Undocumented immigrants are a net benefit to the United States
First round, acceptance.
I accept this debate and will take the con position; namely, I'll argue that undocumented immigrants are not a net benefit to the United States.
In the interest of full disclosure, the opposition is a long-time friend and previous schoolmate. I have great respect for him and his ideas, and often defer to his knowledge and analysis. Although we commonly disagree, it's rare to not learn something from him.
Best of luck to brant.merrell!
I'd like to thank Veritas for accepting this debate, and for his gracious praise of my thoughts. I believe nerdiness is the pursuit of genius, and good friends with natural-born genius, such as Veritas, have always inspired my relentless nerdiness.
Demographic data predicts a waning workforce participation rate in the United States , Europe, and Japan as the post-WWII boomer generation retires. Immigration helps buffer these effects. Workforce-aged immigrants follow supply-demand ratios, filling the vacuum of work left by retirees.
Japan's border control is most effective, and is enforced by the Pacific Ocean. Its GDP has only grown from three trillion dollars in 1990 to four trillion in 2014 , with a 2014 debt-to-GDP ratio of 227.7 percent. This was while the world's GDP grew from 23 trillion dollars to 78 trillion, so Japan has dropped from being 13.8 percent of the world's GDP to only 5.9 percent, to say nothing of its debt.
The European Union has legally welcomed immigration as a buffer for its workforce, using social programs and economic stability as a lure for (mostly Arab) immigrants to participate in its economies as equal citizens. Its GDP has grown from eight trillion dollars in 1990 to eighteen trillion in 2014 , so its 'global wealth share' only dropped from thirty-four to twenty-four percent, and with only a 92 percent debt-to-GDP ratio in 2014.
America's solution has perhaps been the most efficient of all, luring in immigrants with temporary work visas, without forcefully removing the workers after the visas expire. Because undocumented workers cannot file with the IRS, the government can withold all the taxes it wishes. Because they are not citizens, they do not unionize or file with OSHA, are not protected by minimum wage laws, and can never collect Social Security.
At least ten billion dollars of unclaimed taxes clearly come from undocumented immigrants , and liberal estimates suggest it could be as high as 130 billion . It is difficult to obtain exact, extensive data on undocumented immigrants. What are their work hours? Their hourly wages? Their household incomes? But it is clear that we have historically always been a nation of immigrants, and that our immigration policies have always served our economic purposes. It is also clear that migrant patterns respond to supply and demand, allowing the economy to shape itself according to its own needs, with a simple accuracy that can never be matched by the agendas of border legislation or political rhetoric.
My respect to brant.merrell who, as always, provides a carefully-thought and documented analysis. I believe that his first argument shows just how important this issue is both to the United States and the world. I would like to emphasize his point of GDP growth as a result of migrant workers - an 8.25% growth rate YOY in Europe and amazing 9.35% in the Netherlands over the same period . Although the same analysis isn't really possible in the U.S. (we don't have clear periods with breaks in between like the Dutch, Germans, etc. do), it's likely that our GDP is similarly benefitted by foreigners who come solely for work.
The truth that migrant workers bring financial benefits to their country of residence is undeniable. Beside the labor which they perform at a fraction of the cost, they also furnish cultural awareness, diversity of food and language, and a new perspective of everyday life. This all being said, when these visiting workers are undocumented, there are certain characteristics that change. I would like to mention some of the more concerning of these characteristics:
Undocumented foreigners are more likely to be the victims of crime
Despite what most of the talking heads discuss, undocumented immigrants are both less likely to commit violent crimes  and more like to be the victims of felonies  according to several reports. Illegals are similarly very unlikely to report being victims of crimes . According to one police report, "If individuals are undocumented, there is a significant deterrent for them potentially to report crime...if you want crime to grow in a community, just have people too afraid to report it ."
Although it's difficult to give a metric for the economic cost of crime against immigrants, especially illegal immigrants, we ought to consider the police resources, human cost, and decrease in overall safety. Additionally, crime is much harder to fight when allowed to fester in low-threshold communities.
Most gang violence is perpetrated by foreigners
A 2011 FBI report found that the fastest-growing gangs were generally ethnically associated, especially Asian, East African, and Hispanic . What percentage of these are illegal immigrants? It's hard to know for sure, but at least one report suggests that the numbers are over 50%.
Once again, the economic cost of gang violence is very hard to measure, since most costs are unseen until the crime is prosecuted. Even more difficult is to try and create a subset of the crime committed just by illegals. That being said, one Stanford study estimated costs of gang violence to be $541 million per year just in measurable costs just in Los Angeles. Factor in unmeasured costs (unreported crime, economic loss, etc.) and multiply the effect across the whole United States and the cost of gang violence quickly begins to spiral out of control.
As a point against myself, I'd also like to mention that I have no idea what percentage of foreign-born gang members were originally migrant workers. I'd like to hear brant.merrell's thoughts on that, if he feels so inclined.
Migrant workers (especially undocumented) deliver stagnant GDP
This concern is a little more difficult to express than the others, but it has to do with the kind of benefits that guest workers bring the United States. I'm arguing here that despite the good work that they clearly do, most migrants tend to work very low-yield jobs that have little benefit directly after they're performed.
A majority of undocumented workers perform unskilled labor in sectors such as crop picking and animal slaughterhouses. That kind of labor is a slice of the American economic pie that is considered stagnant, meaning it will not increase in value YOY. It delivers a one-time benefit, so there's a huge advantage to turn over workers quicly.
This is probably why the U.S. has its policy of migrant workers. They provide cheap labor in a sector that isn't really going anywhere. The problem arises when these workers stay after their labor is complete. They remain behind in a market which demands skills that they do not have. The costs of living in the United States are generally higher than East Africa, Latin America, and Asia, meaning the drive to survive lead many into desperate situations.
I'm running out of characters, so I'll conclude by attempting to counter brant.merrell's point of these workers providing billions of dollars in taxes. Although I do believe that the taxes brought in are nontrivial, $130 billion seems a little high. To that end, I offer a similarly radical estimate provided by FAIR, that illegal immigrants cost U.S. taxpayers $100 billion per year .
I eagerly await brant.merrell's response.
Thanks for your research Veritas!
It is true, undocumented immigrants are far more likely to be the victims of crime, and protecting immigrants on this front is a matter of legalizing them. In the discussion about immigrant impacts in the United States, we must vigilantly shed light on misconceptions among millions of American voters who believe the victims of crime are the causes of crime. Though the crime rates respond to an increased number of victims, the victims are not a threat to the United States.
I agree, the demographics of gangs and the impact of gang activity is difficult to gauge, as is sorting the many potential motives of gang formation.
But while gangs may patrol urban neighborhoods and compete for niches in the drug market, they cannot be interpretted as the kind of widespread economic force to shape a national economy. And economically speaking, if we removed those gangs within the next week, urban police officers would still work the same hours and take the same risks.
The unskilled labor performed by migrant workers reduces the price of products, which either reduces costs for American consumers or increases profit margins for American exports. Both effects benefit America's GDP through the private sector, and it should not be forgotten that America's public sector benefits through taxation. Efficiently filling the niche for unskilled labor also economically enables and pressures Americans to pursue higher-quality jobs.
Although this debate is restricted to the slice of immigrants who are undocumented, we must not make the mistake of assuming that the undocumented population in five years is the same as the undocumented population five years from now. It is true that undocumented jobs have a highly predictable and easily replaceable skill set, but our discussion observes people in a transitional phase. Undocumented immigrants become documented, and while waiting in that long process they participate in building businesses and often even attend college and pursue a higher education.
My third source was what I called a "liberal" estimate, alongside my second source which I referred to as a "conservative" estimate. Just providing a healthy range!
I apologize in advance for what I predict to be a short reply (I'm typing this out in a brief quiet interval in an otherwise hectic week). I won't be able to give the proper attention to brant.merrell's thoughts, which is a pity.
To generalize a little bit, I'd like to refer to the context of our debate. We're speaking of undocumented immigrants in an economic context, so it's useful to consider the marginal value of undocumented immigrants. What I've attempted to show is that there is both a marginal cost and a marginal benefit to having these migrants stay after their time is done. A good economic analysis would ask, "What is the marginal value of adding the next undocumented worker? What would be the marginal value of removing one undocumented worker?"
The truth is that crime and the policing of crime are very expensive in the United States - one balanced report reports that every murder costs millions, drugs offenses cost upward of $30,000 a pop, and drug trafficking is frequently prosecuted alongside gang-perpetrated violence . Having established that undocumented immigrants are much more likely to commit gang-related violence and be the victim of felonies, it seems that we could save a lot of money both in legal costs and in costs to the community by reducing the total number of undocumented immigrants.
Having said all of this, my personal belief is that the marginal benefit of removing one undocumented immigrant would be the highest if we turned that undocumented immigrant into a documented one. Imagine what would happen to the economic potential of that worker once he or she could receive grants and attend college, report crimes to the police without fear of reprisal, and become an active member of both his foreign community and the American society.
So, are undocumented immigrants a net benefit to the United States? Economically speaking, no but that doesn't mean the solution is to forcibly remove them from American soil.
I must also apologize for a necessarily short reply; my schedule was hijacked by a pretty crazy situation today.
It's true the drug trade has made law enforcement very expensive, but it is economically rooted in a demand for narcotics by American citizens, and a supply of firearms from American citizens. If undocumented immigrants are removed, documented citizens will smuggle drugs, in much the same way they smuggled alcohol during the prohibition era.
It is always good to assess the costs and benefits of adding or removing an economic force, such as undocumented immigrants. But when asking in the present tense, are undocumented immigrants a net benefit to the United States? We must tailor our answer to the current number of immigrants, which peaked at 12% of the U.S. population in 2006 , and while adding a few might be costly, removing a few would also be costly. Economically, these individuals are responsible for vast amounts of infrastructure built within our borders, which was not possible with the forces of supply and demand to which our own citizens respond.
VeritasUSA forfeited this round.
Well it was good while it lasted. Thanks Veritas.
That was a pretty great photo. I'll have to keep it on file!
My apologies for missing the fourth round. I'm currently working on a school project that has demanded all of my time. Coincidentally, the project involves preserving the language of an immigrant group in South America who came as guest workers in the 19th century.
Thanks for the fun while it lasted, brant.merrell. I'll have to hope the readers enjoyed the material already presented. Cheers!