Ten Points on Immigration

I have written a number of posts, some using data and some not, on immigrstion. Some of those posts attracted vitriol in comments, including from some who keep accusing me of hiding my punchline. Personally I find myself repeating myself, or trying to restate a point yet a different way so it will sink in. I figured it is probably time to put everything in one place, so here it is:

1. Some cultures prepare their people to function well in the US, some don’t.

2. Ability to function well in the US is not the same thing as intelligence. As an example, consider me. I lived almost a third of my life in South America. I have never been to Central Asia. All else being equal, I can hit the ground running more easily in Argentina than in Iran. In Argentina I know how to behave in a seamless way that won’t raise eyebrows. In Iran, I would need to put effort into day to day activities. Additionally, my communication skills wouldn’t work as well. It isn’t just a matter of not speaking Farsi, but also being unable to unconsciously read and display the myriad of social signals Iranian society uses. Therefore, my productivity will be greater in Argentina than Iran (again, all things being equal). And yet my traits – the degree to which I am or am not intelligent, creative, diligent, sane, honest, etc. – will be the same whether I am in Buenos Aires or in Teheran. Most of my work related skills (less those involving communication) will also be the same in both places. The difference between my productivity in Argentina v Iran will be due entirely to differences in cultural compatibility.

3. Cultural compatibility runs the other way too. Arriving in the US doesn’t automatically confer respect for Western values. In many countries, anti-Christian or anti-Semitic attitudes are common. In the West people argue about gay marriage.  In some countries, the debate is whether gay people should be stoned or thrown off tall buildings. Similarly, the treatment of women and children in some countries would be criminal in the US. Think honor killings, child’s marriages, FGM or bacha bazi. (And yes, we are seeing those things happening here now.) Writing again from the role of someone who was a guest in other peoples’ countries for a third of his life, it should be the responsibility of the newcomer to adapt to his/her new home, and not of the residents of his/her new home to adapt to the newcomer.

4. In Western countries, immigrants who don’t manage to bridge cultural gaps are more likely to end up dependent on the taxpayer. Immigrants are disproportionate users of welfare. In general, it seems (at a minimum) to be bad form to request entry into another society only to become a burden on its people. It is one thing for refugees with no other option to do it, but most immigrants to the US are not refugees.

5. Being overwhelmingly reliant on government largesse in a foreign society built by strangers has got to be dispiriting to most thinking adults. It can only add to a person’s feeling of alienation. That in turn can lead to various dysfunctions – vices, crime, anti-social behavior and even terrorism. It is no surprise that some of these issues exist disproportionately in some immigrant communities.

6. Countries whose emigrants generally do well in the US also tend to be countries with Western values and strong economies. More precisely, countries whose immigrants do well in the West have economies which thrive from the skills of its people, and not countries whose economies is based mostly on raw material extraction directed by foreigners or on financial transfers from wealthier nations.

7. Countries whose emigrants generally have good outcomes (e.g., high incomes, low unemployment, low crime rates)  in the US also have good outcomes in other Western countries. Conversely, countries whose emigrants don’t generally have good outcomes in the US also generally don’t have good outcomes in other Western countries.

8. Within any society, there are some who are more able to function in the US and some who are less able to function in the US. To be blunt, some people have attitudes that allow them to function well in the West. Typically they are dissidents in non Western countries. Place of origin shouldn’t be enough to, by itself, weed out one potential immigrant or guarantee entry to another to another.

9. The fact that there are people in the US who do not have good outcomes (e.g., are in poverty, are criminals, etc.) is not a good argument for immigration of other people who also have do not have good outcomes.

10. There are far more people who would like to immigrate to the US than we allow into the US. Given that, it makes sense to be selective, both for our sake and the sake of those who are unlikely to function well and would become alienated and unable to fend for themselves in the US.

I note that none of these points are new. I have stated them all before, but not all in one place.

Update:  Minor edits to Point 7 and 9.