Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Alan Hyde Reviews The Border Within: The Economics of Immigration in an Age of Fear by Tara Watson and Kalee Thompson


Immprof Alan Hyde (Rutgers) offers the following review of The Border Within: The Economics of Immigration in an Age of Fear, a new book by Tara Watson and Kalee Thompson:

This collaboration between an economist and a journalist results in two good books, rather basted together. One is the up-to-date summary, of the economic literature on immigration to the US, for which many of us have been waiting, at least until David Card or Giovanni Peri writes that book. Finally we have something to give your colleague who opines that immigrants take jobs from native workers because George Borjas said so. Watson is complete, up-to-date, and fair-minded. Even if you follow this literature, you will learn something. She stays very close to the sources. She does not stand back and observe the restrictionist bias in immigration economics, how there is always funding for the twentieth redundant study of immigrant crime or labor substitution, while if one wants data on immigrant contributions, like founding businesses, unpaid labor, or urban revitalization, one must rely on estimates from Stuart Anderson (not cited) or other authors.

Armed with the economic and sociology studies, the reader will be prepared to discuss such policy issues as allocation of visas, though these authors choose to explore only interior enforcement. The writing is for academics comfortable with phrasing like “association in the expected direction.”

That’s a shame, because, literally intercut with the economic and policy summaries, are the gripping narratives of six Americans, in the country without authorization, and their families. This builds suspense as we watch each heading toward their inevitable confrontation with ICE. This alteration between journalism and academic writing is a brilliant concept that I certainly wish I had thought of. All are employed or students. None has significant criminal activity. Each is economically productive. And each will interact with ICE. Some will be deported. Some will benefit from DACA or priorities memos. The results are arbitrary. All are in perpetual limbo. Their uncertain and uncorrectable status limits their economic contribution and imposes significant stress, brilliantly portrayed.

The authors make only general policy suggestions. They maintain that internal immigration enforcement is necessary and: “The upshot is the need to build a humane and effective enforcement strategy.” This reader instead concluded that interior enforcement contributes nothing to the US and is enormously costly, disrupting productive American lives and costing taxpayers in order to achieve nothing.


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