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Heaven's Door

Heaven's Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy

Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Heaven's Door
    Book Description:

    The U.S. took in more than a million immigrants per year in the late 1990s, more than at any other time in history. For humanitarian and many other reasons, this may be good news. But as George Borjas shows inHeaven's Door, it's decidedly mixed news for the American economy--and positively bad news for the country's poorest citizens. Widely regarded as the country's leading immigration economist, Borjas presents the most comprehensive, accessible, and up-to-date account yet of the economic impact of recent immigration on America. He reveals that the benefits of immigration have been greatly exaggerated and that, if we allow immigration to continue unabated and unmodified, we are supporting an astonishing transfer of wealth from the poorest people in the country, who are disproportionately minorities, to the richest.

    In the course of the book, Borjas carefully analyzes immigrants' skills, national origins, welfare use, economic mobility, and impact on the labor market, and he makes groundbreaking use of new data to trace current trends in ethnic segregation. He also evaluates the implications of the evidence for the type of immigration policy the that U.S. should pursue. Some of his findings are dramatic:

    Despite estimates that range into hundreds of billions of dollars, net annual gains from immigration are only about $8 billion.

    In dragging down wages, immigration currently shifts about $160 billion per year from workers to employers and users of immigrants' services.

    Immigrants today are less skilled than their predecessors, more likely to re-quire public assistance, and far more likely to have children who remain in poor, segregated communities.

    Borjas considers the moral arguments against restricting immigration and writes eloquently about his own past as an immigrant from Cuba. But he concludes that in the current economic climate--which is less conducive to mass immigration of unskilled labor than past eras--it would be fair and wise to return immigration to the levels of the 1970s (roughly 500,000 per year) and institute policies to favor more skilled immigrants.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4150-9
    Subjects: Economics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-2)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Reframing the Immigration Debate
    (pp. 3-18)

    In January 1979, China’s Vice-Premier Deng Xiaoping made a much-celebrated state visit to Washington. At one of the meetings with President Jimmy Carter, both leaders brought along briefing books to guide their discussions. President Carter eventually got to the section that dealt with human rights and began his standard lecture, stressing that China had to learn to respect human rights. Among the specific human rights that concerned the president was the right of Chinese nationals to emigrate. Like most communist countries, China made it extremely difficult for its citizens to leave—presumably because, as a matter of ideology, no workers...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Skills of Immigrants
    (pp. 19-38)

    As noted earlier, the debate over immigration policy focuses almost exclusively on arguing over whether the symptoms of immigration are real or imagined. There is, for example, a great deal of concern because welfare use may run high among many immigrant groups. Some workers worry about the adverse impact that immigration might have on their employment opportunities. And many Americans fret over the social and cultural impact of immigration when immigrants are very “different” and have little potential for assimilating—either socially or economically—into the mainstream.

    All of these concerns reflect a simple fact. The American people care about...

  7. CHAPTER 3 National Origin
    (pp. 39-61)

    The relative decline in the skills and economic performance of immigrants in the post-1965 period is striking and irrefutable. A question remains: why did this decline occur? A great deal of evidence points to a single—and disturbing—culprit: the changing national origin mix of the immigrant population. Between the 1960s and the 1990s, the United States experienced a historic shift in the national origin mix of its immigrant population, away from the “traditional” Western European source countries and toward developing countries. It turns out that there are huge differences in the skills of immigrants who belong to different ethnic...

  8. CHAPTER 4 The Labor Market Impact of Immigration
    (pp. 62-86)

    Do immigrants harm the employment opportunities of native workers? If so, how large is the loss in the economic well-being of natives? And are all native groups equally affected by immigration?

    These questions have always been at the core of the immigration debate. In 1852, soon after the potato famine unleashed a new wave of Irish and British immigration, an observer described the connection between immigration and wages in a way that, with minor casting changes in the ethnic origin of the characters, could easily have been written a century and a half later:

    Great Britain is now pouring upon...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Economic Benefits from Immigration
    (pp. 87-104)

    The Second Great Migration had an adverse impact on the economic well-being of less-skilled native workers. But even though natives at the bottom rung of the economic ladder lost from immigration, other natives gained. Who were these winners? Why did they benefit? And were the benefits large enough to outweigh the losses suffered by the less-skilled?

    This chapter describes how natives benefit from immigration, provides a back-of-the-envelope calculation of these benefits, and describes the rough outlines of an immigration policy that would maximize the economic benefits. Natives benefit because there exist production complementarities between immigrant workers and natives: immigrants bring...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Immigration and the Welfare State
    (pp. 105-126)

    The historical debate over immigration policy in the United States and in many other host countries has focused primarily on two issues: How well do immigrants adjust to their new surroundings? And do immigrants take jobs away from native workers? The growth of the welfare state added an explosive new question to this debate: do immigrants pay their way in the welfare state?

    We should be concerned over the link between immigration and welfare for two reasons. First, the relatively generous safety net provided by the welfare state may attract a different—and less skilled—type of immigrant. Put differently,...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Social Mobility across Generations
    (pp. 127-145)

    The economic impact of immigration depends both on how immigrants do in the labor market and on the adjustment process experienced by the immigrant household across generations. In the late 1990s, about 10 percent of Americans were “second-generation,” or born in the United States with at least one foreign-born parent. By the year 2050, the share of second-generation persons will increase to 14 percent, and the grandchildren of current immigrants will make up an additional 9 percent of the population.¹

    The traditional view of the mobility experienced by immigrant households across generations is vividly embodied in the melting pot metaphor:...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Ethnic Capital
    (pp. 146-160)

    The notion that social, cultural, and economic differences between natives and immigrants fade over the course of a few generations is the essence of the melting pot metaphor. Over time, the children and grandchildren of immigrants move out of ethnic enclaves, discard their social and cultural ties to the source countries, and experience social and economic mobility. After a few decades, the melting pot “forges” the American-born descendants of the immigrants into new men and women, and they become indistinguishable from the native population.

    The evidence presented in the last chapter suggests that a new metaphor is needed to describe...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Ethnic Ghettos
    (pp. 161-173)

    Ethnic spillovers matter—and they seem to matter a lot, accounting for about half of the correlation between the mean skills of ethnic groups across generations. Butwhydo ethnic spillovers matter? How exactly are the social, cultural, and economic ties that bind together an ethnic group transmitted across generations?

    In this chapter, I argue that ethnic neighborhoods—those geographic concentrations of barrios, ghettos, and enclaves scattered across American cities—are incubators for the intergenerational transmission of ethnic capital.¹ These neighborhoods provide a close-knit and geographically compact community where members of the same ethnic group interact closely and frequently, influencing...

  14. CHAPTER 10 The Goals of Immigration Policy
    (pp. 174-188)

    Up to this point, I have attempted to document the economic impact of immigration on the United States. It is now time to change gears and simply ask, What should the United States do about it?

    As I have emphasized many times, facts alone do not have any implications for immigration policy. The countrymust first decide what it is that the policy should accomplish. Depending on the objectives, the same set of facts can have very different policy implications. For example, if the goal were to relieve the tax burden on native-born taxpayers, it would be fiscally irresponsible to admit...

  15. CHAPTER 11 A Proposal for an Immigration Policy
    (pp. 189-210)

    I have summarized the evidence. And I have argued that it is worthwhile to assume that immigration policy should strive to maximize the well-being of the native population.

    In this chapter, I sketch the parameters of an immigration policy that achieves this goal. The chapter does not provide a nuts-and-bolts description of the optimal immigration policy in the sense of describing, in excruciating detail, how a new-and-improved immigration statute should be written. Rather, the discussion focuses on the general principles that are at stake. Although I touch on some of the issues that arise with refugee policy and with illegal...

  16. CHAPTER 12 Conclusion
    (pp. 211-212)

    The United States has been populated by many recurring waves of immigrants, each contributing a particular set of abilities and traits that helped shape the nation. By 1776, on the eve of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, about one million persons had already migrated to what would eventually become the United States.¹ Immigration continued sporadically for the next century; sometimes the faucet was on, and sometimes it was just a trickle. Throughout much of the century, however, the immigrant flow was relatively small, averaging about 170,000 immigrants annually between 1820 and 1880.

    The First Great Migration, which began...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 213-256)
  18. INDEX
    (pp. 257-263)