I agree with the first statement that there is indeed this irony: on one hand the US government is trying to curb the flow of undocumented immigrants, while on the other hand, US businesses and households are taking advantage of these (illegal) immigrants. But I can't disagree more with her second statement - the globalization-poverty nexus. If anything, loosening immigration, thereby implying more globalization in the form of increasing labor mobility may be the fastest way to equalize the wages for unskilled workers between Mexico and the US. By doing so, it also has the enormous potential to help reduce poverty south of the border. I am more sympathetic with Rizal's view:
"...if what we mean by globalization is a free mobility of factor of production, how can we simply put aside the labor movement --itself a very significant, if not the most crucial, factors of production beside capital and goods?"Like Rizal, I also tend to believe that more globalization, not less, in the form of high mobility of labor can be beneficial for the low-skilled workers from poor countries.
To drive this point further, an article by Stephan Faris at Salon is worth discussing. While he was living in Nairobi as a journalist for Time, he employed in his household the following: a nanny, a maid, a gardener, and a watchman, all for a combined daily wages less than the cost of the main course when he went out for dinner. All that was possible because he "drew Western salary and paid African wages" (a situation many expats in Indonesia may have no problem relating to). But he is smart enough to leave his troubled conscience behind and wrote:
"...Those who squirm at the idea of having servants should consider that there's little moral difference between me and my maid, and those who buy a washing machine whose low cost depends on other people's deflated wages. We've globalized capital, but not labor. A washing machine manufacturer can cash in on China's low wages, but the Chinese factory worker is barred from taking a boat to seek better pay. He's forced to sell his labor at much lower than the global market value. Both my maid and the factory worker would prefer to work for Western wages. But they can't because of immigration restrictions..."Indeed. The main reason why people emigrate to other countries is to take advantage of the differences in potential earnings (Massive Movement of Refugees and IDPs and Chronic and Sustained Human Flight notwithstanding). Why wage discrepancies for the same skill level exist and why they persist are obviously determined by various things (e.g. endowment, technology, institution etc., see this for a simple yet powerful exposition). But perhaps one of the most important things that prevent these discrepancies to disappear is the set of immigration restrictions. Even with restrictions in place, the potential emigrants may internalize the cost and still view that the wage discrepancies are still worth taking the risks for.
Sounding like an economist, Faris then argues that:
"...From the standpoint of economic theory, liberalizing the flow of labor is no different from liberalizing trade. Both redistribute a nation's wealth, with a net positive effect. The difference is that liberalizing trade disproportionately benefits richer countries, while easing immigration restrictions would help the world's poor..."*)Moreover, in most if not all countries, immigration restrictions disproportionally hold back the movement of low-skilled labors. A PhD in molecular science would be in better position to come to the US than a high school graduate (it is tempting to talk about brain drain and some misconceptions about it at this point but let's not). On the other hand, or rather because of it, the potential gains for unskilled workers are likely to be greater because the factor market for these unskilled workers is not as integrated as the one for highly-skilled labors. By loosening the immigration restrictions for low-skilled workers the dreams of better lives for them may be realized sooner. Even if it means that we need more globalization.
*) Some may be put off by any statement that begins with "From the standpoint of economic theory". But even the accidental darling of anti-globalization movement, Joseph Stiglitz, has the following message buried in his powerpoint file (see page 45) about the state of development in Latin America:
" The successful countries have actually followed models which are more in accord with economic theory than the Washington consensus "Addendum:
(Hat tip to Martin for the link to the file)
Tyler Cowen of the Marginal Revolution fame and DanielRothschild wrote an op-ed in LA Times (via, what else, Marginal Revolution), addressing the same debate. Here's a quote:
"A key question for economists has been whether the influx raises or lowers"native" American wages. UC Berkeley's David Card, who studied patterns in different U.S. cities, concludes that immigration has not lowered wages for American workers. George Borjas of Harvard counters that immigration reduced the wages of high school dropouts by 7.4% between 1980 and 2000.In the op-ed, Cowen and Rothschild also label Borjas as "the favorite economist of immigration restrictionists", an assertion I suspect many economists would also not find difficulties to side with.
Most economists have sided with Card."