Skip to main content

The Citizen

Professor George Borjas responds to criticism of immigration dissertation

The following comment was shared with The Citizen by Professor George Borjas in response to criticism of a PhD student’s dissertation:

“Jason’s research was sound. None of the members of the committee would have signed off on it if they thought that it was shoddy empirical work.

As to what it all means, I am not sure. I know people like to take empirical evidence like the one that Jason provides and run with it to “fix the world.” What they forget is that there is an objective function on the road. So, for example, take Jason’s work at Heritage that is the root cause of this whole episode. He finds that illegal immigration imposes a sizable fiscal burden on U.S. taxpayers. I have not read the report. I have not looked at the numbers. I have no idea if it stands up to scrutiny. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that it’s correct. How do we then fix the world? What are the policy implications?

Well, it depends on who you are rooting for. If you are rooting for the average U.S. taxpayer, the implication is clear and we should try to alleviate the problem raised by illegal immigration. If you are instead rooting for the many poor immigrants who are now living in the U.S. in much better circumstances than they left behind, then we can view current immigration policy as the largest anti-poverty program the universe has ever known, and the fact that there is a fiscal burden is just the price we need to pay to afford millions of people the opportunity to live the American dream.

So the real important question is: What is the objective of immigration policy? And I think that reasonable people can certainly disagree (and should be free to disagree) on the parameters of what it is we are trying to maximize.”