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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436

As the subtitle indicates, Heaven’s Door is a study of the relationship between immigration policy and the American economy. Published in 2001, the book does not include 21st-century policy changes; the author includes the changes in 1965 but primarily emphasizes the 1990s. He aims to help the reader understand how changes in policy increased the already-substantial gap between the richest and poorest residents of the United States.

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Borjas views immigration as creating negative effects, because many immigrants are poor, unskilled, and speak little English; employers are allowed to pay lower wages to undocumented workers, those who do not find work need support from social services, and the de facto segregation of immigration communities effectively blocks assimilation.

The relative skill level of immigrants is one important factor that Borjas considers. Highly skilled workers contribute more to the U.S. economy, he argues, while those with low skill will inevitably create a drain on resources. However, immigrants overall tend to negatively affect comparably skilled “natives.” By “native” he means born in the United States, not Native American.

The skill mix of also determines which native workers are most affected by immigration. Unskilled workers will typically harm unskilled natives, while skilled immigrants will harm skilled natives. . . . A large number of the immigrants . . . are relatively unskilled, and could be expected to have an adverse effect on the economic opportunities of less-skilled natives.

Borjas is very aware of the substantial amount of research that other scholars have done to reach different conclusions than his own. Refuting both those conclusions and some of the supporting evidence, he reaffirms his conclusion that native workers are justified in fearing the impact of immigrants. One important area of correlation is that between low wages and education level. The studies comparing wage levels often do not account for this. In the 1980s, he asserts, the education-wage gap increased.

The decade also witnessed the entry of large numbers of less-skilled immigrants. It turns out that almost half of the decline in the relative wage of high school dropouts may be attributed to immigration.

Borjas refers to the neighborhoods where immigrants tend to live as “ethnic ghettos.” He argues that such areas are self-selected and that people from different countries and ethnicities, as well as their United States-born descendants, tend to continue to live among people from the same country or of the same ethnicity. The reasons he finds are partly financial.

The ethnic composition of neighborhoods probably changes slowly over time, and it is costly for persons to leave the neighborhood where they have well-established social and economic networks. As a result, intergenerational correlation in ethnic segregation arises.

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