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Posted at 10:12 AM ET, 11/22/2010

Should states set their own immigration quotas?

By Ezra Klein

The Kauffman Foundation has a report out ranking the "new economy" states. Their methodology "measures the extent to which state economies are knowledge-based, globalized, entrepreneurial, IT-driven and innovation-based – in other words, to what degree state economies’ structures and operations match the ideal structure of the New Economy." The winners? Massachusetts, Washington, Maryland, New Jersey and Connecticut. The laggards? Mississippi, West Virginia, Arkansas, Alabama and Wyoming.

I never really know what to make of reports like this, but one of the metrics is "immigration of knowledge workers," which really isn't under the control of individual states. Visa quotas are set by the federal government. But why? There are a lot of places where a national solution really is best, but that seems particularly untrue in immigration. Detroit, for instance, has a lot of empty houses, a lot of shuttered factories, and a lot of emigration. They could probably use a bunch of immigrants to occupy homes, buy things, and start businesses. Similarly, California has had a pretty good experience with letting highly skilled immigrants start tech firms in the Northern part of the state. Maybe they'd like to let even more of them in to do it. These graphs explain the potential appeal (click for a larger version):


There are obvious difficulties with having a California visa that doesn't work in Oregon. But we have limited visas now -- think student visas, or temporary agricultural workers -- and we seem to get by all right. Another concern would be that certain states would be overtaken by xenophobia and basically shut off immigration, though Arizona suggests that you can do quite a lot to make immigrants miserable even without changing the number of available visas, and my hunch is that any state that went too far in this direction would face a tremendous outcry from its business community.

Graph credit: The Hamilton Project.

By Ezra Klein  | November 22, 2010; 10:12 AM ET
Categories:  Immigration  
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Considering that this proposal would violate consistent case law regarding federal preemption on immigration matters since at least 1849, I'm not sure how you propose that states start issuing their own visas. On the bright side, I'm sure that Rick Perry and Tom Tancredo would be highly supporting of your, ah, novel constitutional interpretation.

Posted by: TWBr | November 22, 2010 10:46 AM | Report abuse

"Supportive," of course.

Posted by: TWBr | November 22, 2010 10:48 AM | Report abuse

After the first "oil shock" - workers moved from depressed Detroit to booming Texas. That internal migration helped alleviate unemployment in Detroit.

This has traditionally been the case of the U.S. (as opposed to Europe) -- people move from depressed areas to growing areas.

Now, these internal outflows are hindered by illegal immigrants who move to growing areas and take the available employment opportunities at low wages. This obstructs internal migrants who are leaving declining industries from obtaining new work in growing industries.

Immigrants, including illegal ones, rarely move to declining areas -- they are moving to the growing areas. They don't want to move to Detroit!!! They aren't doing it now! THEY GO TO WHERE JOBS ARE! THEY DON'T CREATE JOBS -- THEY TAKE THEM. Give them a visa to move to Detroit and they will show up in Atlanta or Boston.

This suggestion is less notable for its creative insight than it's ideologically consistent devotion to the cause of justifying as much immigration as possible.

Posted by: kevin9 | November 22, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

The Federal government could still control it. You could have a "state restricted visa". So you could only do certain work in certain states.

The Federal Government could set a list of requirements that the States could select from (including how many visa's they wanted to issue). That way if farm states wanted temporary labor, they could, and if New York, Illinois etc wanted only knowledge workers they could select those also. The visa's would get complicated, but the current system is so bloody complicated adding 50 new visa's wouldn't affect it that much.

This would be awesome. It would bring a real life economic experiment, where those who believe immigration is a net economic positive could test that theory by opening up their state, and those that think it's a drag could close theirs off. I think within 5 years of these kinds of policies in place states with much more open policies would have more dynamic, stronger economies than closed states.

Posted by: ChicagoIndependant | November 22, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, this is exactly backwards. Immigrants are more likely to move to certain states than others to take advantage of strong underlying economic conditions, like an educated workforce and good transportation infrastructure. The way to boost a struggling state is to improve those conditions, not invite immigrants in to take advantage of them. This is not to bash immigrants, at all, just to say that they're not creating the prosperous conditions in those states.

Posted by: csdiego | November 22, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

As a native-born Californian over 50, I laugh at anyone who holds up my state as an example of the "benefits" of mass immigration.

Failing schools, failing infrastructure, failing political climate, huge crime rates, thousands of rampaging gang members, unemployment at 13 percent (that officials admit to; the real rate is likely 20 percent) and mass bankruptcy of both state and local governments.

Really, do you think before you write this crap?

Posted by: MaryJessel | November 22, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

It would be interesting to test the hypothesis offered by MaryJessel above. Do states and other areas with higher populations of illegal immigrants fare better or worse than those which do not? Do illegal immigrants migrate to areas with high unemployment or do they migrate to areas in need of cheap labor? Do illegal immigrants move to places with low crime rates or to those with high crime rates? Do areas which have many illegal immigrants also have many Medicaid, TANF, Free Lunch, and other subsidy program participants? Do students educated in public schools having many illegal immigrants have better or worse standardized test scores? Such data would be useful.

Frankly, I applaud Klein's idea -- but wouldn't it be an equally good idea to require citizens who lead subsidy lifestyles (habitual Medicaid, TANF, Free Lunch, etc. participants) to seek services from an area having the lowest cost of such services? Wouldn't it be prudent to force the habitual Medicaid recipient to use a taxpayer-provided bus ticket to the city where fees for health care costs are the least burdensome to the taxpayers who pay them? [By force, I mean that failing to use the bus ticket would cease the Medicaid payments.]

Posted by: rmgregory | November 22, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

There should be no quotas, at any level of government.

People should be allowed to live wherever they please, provided they do so peacefully and on their own dime.

Posted by: justin84 | November 22, 2010 1:14 PM | Report abuse

I work at a large (>10,000 employees) company that is now outsourcing its telephone and data transactional work to India. These have been high paying jobs (that create tax revenue, consumer demand and keep real estate prices high).

Moving jobs around the globe is the flip side of moving labor around. If companies can do it, maybe labor should be able to move around too. The people who're left out? People who either don't skill up, or don't move.

After all, immigrants are coming here b/c there aren't any jobs where they are.

Posted by: Lonepine | November 22, 2010 5:17 PM | Report abuse

"though Arizona suggests that you can do quite a lot to make immigrants miserable even without changing the number of available visas,"

Yeah, like Arizona is dealing with how to replicate the structure of the New Economy by arriving at just the right mixture of visa holding immigrants to give them the edge in the "knowledge-based, globalized, entrepreneurial, IT-driven and innovation-based" world.

Posted by: bgmma50 | November 22, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

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