On Teach for America and Immigration Policy

These days, almost all of the e-mails to alumni I get from Teach for America are about immigration policy. Today’s e-mail began:

Bipartisan legislation was introduced today that would provide DREAMers with permanent access to a path toward citizenship. We believe in the potential of every child and the critical importance of safe and welcoming classrooms, and we stand firm in our resolve that all children deserve the right to pursue college degrees and careers without threat of deportation. Given this, Teach For America supports this legislation, which is known as the DREAM Act of 2017, and we’ve issued a statement calling on Congress to pass it.

And went on from there, similar to Teach for America’s statement on Betsy DeVos’s nomination. 

Here’s how I responded:

Dear Ms. Villanueva-Beard,

Few issues are more divisive in our current culture than immigration, and there are many compelling stories of immigrants struggling against great odds to succeed and contribute to the American nation.

This said, there is simply an enormous amount of social pressure to support reduced enforcement of immigration laws, and a lack of critical thinking about the likely effects of increased low-skilled legal and illegal immigration on the economic and social prospects of lower-income, native-born Americans.

The argument that large-scale, low-skilled immigration hurts these prospects is not a complex or surprising one- it is simply that immigration does not suspend the economic laws of supply and demand. These impacts are not focused on the most advantaged in the society, who largely benefit from the services that immigrants offer, but instead are targeted to the least fortunate- those whose lack of formal education means they are in direct competition with low-wage immigrants, and not coincidentally those who have the least strong attachment to the labor force and greatest chance of incarceration, homelessness, drug abuse, and dislocation.

As Harvard economics professor George Borjas estimated in 2009, for example, “As immigrants disproportionately increased the supply of workers in a particular skill group, the wage of black workers in that group fell, the employment rate declined, and the incarceration rate rose. Our analysis suggests that a 10-percent immigrant-induced increase in the supply of a particular skill group reduced the black wage by 2.5 percent, lowered the employment rate of black men by 5.9 percentage points, and increased the incarceration rate of blacks by 1.3 percentage points.”

Some families of the students served by Teach for America Corps Members are, no doubt, served well by lax enforcement of immigration law. Others are not. At a time when labor force participation is quickly deteriorating for groups with less education, when mortality and ill health is rising across all races of young Americans, when the majority of public school students are already low income enough to be eligible for free or reduced price lunch, and when automation and global commerce make it ever more uncertain that young Americans can find steady employment and economic security as adults, there are no convincing arguments for reduced enforcement of immigration law as being in the interests of young, lower-income American citizens like the majority of students served by Teach for America corps members. Even more pointedly, municipal governments have limited resources that can only partially meet the demands of rapid increases in the numbers of low-income immigrants, worsening the quality of public services, including health care and education, that low-income young Americans receive.

Among educated, well-off Americans, immigration has few large costs and expressing support for increased immigration and poor enforcement of existing law is a matter of simply signaling open-mindedness and tolerance. But it is inappropriate for Teach for America to intercede in this matter unrelated to education policy and to disregard the costs of a failure to execute existing law and protect the interests of the least fortunate American citizens.

Best wishes,

[Somebody or Other]

4 thoughts on “On Teach for America and Immigration Policy

  1. Did you get a response? Not that I expect you’d make a smidgen of impact on them. That being said, I like in particular how you made a point to note how they benefit personally from DREAMers being given amnesty, amazing how that always seems to be the case.


  2. Glad to see you writing again!

    It /is/ striking that all the friends I have that are currently working as teachers or moving into education policy are very pro amnesty/immigration.

    And though you’d expect otherwise given they’re exposed to it more– the least accepting of individual (not even group!) differences.

    Liked by 1 person

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