Whose Expertise Inspired Our Immigration Laws?

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Who are the expert witnesses who advised Congress to create the scores of different visas with their thousands of requirements in the U.S. Code, agency regulations, and case law, that are too complicated to apply for without an immigration lawyer? What science persuaded Congress that is the best system for citizens?

(The original version of this article was posted at Constitution.com March 16, 2016 under the headline, "Are 'Experts' Really Writing American Immigration Laws?") Dave Leach R-IA BibleLover-musician-grandpa (talk) 10:38, 18 March 2016 (EDT) Also posted at CafeConLecheRepublicans.

It would be reasonable to assume Congress weighs heavily what economists say about the impact of immigration, since most of the claims that support today's immigration restrictions are economic claims. Viz., “They take jobs from citizens”, “they drive down our wages”, “they drive up our national debt”, “they deplete our welfare budgets”. The science, and the college major most focused on it, that is most qualified to investigate economic claims, is called Economics.

American society and law routinely entrusts its most critical tasks to people who have earned appropriate credentials in the study of them. We don't let people do brain surgery unless they have graduated from medical school. We don't let pilots fly jets who haven't been to flight school. Americans are very comfortable with laws limiting critical tasks to those who have formally studied how to do them. The only really critical job that doesn't require credentials is being a politician.

Not that no one else but economists can have any understanding of economics, any more than no one else but lawyers can understand the Constitution, or no one else but theology professors can understand the Bible. But university trained economists are the ones we rely on to research, document, and explain basic facts upon which the rest of us can base our understanding, in the same way that we rely on lawyers' research to pull together what courts have said about Freedom of Speech, and we rely on the research found in Bible commentaries to help us understand obscure Bible verses.

Because Americans trust people who have studied a subject most to best understand it, and because immigration restrictions are legitimized by claims about immigration's economic impact, voters would reasonably assume, and should want, Congress' immigration committees to pay more attention to experts who have studied economics than to those who have not.

But that is not the case.

When the U.S. Senate heard from 39 Expert Witnesses in 2013 as it debated S744 (the Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill), many of whom made claims about the economic impact of immigration, only two of them had university credentials in economics.

33 more Expert Witnesses were heard by the Senate in 2014 and 2015. Only one was an economist, but he didn’t address the economic impact of immigration. Here are their college majors. One of the Undocumented Economists who testified during both periods was Steven Camarota, of the Center for Immigration Studies, whose bio says he has “testified before Congress more than any other non-government expert on the economic and fiscal impact of immigration”. That is, Congress has listened to him more than to any private sector economist. But Camarota never formally studied economics. His degrees are in Political Science and Public Policy Analysis.

It matters. Although there are other important considerations for immigration policy than the economic ones, the difficulty of solving the others depends on what we decide about immigration's economic impact.

The difference between what economists claim, and what Undocumented Economists claim, is great. “Even the most pessimistic economic studies”, those of George Borjas, “have to be exaggerated to fit the claims of Undocumented Economists.” The conclusion of a review of dozens of economics studies was “The scarcity of evidence for great pessimism [about the economic benefits of more legal immigration] stands as a fact.”

For example, the economists at the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said in its 2013 “dynamic” study that increasing immigration via S744 would not only cost the federal government nothing but would reduce our federal deficit by $17.5 billion a year for the first 10 years and by $70 billion a year for the next 10 years. By contrast, the oft-cited 2013 study by Robert Rector (whose college major was political science) concludes “The core analysis in this paper indicates that amnesty would increase net governmental costs by perhaps $6.3 trillion.” In this case the difference between what economists say about the impact of immigration and what Undocumented Economists say adds up to “trillions and trillions of dollars”, as Cato institute economist Alex Nowrasteh put it when he debated Rector. (Listen at 54:40.)

And yet it is a plain fact that the national disinterest in making economic research an important part of our national immigration discussion has existed for a very long time. As an economist complained, “Who cares what economists say about immigration?”

Why? I have presented this information to most of the original 17 Republican presidential candidates. None denied it is true. Only one – Ben Carson – told me it doesn't matter. Some were intrigued. But none incorporated the findings of economics into their talking points about immigration. All, I presume, thought about the revolt they would face among their supporters if they softened even a little, no matter what evidence they present for accommodating reality or how eloquently they present it, because hostile reporters, campaigns, and Super PAC ads seize on any shift in a position and do not report so boring or complicated a thing as evidence.

Am I just crazy? I don't know if Ben Carson would want an Undocumented Doctor – who had never been to medical school – in charge of his operating room because it is under the care of doctors that most sick people die, so instead we should put operating rooms in the hands of people with “common sense”, but that is how he told me we should think about immigration economics. He told me “No, we should not listen to economists, because economists are the ones that got our nation in trouble. Instead we should listen to people with common sense.”

Is Carson right? Am I the one with no common sense because it strikes me as plain common sense to trust the people who have studied a topic the most to have, generally, the clearest grasp of it?

For those who doubt the facts I allege, my links make them easy to document. I realize it takes courage to even consider evidence that a very popular, passionately held belief has no intellectual foundation. Some conclusions are so socially unacceptable that it becomes irrelevant whether they are true. But I have shown this information to people with much to gain from this information, who are activists accustomed to questioning popular wisdom and taking a stand for what they have independently documented, and still this information lies like a heart patient in between jolts.

This is no rhetorical question. I am troubled by the contrast between what seems obvious and critical to me and what apparently seems questionable and irrelevant to everybody else. I ask of you who are reading this to comment after this article. Am I crazy? Have I gotten my facts wrong? Is there some reason I have missed why Congress ought to ignore what economists say about immigration, as Ben Carson advises? I will look forward to your reasoning and evidence.