A four-person panel debated the economic impact of immigrants to the United States, at the Graduate School of Education last night.
The discussion was the first in a three-part series, sponsored by the Harvard Education Forum, on immigration and California's Proposition 187.
"It is entirely appropriate that the School of Education should host a discussion on this topic," said Jay Heubert, panel moderator and an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Education.
Proposition 187 forces school teachers to report students they believe to be undocumented immigrants.
Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, Visiting Associate Professor of Education, said that Western industrialized countries' "addiction" to cheap immigrant labor is one of the roots of their immigration problems.
"In the Western World, the most recent crisis of immigration has been self-inflicted," he said.
"In short," Suarez-Orozco said, "immigration today is an immense, complex global issue which will certainly not be resolved by superficial and mean-spirited legislation."
As part of an historical analysis of immigration, Richard Estrada, associate Editor of the Dallas Morning News and a member of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform linked the problem of immigration to the rise of the welfare state.
The other panelists said they agreed that this link was unique to the post-1960s "new immigration. "While they also agreed that immigration has an economic impact on the country, they strongly disagreed about the direction and importance of its effect.
Questions of the cost of immigration in terms of welfare and other social costs led to heated debate among the panelists, culminating in a dispute between Donald Huddle, Professor Emeritus of Economics at Rice University, and Michael Fix, director of the Urban Institute Immigrant Policy Program.
Referring to different studies in which they had been involved, Huddle and Fix differed on whether immigration in the U.S. results in an economic surplus or deficit.
Huddle said that his study found that the average immigrant to the U.S.,including legal and illegal immigrants andrefugees, costs the U.S. about $2100.
But Fix said that he had calculated a yearlynet surplus of $30 to $40 billion resulting fromimmigration.
Surez-Orozco compared the use of economics inexplaining the problem of immigration to the useof craniology in explaining intelligencedifferences.
"Unfortunately, Marcelo, hardly anyone elseagrees with you," Huddle responded, at which theaudience grumbled.
Estrada said that anti-immigrant sentiment hashistorical roots. He cited the anti-Germanattitudes of Benjamin Franklin and ThomasJefferson and the anti-Irish "Know-Nothing"political party of the late 19th century. "There'salways been this ambivalence," he said