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Market Solutions to Illegal Immigration July 27, 2006

Posted by federalist in Economic Policy, Human Markets, Regulation, Unions.

John Fund today digs up a history lesson that we shouldn’t have to relearn.

Conservatives who say we must “beef up” border security seem to disregard the enormous expansion of government authority that would entail — or that it would be limited by the same ineffectiveness and bureaucracy that constrains the rest of the government. Thus, according to law-enforcement experts, we have tripled the size of the Border Patrol in the last decade and still done little to stem the flow of illegal aliens into the country.

This is a story of dealing with illegal immigration, though he could be talking about almost anything government has tried to do through force of bureaucracy.  You see, we solved this problem once before with a “guest-worker” style program started in the 1950s.

Under the new program, some 300,000 Mexican workers entered the U.S. legally every year. As the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service noted in 1980, “Without question, the Bracero program was . . . instrumental in ending the illegal alien problem of the mid-1940s and 1950s.” By 1959, arrests of illegal aliens had fallen to 45,000 a year; they remained under 100,000 until 1964.

But in that year, Johnson, running for president, cut a deal with labor unions to end the Bracero program they felt was unfairly competing with their members. Soon the illegal laborers Johnson had winked at in the 1950s flooded back. By 1976, apprehensions were back up to 876,000 — the old level reached in 1953. They have increased most years since then, reaching 1.2 million annual arrests today.

So a market solution to a social problem was destroyed by special interests.  Sound familiar?



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