Economists' letter intellectually dishonest

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By Dimitri Vassilaros
Sunday, June 25, 2006

If all economists were laid end to end they would not reach a conclusion, said George Bernard Shaw.
However, the 500 or so who signed The Independent Institute's open letter to Congress and President Bush about the economic benefits of immigration did reach a conclusion. But there are not enough column inches to address all the disturbing immigration issues these dismal scientists ignored, dismissed or made wrong assumptions about.

This must be addressed first. Apologists for the foreign infiltrators know that Joe Six-pack considers their support of illegals indefensible because, by definition, they are lawbreakers. Their mouthpieces are reduced to two options: name-calling and topic-changing.

The self-appointed advocates of illegals whisper "nativists" or scream "racists" to define and intimidate supporters of the rule of law. To their credit, those who signed the open letter did not resort to that despicable lie.

The apologists' second option is to subtly redefine the debate from illegal entry to immigration. The economists chose door No. 2. That would explain why the open letter says, "The current debate over immigration is a healthy part of a democratic society, but as economists and other social scientists we are concerned that some of the fundamental economics of immigration are too often obscured by misguided commentary."

But the debate is not about immigration or how it affects this republic's economy. It is misguided commentary to be dismissive about the real subject -- illegal entry.

"The tone of the debate was strident," said Alex Tabarrok, research director of The Independent Institute, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Oakland, Calif. "A lot of things were said about immigration that economists knew were not true."

And a lot of things were not said about immigration that these economists apparently knew little about. Like crime.

Why was there no mention of the "fundamental economics" of illegals who rob, rape and rub out Americans?

"The open letter does not try to deal with all the issues," Mr. Tabarrok said. "Economists are not experts of all the cultural issues and political conditions. I cannot say if illegal aliens have a high or low crime rate. It's difficult data to get."

How difficult could it be to call Allen J. Beck, chief, Corrections Statistics Unit, Bureau of Justice Statistics at the U.S. Department of Justice?

My call was returned promptly, and later that day Mr. Beck offered the following information about the percentage of "noncitizens" in federal and state prisons, and city and county jails, as of midyear 2005.

In federal prisons, noncitizens compose 19.3 percent of the total population. State prisons, 4.5 percent. And 4 percent in local jails. That does not include the illegals held by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security.

But Benjamin Powell, research fellow at The Independent Institute, considers illegal entry a "trespass crime." And the cause? "It's not immigration. It's immigration policy," Mr. Powell says, adding that the solution could be to make more illegal aliens legal.

When asked why the impact of illegal entry was not factored in, Powell said, "That's a good point. We did not do a cost-benefit analysis."

Dimitri Vassilaros is a Trib editorial page columnist. His column appears Sundays, Mondays and Fridays. Call him at 412-380-5637. E-mail him at