Heaven's Door

by George J. Borjas

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

George J. Borjas addresses late twentieth-century US immigration trends, beginning with policy changes enacted in 1965. He concentrates on the impact of a shift from national quotas to the preference system, especially the emphasis on family reunification. These decades also showed a change from Europe to Asia and Latin America as the immigrants’ areas of origin. Borjas, himself an immigrant from Cuba, is especially concerned with the economic impact of low-skilled immigrants, especially from Latin America, whom he believes disproportionately create a burden on social services. He argues for an emphasis on skills and other desirable characteristics over sheer numbers of people admitted to the United States.

According to Borjas, there are ten symptoms that critically affected US immigration during the period he considers. One is the overall small percentage of people in terms of numbers of immigrants who enter the country. A second factor is the declining skill level. Third comes their related declining earnings. A fourth topic of consideration is the relationship between these skills and specific national origin.

The fifth point concerns recent immigrants’ negative economic impact. Not only does this negative impact exist, he maintains, but it has a greater impact on low-income, low-skilled US citizens. Much of the evidence he presents supports these two ideas. Closely related is his sixth point: the disproportionate effect on particular states within the union—those that already had large populations of immigrant-descended legal residents and citizens. This phenomenon means that some states pay a larger share of the related expenses; an example is public education, such as bilingual instruction.

Seventh is the relationship between benefits to society, especially in economic terms, compared to the costs. Borjas insists that low-skilled immigrants create a drain on the economy, leading him to see their overall effect as negative. The eighth factor relates to the generational continuance of low-income status; Borjas aims to show that second-generation descendants perpetuate the inequality their parents experienced.

The ninth factor is the segregation, which he sees as voluntary, of immigrants and descendants into neighborhoods with the same national characteristics. Tenth comes the related ghettoization, which accentuates divisions in US society.

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