I’ve suggested that the border crisis paradoxically may make it easier in the long run to achieve immigration reform. If everyone can agree to get serious about border security first, then other reforms may well be less contentious. Indeed, the most recent Fox poll shows that if given the choice between doing nothing and setting up a pathway for citizenship (not just legalization), the public favors the latter (65 to 20 percent) as do Republicans (56 to 28 percent). Once given more specific components of a reform bill borrowing heavily from what passed the Senate or has been suggested by House leaders, Republicans also favor reform by a large measure.
One way to increase the chances of passing reform is to disabuse lawmakers of the notion that immigration is bad for our economy. The New York Times this week ran an interesting set of graphics measure immigration from other states and from outside the country as well as the net level of immigration (people coming in vs. people leaving). For example, California used to be a huge draw for people coming from other states. Now, “Today, the state is still pulling in foreign immigrants, but the percentage of American-born transplants has shrunk significantly as more people leave the state. (Here’s much more detail about California’s exodus.) There are now about 6.8 million California natives living elsewhere, up from 2.7 million in 1980.” By contrast, the state that has outpaced all others in job creation is a leader in immigration. (“Texas is growing rapidly. The Texas-born population is itself booming, and additionally there is migration from all over the nation and a steady rise in an already large immigrant population. The net impact is that fewer Texas residents are natives than in the past.”) Interestingly, Texas just announced that it created 50,000 jobs — in July 2014 alone.
There is a significant correlation between migration into a state and its economic well-being. Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute tells Right Turn: “Immigrants are drawn to states with thriving economies. The destination for large numbers of Hispanic immigrants used to be California until their economy faltered, now many more are going to Texas, Arizona, Florida, and Georgia. The same pattern is observed with Puerto Ricans who went to New York for decades but now are branching out to Florida and the Southwest.”
It works both ways: Immigrants seek out places that are economically thriving, and places that want to thrive want immigrants, as Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has shown in western Michigan. One key may be that foreign immigrants, as opposed to domestic workers, are far more likely to move to find the jobs. “Illegal low-skilled Mexican immigrants are the most mobile workers in the United States. They frequently move long distances for menial, low paid jobs — rapidly concentrating in states like Georgia, North Carolina, Texas, and others with growing economies. Lower skilled American workers are not nearly so mobile,” Nowrasteh says. “A more mobile labor market greases the wheels of the economy, allowing faster growth in throwing areas and drawing workers from areas with high unemployment.” Whatever your views on immigration, this should also compel us to look at unemployment insurance and make sure recipients are encouraged to move if need be.
The number crunchers at the conservative American Action Forum agree that immigrants move to places where there are jobs. They point to a state like Oklahoma, where there is high growth, low unemployment and an immigrant population that doubled since 1990. This is why many red states — which have good job-creating economies — are beginning to draw such large immigrant populations. Utah is routinely named one of the most business-friendly states, and its immigrant population doubled since 1980.
The association between immigrants and strong economies and job creation is not perfect, of course. There are high-immigrant states that still have relatively high unemployment (e.g. 6.5 percent unemployment, higher than the national average but down considerably in recent years). If you want a formula for a healthy economy and job market, it would go something like this: Make it easy to do business. Keep taxes and regulation modest, but don’t skimp on education. And welcome immigrants looking for work with open arms.