Right-wing nativism?

Posted: 13 September 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

Is that the way to understand the current wave of anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States—as a form of right-wing nativism?

According to the latest Quinnipiac University national poll, immigration issues, including questions about who should have U.S. citizenship, have hurt Obama’s standing with voters.

The poll, carried out during the first week in September, found that respondents had a strong anti-immigrant tilt, favoring, by 68% to 24%, stricter enforcement of immigration laws rather than integrating illegal immigrants into society and, by 48% to 45%, an end to the constitutionally guaranteed practice of granting U.S. citizenship to children born of illegal immigrants.

What’s interesting is both that unauthorized immigration has sharply declined in recent years and mainstream economists have concluded that immigration does not have a negative effect on U.S. workers.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, “the annual inflow of unauthorized immigrants to the United States was nearly two-thirds smaller in the March 2007 to March 2009 period than it had been from March 2000 to March 2005.” Here are the numbers:

Still, it is the case that many unauthorized immigrants have arrived relatively recently (nearly half of unauthorized immigrants living in the country in 2009—47 percent, or 5.2 million people—arrived in 2000 or later) and that the unauthorized immigrant population is large (as of March 2009, 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants were living in the United States, compared to a peak of 12 million in 2007).

As for the economic effects, recent studies—by Giovanni Peri and David Card [pdf]—show both that there is little evidence that immigrants diminish the employment opportunities of U.S.-born workers and that both the income and jobs of U.S.-born workers improve as a result of immigration. According to Card, “cities with more immigrants tend to have higher native wages, higher rents, and higher income per capita.”

But these studies are similar to mainstream analyses of international trade: there’s an aggregate benefit of free trade (of goods and services as well as people) but they can’t dismiss the possibility of negative distributional effects on portions of the population, especially workers. In particular, while the absolute level of wages in high-immigrant communities may be higher than in low-immigrant communities, there is probably a reduction in the relative wages of low-skilled U.S.-born workers in high-immigrant communities.

If we put all this information together, it’s possible to argue that at least some portion of the anti-immigrant movement is an understandable—although not necessarily justified—reaction to the absolute size of the immigrant population (both authorized and unauthorized) and the effects of poor immigrants in the low-wage, deskilled labor market.

The rest, of course, represents the latest wave of a long tradition of U.S. nativism, stoked in the midst of an ongoing depression by the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party. Unfortunately, this is also one more example of the Democratic Party bungling things so badly they hand their opponents a divisive issue on a silver platter.

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