatives. Approximately six out of ten illegal immigrants in the United States originate from Mexico, but in just the past three years apprehensions along the southern border have fallen by 53 percent. In fact, the Pew Hispanic Center puts the current number of illegal immigrants at 11.2 million, down from a peak of 12 million in 2007.

A further testament to the reversal is that the demographics of illegal residents are changing. Just 15 percent of today’s illegal residents arrived within the last 5 years, for example; it was 32 percent in 2000.

And its not only illegal immigrants eyeing distant lands. The Census Bureaus net international-migration measure has been trending downward since 2000 (PDF, p. 17). Even if the accuracy of that data may be questionable, anecdotes abound of immigrant communities packing up shop and heading home. The Atlantic magazine went so far as to call this trend The End of Chinatown.

As fewer immigrants come, legal or otherwise, and more return home, two grains of truth become apparent for those willing to observe. First, immigration is not the cause of Americas problems, so its reversal will do nothing to restore economic prosperity or individual liberty. Second, America is no longer the shining city on a hill that many people revere. It is becoming less free and prosperous at an alarming rate, and the changing immigration flows reflect that.

Fears about immigrants

One leading fear regarding immigrants is that they tend to replace domestic workers. This, of course, assumes individuals born in a certain location or holding certain government-granted privileges are more valuable than other individuals. However, if we put aside the nativism, a recent incident in Asheville, North Carolina, shows that this fear is unfounded.

To comply with the E-Verify program and avoid legal charges, a wholesaler of flowers fired more than 60 illegal immigrants in 2009. Two years later, despite 8 percent unemployment in the county and higher than 10 percent unemployment in the state, the owner has been unable to find replacements. Those who want to work fail to pass E-Verify, and those that pass fail to work, he explained.

The work ethic of these immigrants, and their willingness to accept menial labor rather than pursue welfare (PDF, p. 5), puts many native-born Americans to shame.

Okay, but perhaps their departure will require employers to pay better wages to attract locals. That does make some economic sense, but as the warehouse owner points out, Without comprehensive immigration reform, [verification requirements are] going to kill agriculture. In other words, some ventures are simply not viable at a higher cost of labor.

And, as Bryan Caplan of George Mason University has noted, Immigration has little or no effect on overall wages. Educated Americans are primarily customers, not competitors, of new arrivals. So pushing foreigners out in the hopes of increasing the employment of native-born Americans is a fools errand.

What about crime then shouldn’t that be subsiding as the number of immigrants decreases? Perhaps this will be surprising to some, but evidence suggests that immigrants commit fewer crimes than native-born Americans. Even the Center for Immigration Studies, which actively seeks to reduce immigration into the United States, admitted that they found no strong evidence one way or the other for the notion that immigrants commit either more or less crime than the American population.

Why is immigration falling?

The sad part of this story is that people are leaving (or not coming in the first place) because the American dream is on the way out. Migration follows economic freedom, and the United States is no longer the freest nation on earth far from it. In fact, according to the Fraser Institute ranking, the United States has less economic freedom than Canada and the United Kingdom; and it fell four places, from the sixth to the tenth position, in the latest ranking (based on 2009 data; PDF).

Much of this decline is a result of higher spending and borrowing on the part of the U.S. government, and lower scores for legal structure and property rights, the release notes. Of course the many trillions of official debts and unfunded liabilities are hardly enticing to would-be immigrants or Americans. Who would want to be stuck with that tab?

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    Fergus Hodgson is host, editor, and founder of The Stateless Man radio show and e-newsletter and a policy advisor with The Future of Freedom Foundation.