Jewish World Review April 21, 2006 / 23 Nissan,
Why not everybody?
One of the ways of trying to justify illegal immigration from an
economic standpoint is to point out that the work done by these immigrants
is adding to the total output of the United States.
We have all heard about the "undocumented workers" who grow our
tomatoes, harvest our strawberries, clean our hotels, take care of our
children, mow our lawns and do innumerable other things. All of this of
course adds to the nation's total output.
If that is a sufficient justification, why not open our borders
to everybody from countries around the world? If not, why not? By what
principle would you decide where to put a limit?
There is no point saying that there is not room enough for
everybody in the world to be here because there is.
A quarter of a century ago, I sat down with some statistics on
world population and on land area in the United States and discovered
that the entire population of the world could be housed in the state of
Texas, in one-story, single family homes, 4 people to a house, on a lot
slightly larger than the lot where I was living at the time, in a typical
The world's population has of course grown since then, so
instead of putting everybody in Texas, we could spread them out from sea to
shining sea, with lots of elbow room for everybody.
There is no question that, with billions more people living in
the United States, our national output would be a lot bigger than it is
today. Why not do it then, if the argument based on immigrants' contribution
to increased American output is sufficient?
More important, by what principle would you decide where to draw
the line and why does that same principle not apply to today's
immigrants, legal or illegal?
The most obvious objection is that the world's population living
in the United States would not only add to output but add to the costs
imposed on American citizens. That same argument applies to immigrants from
Mexico or any other country today.
The emergency rooms of many hospitals in California have become
a major source of medical treatment for illegal immigrants, and the
financial drain of serving people who cannot or do not pay has shut down
some of these hospitals, making them unavailable to American citizens as
well as illegal aliens.
Schools have to contend not only with the additional financial
costs of educating the children of illegal immigrants but also with the
educational problems of trying to deal with children who require extra
attention because of their limited knowledge of English.
The children of American citizens have less time and resources
available to them as a result.
The welfare state has made immigrants of all sorts, wherever
their origin and whether they are legal or illegal, a major burden beyond
what the immigrants of a century ago were. Few of the enthusiasts for more
immigration seem to want to talk about these high hidden costs of "cheap
To the hotels, farmers, and affluent families who hire illegal
immigrants, the labor may be cheap but to the taxpayers it can be very
Moreover, the people who live in affluent suburbs and have
"undocumented workers" to mow their lawns, take care of their children or
clean their swimming pools are unlikely to have these workers as neighbors.
Nor are these immigrants' children likely to be going to local upscale
Even people who have been railing at Wal-Mart for not paying
their workers "enough," claiming that the taxpayers are subsidizing Wal-Mart
employees' health care and other benefits, never seem to apply the same
reasoning to illegal immigrants.
While American citizens are legally entitled to welfare state
benefits, Mexicans get those benefits only if they cross the border into the
United States. In short, immigrants add to such costs while Wal-Mart's
American employees do not, because they can get those benefits whether they
work for Wal-Mart or not.
Whatever the decision as to how many and what kind of immigrants
should be let into the United States, why should that decision be made by
people in Mexico, instead of being made here by Americans?
Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading."
Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
Comment on JWR contributor Thomas Sowell's column by clicking here.
Thomas Sowell Archives
© 2005, Creators Syndicate