Frum Bungles Key Immigration Facts to Justify Killing Immigration Reform


In a opinion piece, CNN contributor David Frum attempted to justify the defeat of immigration reform bills, including the DREAM Act, by suggesting such measures would not help the United States attract highly skilled immigrants. In fact, both the DREAM and comprehensive immigration reform bills contain measures that would help attract such immigrants.

Frum Suggests Immigration Reform Measures Will Not Help Attract Highly Skilled Workers

Frum Advises Congress To "Return To The Drawing Board" And Rethink Immigration Following Failure of Immigration Bills. In his op-ed, Frum writes that the defeat of the DREAM Act and the comprehensive immigration reform proposed by Sens. John McCain and Ted Kennedy in 2007 show that "Congress will have to return to the drawing board on immigration." Frum also claims that because America "does not suffer from a generalized labor shortage," immigration goals have to change. From Frum's op-ed titled, "What's the value of immigration?":

The defeat of DREAM follows on the defeat of the McCain-Kennedy "pathway to citizenship" legislation of 2007. Two defeats of two major bills within three years -- that begins to look like a message.

Congress will have to return to the drawing board on immigration. And it should start with this question: What is immigration for? What are we trying to accomplish?

A century ago, the answer seemed obvious. Factories and mines clamored for workers as an underpopulated continent beckoned settlers.

America in the 21st century, however, does not suffer from a generalized labor shortage. If labor were scarce, you'd expect wages to rise. Instead, wages were stagnating even before the recession hit in 2008. The typical hourly job in this country paid no higher wage in 2008 (adjusting for inflation) than in 1974. Add the value of fringe benefits, and you get a 37% increase since 1978.


If we chose our immigrants differently, immigration would upgrade the average skill level of the U.S. population. (As is, 31% of immigrants have not completed high school.) If we chose our immigrants differently, they could contribute more in taxes than they require in benefits. (As is, immigrants are 50% more likely to be poor than the native-born.)

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, immigrants arrived with higher skills and soon gained higher incomes than the native born. That's how immigration still works in Canada and Australia. Their immigration systems are race-neutral and favor prospective immigrants who arrive with language skills, advanced degrees or capital to invest.

Someday, the United States will probably have to double back and do something for the hard cases showcased in the Senate hearings on the DREAM bill. But if we really want to do something useful, we should do more than help the hard cases. We should ask some hard questions. [, 12/20/10]

In Fact, DREAM Act Fills A Gap In U.S. Workforce By Providing Incentives For College Attendance

New England Journal Of Higher Education: "Not Enough Americans Are Completing College" To Fill Coming Job Vacancies. From a September 10 article in the New England Journal of Higher Education:

In its most recent report, Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018, the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce has shown that by 2018, we will need 22 million new college degrees to meet employers' demand -- but at current graduation rates, we will fall short of that number by at least 3 million postsecondary degrees, associate or better.

This 3 million shortfall is the equivalent of 300,000 additional graduates each year between now and 2018, or a 10% [annual] increase in degrees conferred by colleges and universities nationwide. College degrees are not the only kind of credential the American economy will come up short on; we will also need at least 4.7 million new workers with postsecondary certificates. [The New England Journal of Higher Education, 9/10/10]

To Be Eligible For DREAM Act, An Immigrant Must Attend College Or Serve In the U.S. Military. From the Dream Act as introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin:

The alien has completed at least 1 of the following:

(i) The alien has acquired a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or has completed at least 2 years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor's degree or higher degree in the United States.

(ii) The alien has served in the Armed Forces for at least 2 years and, if discharged, has received an honorable discharge. [S. 3992, 11/30/10]

CIS: At Least One Million Undocumented Immigrants "Will Eventually Enroll In Public Institutions ... As A Result Of The Dream Act." From a November report from the Center for Immigration Studies:

Assuming no fraud, we conservatively estimate that 1.03 million illegal immigrants will eventually enroll in public institutions (state universities or community colleges) as a result of the DREAM Act. That is, they meet the residence and age requirements of the act, have graduated high school, or will do so, and will come forward. [Center for Immigration Studies, accessed 12/23/10]

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Proposal Contained Other Measures To Attract Highly Skilled Immigrants

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Proposal Contained Increase In H-1B Visas For Foreigners With Highly Specialized Knowledge. The 2007 version of the comprehensive immigration reform proposal to which Frum referred included a version of the "DREAM Act." It also included a provision to permanently increase the cap on visas for highly skilled workers sought by U.S. employees from 65,000 to 180,000. The bill provided:

H-1B Amendments.-- Section 214(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1184(g)) is amended--

(1) in paragraph (1) by deleting clauses (i) through (vii) of subparagraph (A) and inserting in their place--

(i) 115,000 in fiscal year 2008;

(ii) in any subsequent fiscal year, subject to clause (iii), the number for the previous fiscal year as adjusted in accordance with the method set forth in paragraph (2); and

(iii) 180,000 for any fiscal year. [S. 1639, 6/18/07]

CRS: H-1B Visas Go to People In Fields Such As "Architecture, Engineering, Mathematics, Physical Sciences, Social Sciences, Medicine And Health, [And] Education." From a 2006 memo by the Congressional Research Service on H-1B Visas:

Nonimmigrant temporary workers seeking employment in the United States are generally classified in the "H" visa category. The largest number of H visas are issued to temporary workers in specialty occupations, known as H-1B nonimmigrants. The regulations define a "specialty occupation" as requiring theoretical and practical application of a body of highly specialized knowledge in a field of human endeavor including, but not limited to, architecture, engineering, mathematics, physical sciences, social sciences, medicine and health, education, law, accounting, business specialties, theology, and the arts, and requiring the attainment of a bachelor's degree or its equivalent as a minimum. [Congressional Research Service, 3/20/06]

Comprehensive Immigration Reform Proposal Contained Increased Border Security Provisions To Stem The Migration of Low-Skilled Undocumented Immigrants. As detailed by the summary of the bill, the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform proposal contained myriad enforcement provisions designed to decrease the number of undocumented immigrants entering the United States. The summary stated that the bill:

Establishes specified benchmarks which must be met before the guest worker and legalization programs under this Act may be initiated respecting: (1) operational control of the the border with Mexico; (2) Border Patrol increases; (3) border barriers, including vehicle barriers, fencing, radar, and aerial vehicles; (4) detention capacity for illegal aliens apprehended crossing the U.S.-Mexico border; (5) workplace enforcement, including an electronic employment verification system; and (6) Z-visa (as established by this Act) alien processing.

Establishes in the Treasury the Immigration Security Account to assist the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in meeting benchmark requirements.

Sets forth border security and enforcement provisions, including provisions respecting: (1) personnel and asset increases and enhancements, including Shadow Wolves units; (2) a National Strategy for Border Security and a National Land Border Security Plan; (3) border security initiatives, including biometric data enhancements, document integrity, and additional ports of entry; (4) a biometric entry-exit system; (5) cooperation with Mexico; (6) forfeiture of conveyances; (7) border security on federal lands; (8) a border relief grant program for a tribal, state, or local law enforcement agency in a border-proximate or high-impact area county; and (9) increased federal detention space.

Northern Border Prosecution Initiative Reimbursement Act - Directs the Attorney General to carry out the Northern Border Prosecution Initiative to reimburse northern border entities for costs incurred for handling case dispositions of criminal cases that are federally initiated but federally declined-referred.

Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act - Sets forth detention procedures and standards. Establishes: (1) an Office of Detention Oversight; and (2) a detention alternatives program.

Sets forth interior enforcement provisions, including provisions respecting: (1) additional immigration personnel; (2) detention and removal; (3) alien sex offenders and protection of immigrants from convicted sex offenders; (4) alien street gang members; (5) illegal entry and reentry; (6) passport and immigration fraud; (7) criminal aliens, including continuation of the Institutional Removal Program (IRP); (8) voluntary departure; (9) detention and alternatives; (10) criminal penalties; (11) alien smuggling; (12) tribal lands security; (13) state and local enforcement of immigration laws; (14) expedited removal; and (15) the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transfer System.

Makes it unlawful to knowingly hire, recruit, or refer for a fee an unauthorized alien.

Sets forth employment eligibility verification system provisions.

Provides for: (1) disclosure of certain taxpayer identity information to DHS; (2) establishment of the state records improvement grant program which may be used to help states comply with REAL ID requirements; and (3) establishment of the voluntary advanced verification program to verify employee identity.

Sets forth Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA) immigration-related enforcement provisions. [The Library of Congress, 6/18/07]

Frum Misleads Regarding Population Growth And Immigration Rates

Frum Attacked Immigration Policy For Supposedly Unnecessarily "Import[ing] Almost A Million People A Year Legally, Plus Nearly The Same Illegally." From his CNN column:

Nor is 21st-century America underpopulated. While vast parts of the United States remain empty, the areas that attract immigration are as densely populated as Europe. In fact, New Jersey has a higher population density than any country in Europe except the Netherlands.

So why import almost a million people a year legally, plus nearly the same illegally? That's a question that usually goes not only unanswered but unasked. [, 12/20/10]

But Declining Population Growth Has Led To Decline Of "Working Taxpayers Relative To The Number Of Older Persons." A February 2003 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that "the median age of the world's population is increasing," and the United States would soon have fewer working citizens relative to retirees dependent on medical benefits. From the report:

The increased number of persons aged >65 years will potentially lead to increased health-care costs. The health-care cost per capita for persons aged >65 years in the United States and other developed countries is three to five times greater than the cost for persons aged65 years ($12,100), but other developed countries also spent substantial amounts per person aged >65 years, ranging from approximately $3,600 in the United Kingdom to approximately $6,800 in Canada (13). However, the extent of spending increases will depend on other factors in addition to aging (12).

The demands associated with long-term care might pose the greatest challenge for both personal/family resources and public resources. In the United States, nursing home and home health-care expenditures doubled during 1990--2001, reaching approximately $132 billion (14); of this, public programs (i.e., Medicaid and Medicare) paid 57%, and patients or their families paid 25% (14). In addition, during 2000--2020, public financing of long-term care is projected to increase 20%--21% in the United Kingdom and the United States and 102% in Japan (15). However, these increases will be less if public health interventions decrease disability among older persons, helping them to live independently. [Centers for Disease Control, 2/14/03]

A Pew Survey Of "Nearly 5,000 Mexican Migrants" Found That Most Skewed Younger. From a March 2005 report:

Although some significant differences are apparent from city to city, a general portrait emerges of a young, disproportionately male, sample that has recently arrived in the United States (Table 9). Compared with the adult population of Mexico, the sample is relatively well educated, but it fares poorly in comparison with the general level of educational achievement of the U.S. population.

In the full sample, 57 percent of the respondents were male and 40 percent were female. The largest age group was the 48 percent of respondents who were 18 to 29 years old. Of the total, 43 percent said they had been in the United States for five years or less (Table 9). By comparison, only 34 percent of the full Mexican-born population living in the United States falls into the 18-to-29-year-old age range, and only 29 percent has been in the country for five years or less. [Pew Hispanic Center, 3/2/05]

Pew Research Also Contradicts Frum's Claim About The Rate Of Immigration. Contrary to Frum's claim that the United States brings in "almost a million people a year legally, plus nearly the same illegally," a report by the Pew Hispanic Center found that around 650,000 people per year immigrate to the United States legally. The same report found the number of illegal immigrants per year was closer to half a million. From the report:

Over the 1998-2004 period, the inflow of undocumented immigrants exceeded arrivals of legal permanent residents. From 2005 to 2008, about 1.6 million new undocumented immigrants arrived (an average of 500,000 a year), compared with 2.1 million legal permanent residents (an average of 650,000 a year). Examination of the annual estimates points to 2007 as the year the turnaround occurred. [Pew Hispanic Center, 10/2/08]

A More Recent Report Finds Illegal Immigration Has Declined Even Further Since Then. From a Pew Hispanic Center report from September of this year:

During the first half of the decade, an average of about 850,000 new unauthorized immigrants entered each year, increasing the unauthorized population from 8.4 million in 2000 to 11.1 million in 2005. Since then, the average annual inflow dropped to about 550,000 per year from March 2005 to March 2007 and declined further to an average of 300,000 per year for March 2007 to March 2009. As a result, the unauthorized population in 2009 returned to the level it had been in 2005.[Pew Hispanic Center, 9/1/10]

Frum Downplays The Economic Benefits Of Immigration

Frum: Immigration "Add[s] Just Fractions Of A Penny To The National Income." From his CNN column:

Of course immigration also creates jobs, too. There are benefits as well as costs. In 2007, the President's Council of Economic Advisers tried to balance these gains and losses. They totaled all the gains, subtracted the losses and concluded that our present immigration conferred a net benefit of ... hold your excitement ... somewhere between 0.22% of national income and 0.60% of national income..

(And as economist George Borjas notes, the CEA could reach the higher end number, 0.6%, only by ignoring the economic harm done by new immigration to the immediately prior immigrants.)

Given the immense scale of the immigration we receive, it seems incredible that immigration yields so small a net benefit.

Yet the CEA's estimate tallies with previous work by the National Academy of Sciences back in the 1990s. Their work supported the low-end estimate of a net benefit from immigration of about one quarter of 1% of national income.

That seems a poor payoff for the disruption caused by mass migration. Imagine if your kid's classroom went from zero non-English-speakers to 10 in just a couple of years. Then you are told that this turmoil is adding just fractions of a penny to the national income? Surely you'd ask: Why are we doing this? [, 12/20/10]

Actually, Immigration Is Adding At Least Tens Of Billions Of Dollars To The National Income. According to World Bank data, the gross national income for the United States was $14 trillion in 2009. Therefore, even if Frum is correct that immigration is adding 0.22-0.25 percent to the national income, 0.25 percent of that figure is still $35 billion, and 0.22 percent of that figure is $30.8 billion. [The World Bank, accessed 12/23/10]

Economist James P. Smith: Immigrants May Add "As Much As $10 Billion To The Economy Each Year." The National Academy of Science, which Frum cites approvingly, released a press release quoting economist James P. Smith saying that immigrants "may be adding as much as $10 million to the economy each year":

Immigration benefits the U.S. economy overall and has little negative effect on the income and job opportunities of most native-born Americans, says a new report* by a panel of the National Research Council. Only in areas with high concentrations of low-skilled, low-paid immigrants are state and local taxpayers paying more on average to support the publicly funded services that these immigrants use.

"Immigrants may be adding as much as $10 billion to the economy each year," said panel chair James P. Smith, senior economist at RAND Corp., Santa Monica, Calif. "It's true that some Americans are now paying more taxes because of immigration, and native-born Americans without high school educations have seen their wages fall slightly because of the competition sparked by lower-skilled, newly arrived immigrants. But the vast majority of Americans are enjoying a healthier economy as the result of the increased supply of labor and lower prices that result from immigration." [The National Academies, 5/17/97]

Posted In
Immigration, Immigration Reform
David Frum
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