Cruz Is Plain Wrong on White-Collar Immigration

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz speaks at a Rustix Restaurant and Event Center in Humboldt, Iowa, on January 7. Americans don't agree with Cruz that immigrants are making America poorer—because they aren’t, the author writes. Immigrants complement American workers and grow the economy. Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

This article first appeared on the Niskanen Center site.

In a campaign ad, Senator Ted Cruz argues that the only reason that support for reducing immigration isn't higher is that bankers, lawyers, journalists and other suit-wearing professionals aren't crossing the border.

If highly educated elites had to face competition from immigrants, he claims that they would turn against immigrants and write stories about "the economic calamity" created by immigrants. There is, however, little evidence for this opinion.

As I demonstrated in a paper last year, a growing majority of Americans oppose cutting immigration levels. According to Gallup, the share of the public favoring immigration cuts fell from 65 percent in 1995 to 34 percent in 2015—its lowest level since 1965. This flip is confirmed by three other major polling sources: New York Times/CBS , American National Election Studies and the General Social Survey (GSS).

Gallup has found that since 2005 support for immigration cuts has dropped by 14 percent among whites, 13 percent among blacks and 3 percent among Hispanics, with a majority of the public supporting immigration by immigrants of all skilled levels—high, low and unspecified. A very large majority also opposed the removal of unauthorized immigrants.

Support for immigration is consistently the highest among the highly educated. In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 35 percent of those without college education favor cutting legal immigration compared with just 25 percent of those with college degrees and 18 percent of those with postgraduate degrees. In 2014, Gallup found a similarly large gap between postgrads and those without any college education over the question of whether to cut all immigration levels.

Is this due to the lower-skilled character of immigration flows? Actually, no.

First of all, new immigration is currently skewed toward both ends of the skill spectrum—meaning that the highest-skilled professionals already face disproportionate competition from immigrants, just as the lowest-skilled do.

In 2014, 45 percent of immigrants who had arrived since 2010 had bachelor's degrees, compared with less than 29 percent of the native-born. About 19 percent had postgraduate degrees, while only 11 percent of the native-born did.

The other problem with this line of argument is that the highly educated are most in favor of immigration by workers of their own skill level—meaning they favor workers who compete with them.

In 2011, researchers from MIT, Harvard and Columbia analyzed the immigration views of Americans by education level. They found that support for immigration increases with education level, and that the majority of postgraduates favor increasing immigration by other highly skilled workers, while only a third favor doing so for lower-skilled workers.

We have no reason to believe that if we opened our doors to more immigrants with professional degrees that there would be a backlash. A good example of this is that, despite the fact that there is no limit on the number of H-1B work visas for working at nonprofits and colleges, only 16.7 percent of economists who typically work at such institutions believe that "immigration levels are too high."

One reason for this view could be that economists who study immigration, including those who think immigration is too high, believe that immigration is a net positive for the average American worker. Even George Borjas, the Harvard economist noted for opposing immigration, agrees with the others who see it as a net benefit—a point I noted in a paper last year.

In fact, there is reason to believe that increasing immigration in higher-skilled fields will increase support for immigration among the higher-skilled. After all, as the foreign-born share of the population has grown since the 1990s, the share of the American public favoring immigration cuts has fallen dramatically.

In 2014, Gallup actually found that growing majorities of all education levels—including high school dropouts—oppose immigration cuts.

Americans just aren't buying Senator Cruz's "they're taking our jobs" argument anymore. A record 73 percent told Gallup last year that, "on the whole," they saw immigration today as a "good thing."

In 2014, Pew found that Americans believe that immigrants strengthen the country and do not snatch jobs or live on welfare—57 to 35 percent. The same year, only 36 percent told GSS that they agreed that immigrants take jobs away from Americans.

Americans simply do not agree with Senator Cruz that immigrants are making America poorer—because they aren't. Immigrants complement American workers and grow the economy.

New workers—foreign or native-born—do not make America poorer. They are not an economic calamity but rather America's main source of new wealth and prosperity.

David Bier is an immigration policy analyst at the Niskanen Center. He is an expert on visa reform, border security and interior enforcement. From 2013 to 2015, he drafted immigration legislation as a senior policy adviser for Congressman Raúl Labrador, a member of the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security. Previously, Bier was an immigration policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.