On Jan. 15, President Obama passed a temporary amnesty for younger illegal aliens. One hopes that in the upcoming election his opponent will make it, along with Obama's push for more race preferences, an albatross around Obama's neck.
Obama's policy is to allow illegal aliens who meet certain conditions to get a two-year deferral from deportation and apply for a work permit. Specifically, his policy is that the nation's immigration laws shall not be enforced against illegal aliens who, among other conditions, came to the U.S. under the age of 16, have continuously resided in the U.S. for at least five years, are currently in school or have a general education development certificate (GED) or graduated from high school or worked in the military, have not been convicted of a felony, serious misdemeanor, or multiple misdemeanors, and are younger than 31. According to CNN, the administration claims that it will potentially amnesty 800,000 people. Others claim that it could affect far more.
A little context is helpful here. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are 11.5 million illegal aliens (2011 number). This population exploded by 27 percent between 2000 and 2009.
This population tends to suck up welfare like a vacuum. Steven Camarota writing for the Center for Immigration Studies notes that in 2009, households headed by immigrants (legal and illegal) with children were 46 percent more likely to use welfare than native households with children (57 percent versus 39 percent). Immigrant households with children are also increasingly on welfare usage (18 percent increase since 2001).
Some immigrant groups are more likely to be on welfare than others. According to Camarota, 75 percent of Mexican and Guatemalan immigrant households with children are on welfare. In contrast, similar households from immigrants elsewhere were less likely to be on it. Consider these immigrant households: United Kingdom (7 percent), India (19 percent), Canada (23 percent), and Korea (25 percent). This matters because the Pew Hispanic Center reports that 58 percent of illegal aliens are from Mexico.
Welfare usage is more frequent for households headed by an immigrant who did not graduate from high school (80 percent are on welfare). The high rate on welfare is not explained by an unwillingness to work.
In 2009, 95 percent of immigrant households had at least one worker. Nor is the high use affected much by how long the immigrants have been in America. Fifty-five percent of households headed by immigrants who arrived before 2000 are on welfare, whereas 60 percent who arrived after were on it. The welfare programs include supplemental social security income (SSI), temporary assistance to needy children (TANF), Women, Infants, and Children food program (WIC), free/reduced school lunch, food stamps, Medicaid (health insurance for the poor), public housing, and rent subsidies.
In education, we see a similar pattern. Hispanic immigrants as a group do not do well at school. According to Richard Fry of the Pew Hispanic Center, more than half of Hispanic immigrants do not have a high school diploma. According to USA Today, 13 percent of Hispanics have a college degree versus 30 percent for the overall population. Educational underperformance is a problem for the Hispanic non-immigrant population as well as the immigrant one.
Similar problems occur with incarceration and out-of-wedlock births. According to 2007 Bureau of Justice statistics, Hispanics (both immigrants and non-immigrants) were 31 percent of federal inmates and 19 percent of state inmates. It should be noted that as Ron Unz points out, the population's crime numbers are heavily affected by demographics, so there is a controversy as to whether this population is more involved in crime. Still, those numbers are troubling. In a 2006 article in City Journal, Heather MacDonald points out that Hispanics are far more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than whites or Asians (46 percent versus 24 percent and 15 percent). She argues that this is a problem as children born out of wedlock are more likely to be juvenile delinquents, use welfare, fail in school, and get pregnant as teenagers.
Obama's temporary amnesty has been criticized for a number of reasons. First, the policy is unconstitutional as the President cannot change the country's immigration laws without Congressional approval. Second, the policy will encourage more illegal aliens to come across the country. Third, it will harm unskilled American workers as we legalize an ocean of competitors. Fourth, this program will be quickly converted to one in which the same illegal aliens will be given citizenship.
The more important criticisms are that this policy harms current citizens and is not especially compassionate. Given the above numbers, it is hard to see how incentivizing this population to stay will benefit American citizens. Worse, the opportunity costs here are enormous. In letting in this group rather than taking in the most talented immigrants from across the world, the country passes up on the incredibly talented entrepreneurs, scientists, professionals, and others who would greatly add to Americans' lives. For example, Silicon Valley is a major engine of the American high-tech world and it is awash in highly skilled Indian immigrants. The Ivy League is packed with students whose ancestry is from East Asia (China, Japan, and Korea). If we must take in 800,000 immigrants, and the number is likely much higher, why not take the cream of the crop from these countries and elsewhere. There are many talented Hispanics from Central and South America. It makes no sense to welcome those who snuck in rather than those who are especially bright or accomplished.
Nor is this policy particularly compassionate. Rather than direct American resources toward people who are starving, homeless, or plagued by violence, Obama has chosen to target American resources toward a group that stands a decent chance of being able to make a living and succeed elsewhere. As far as countries go, Mexico is not that poor (63 out of 183 countries according to an IMF 2010-2011 ranking) and these moderately talented illegal aliens are not an especially vulnerable population. If we must take in 800,000 immigrants on the basis of compassion, why not take in the poorest or most vulnerable (for example, Sudanese refugees or victims of misogynistic Middle Eastern policies). Worse, the compassion comes at the expense of the most vulnerable Americans (unskilled and uneducated workers). As usual, the cost of compassion is dumped on the already overburdened American taxpayer without any attempt to lessen the burden elsewhere.
The U.S. is like an elite college (for example, Cornell University) with large numbers of students trying to get in. Rather than taking in the best and the brightest, thereby benefitting other students and alumni, or the poorest and most desperate, thereby helping the worst off, it has chosen to admit mediocre students. This is neither wise nor compassionate. It's just dumb.
Stephen Kershnar is a philosophy professor at Fredonia State University. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org