Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

The New York Times provides an example of chain migration this week.

The young engineer arrived in America when he was 23 with a good education and little else. He landed a job at a nuclear test site, and built a home in Nevada. Between the 1970s and the mid-1980s, he brought his wife, mother, five sisters and a brother over from India, his native land.In later years, his siblings sponsored family members of their own, and their clan now stretches from Nevada to Florida, New Jersey to Texas -- more than 90 Americans nurtured on the strength of one ambitious engineer, Jagdish Patel, 72.

Our chain migration ads visualize the process through which one immigrant, chosen by the U.S. government, can start a chain of extended-family immigration.

The Patels are an American success story. That's a separate question from the numerical impact of chain migration, which has quadrupled immigration numbers and is the main driver of a U.S. population projected to grow by more than 100 million over the next 5 decades.

The Trump administration has framed immigration as a threat to the nation’s security and to American workers, a drastic departure from the longtime consensus that immigration was a net positive for the country.

Jordan and Tavernise assume that immigration policy must be either a threat to American workers or "a net positive to the country" -- an assumption that is as false as it is ubiquitous in immigration reporting. Both things can be true and indeed are.

Just 12 years ago a talented and rising politician said as much.

The number of immigrants added to the labor force every year is of a magnitude not seen in this country for over a century. If this huge influx of mostly low-skill workers provides some benefits to the economy as a also threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans and put strains on an already overburdened safety net.

"benefits to the economy as a whole" ($54 billion); "threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans" ($494 billion)

More recently, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that immigration - at the current annual rate of just over 1 million - produces a $54 billion surplus for Americans. However -- this is the part that reporters usually miss -- the economic models that produce the $54 billion surplus also produce a 5.2 percent wage reduction for workers who are in industries new immigrants flock to. That 5.2 percent works out to $494 billion in redistributed wages from workers to people who profit from lower labor costs. You can call it corporate welfare. You can call it reverse-Robin-Hood redistribution. But you have to acknowledge it if you're going to claim that immigration is a net benefit to the economy. The economist George Borjas puts it like this:

If one wishes to believe that natives, on the whole, benefit from immigration and that the surplus is about $50 billion, it follows from the same calculation that native workers are sending a half-trillion-dollar check to their employers.- from We Wanted Workers, p. 158

Contrary to the reporters' assumption, not only can immigration generate a net economic surplus and harm workers at the same time, but that's exactly what's happening under our current system.

If reporters have turned skeptical of the National Academy of Sciences, they can turn to a source they are more likely to trust...The New York Times:'s true that cheaper labor helps employers increase profits and grow, and having more skilled workers in the United States contributes to economic innovation. But at the same time, individual American employees do face more salary pressure from newcomers who will work for less.- from "Not Everyone in Tech Cheers Visa Program for Foreign Workers" by Daisuke Wakabayashi and Nelson D. Schwartz, February 5, 2017

You can find lots of reporting that reflects the law of supply and demand in the labor market, you just typically don't find it in immigration reporting. Acknowledging trade offs is difficult, but it is the beginning of wisdom. If the press won't allow for negative outcomes of current immigration policy, it will be at the expense of the voices of millions of Americans across the income spectrum -- but disproportionately of people who live off their wages rather than investments.

When the late Barbara Jordan's Commission recommended eliminating chain migration categories, they had those wage-earning Americans in mind:

The Commission is particularly concerned about the impact of immigration on the most disadvantaged within our already resident society – inner city youth, racial and ethnic minorities, and recent immigrants who have not yet adjusted to life in the U.S.

Like many news outlets, the Times' "longstanding" grasp of history excludes the Jordan Commission's six years of study and recommendations. The Commission's position that immigration is good for the country and should be limited is too complex to fit in your average "pro-immigration vs. anti-immigration" paradigm and so it has fallen out of favor and largely ignored in newsrooms across the coasts. Thus, the Times reports....

Under the Trump administration's plan, the number of family-based green cards issued would be reduced from the 804,793 granted in 2016 to about 487,000 a year, according to an analysis by Julia Gelatt and Sarah Pierce of the Migration Policy Institute — a 40 percent reduction in family-tied green cards and a 27 percent reduction overall."Trump is the first of any modern president to advocate for reducing legal immigration," Ms. Pierce said.

Emphasis added.

Was Bill Clinton president in the modern era? Someone at the Times should call someone at the Times.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA

Updated: Thu, Oct 4th 2018 @ 4:50pm EDT

NumbersUSA's blogs are copyrighted and may be republished or reposted only if they are copied in their entirety, including this paragraph, and provide proper credit to NumbersUSA. NumbersUSA bears no responsibility for where our blogs may be republished or reposted. The views expressed in blogs do not necessarily reflect the official position of NumbersUSA.