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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #113, May 2006. It retains its copyright and may not be reprinted or redistributed in any form - print, electronic, facsimile, anything - without the permission of LBO.

A nation of (yesterday’s) immmigrants

For some not-fully-fathomable reason, immigration has gone from a simmer to a boil as a political issue in recent months. If you listen to the likes of Bill O’Reilly, Mexicans who’ve crossed the Rio Grande without appropriate documentation are stealing our jobs, freeloading on public services, and corrupting our morals. It’s almost conceding too much to this raving xenophobia to pay it the courtesy of a factual refutation, but somebody’s got to do it.

Though definitive evidence is hard to come by, because of less-than-perfect data, most studies of the effects of immigration on wages and employment for the native-born find little or no effect. Several economists have gotten around the data limitations by doing what are called “natural experiments,” which in this case are what happen when a sudden influx of immigrants lands in a specific region. David Card of Princeton studied the effects of the arrival of 125,000 Cubans in Miami during the Mariel boatlift in 1980; his conclusion was that there was no significant effect on either employment or earnings. Jennifer Hunt studied the effects of 900,000 people repatriated from Algeria to France in the early 1960s, and similarly found little effect. Ditto