Public Radio's not so sophisticated sophistry

On yesterday's Marketplace (5/5/2011), a daily public radio program, there was a piece titled "Welcoming more immigrants could help boost the U.S. economy". The piece starts with this opening;

"President Obama says he is planning another push for immigration reform in the coming weeks and months. He met with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus about the issue earlier this week. The President wants to provide a pathway to citizenship for immigrants who are already here illegally."

The introduction makes it clear that the President is discussing changing US policy toward illegal immigrants. The Marketplace host asks if immigration policy is a place to look for economic growth. The answer is a bit too clever.

"Look, Jeremy, I know it's controversial, but there's just a large body of economic research that says immigration, immigrants -- it's the steroids of economic growth. So if you think of companies like Intel or Google, a lot of their employees -- they're immigrants."

Intel, Google, and lots of startups don't use illegal immigrants. Those companies utilize legal immigrants, foreign workers here on h1b visas, or other work permits. There is a huge difference between a PHD graduate from India that is here legally and a day laborer from Guatemala that paid a coyote to get across the Rio Grande.  Marketplace's transparent attempt to conflate the two borders on sophomoric. 

There is a large body of evidence that illegal immigration has a massive cost associated with it. FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) presents a study that show that the costs of illegal immigrants far outweigh the benefits. The Perryman report from 2008 claims the opposite. Regardless of how you personally feel on the subject, no one is arguing that illegal immigrants are the same as legal workers in the US.

If Obama wanted to talk about the immigrants that Intel and Google employ, he should have been talking to Bobby Jindal or Nikki Haley, not the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. If Marketplace wanted to talk about illegal immigration they shouldn't try to lump in the legal workers who have followed the letter of the law and worked very hard for the right to work in this country. Immigration policy, foreign work visa programs, and illegal immigration are all hot button issues, especially in a economy with nearly 20% underemployment. Solutions will require honest and adult conversation, 2 things lacking in yesterday's Marketplace report.

Aaron Gee is a U.S.-based IT consultant who started the blog