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Dalmia’s Almost Great Idea on Sanctuary Cities

Summary:
Remember when President Trump “threatened” to send illegal immigrants to “sanctuary cities?” At the time, I thought this was a great idea. Governments that have declared sanctuary cities could, if they think it’s a great idea, benefit from the immigrants moving there. And taxpayers would save a lot of money because the government would not have to pay to imprison them. In a post today at Reason, “Sanctuary Cities Should Hope that Stephen Miller Makes Good on His Threats,” Shikha Dalmia makes the argument better than I did in my head. Instead of discussing illegal immigrants, she applies the argument to asylum seekers, who, of course, are not illegal. She contrasts Attorney General Barr’s tough proposal with that of President Trump’s aide Stephen Miller. House

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Dalmia’s Almost Great Idea on Sanctuary Cities

Remember when President Trump “threatened” to send illegal immigrants to “sanctuary cities?” At the time, I thought this was a great idea. Governments that have declared sanctuary cities could, if they think it’s a great idea, benefit from the immigrants moving there. And taxpayers would save a lot of money because the government would not have to pay to imprison them.

In a post today at Reason, “Sanctuary Cities Should Hope that Stephen Miller Makes Good on His Threats,” Shikha Dalmia makes the argument better than I did in my head. Instead of discussing illegal immigrants, she applies the argument to asylum seekers, who, of course, are not illegal. She contrasts Attorney General Barr’s tough proposal with that of President Trump’s aide Stephen Miller. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Miller’s proposal “despicable,” but I never understood why.

On Barr’s proposal, Dalmia writes:

Barr’s bright idea to deal with the situation is to end the long-standing practice of releasing some asylum seekers who pass the initial “credible fear” screening if they are able to post a bond. The alternative is to hold them for years and years as their case wends its way through hopelessly backlogged asylum courts. The statutory minimum bond amount, which asylum seekers lose if they fail to show up for their hearings, is $1,500. However, last year the Trump administration set the rate at $7,500, an increase of 50 percent from the median bond rate over the last five years, and even $10,000.

He’s giving border agencies 90 days to ramp up their processing and detention capacity. After that, he says that any asylum seeker caught outside of an official port of entry will no longer be eligible for bond. He’ll exempt unaccompanied minors and families with children because they can’t be detained for more than 20 days as per law (although an advisory plan that Trump had convened this week recommended that he pass an emergency regulation to overrule that law). But all singles and childless families will be denied bond.

Barr seemed to have no strong objection to asylum seekers before he took his current job. My guess is that he sees himself as inheriting a mess and is looking for a strong disincentive for people to come here in the first place.

Dalmia gives the background to Miller’s proposal:

“Democrats must change the Immigration Laws FAST,” Trump tweeted earlier this week. “If not, Sanctuary Cities must immediately ACT to take care of the Illegal Immigrants.”

Asylum seekers are of course not illegal immigrants. But even if they were it would be no catastrophe given that contrary to Trump’s assertions, undocumented migrants aren’t gangbangers and criminals. The best evidence suggests that they commit fewer crimes than natives.

Asylum seekers, who are fleeing violence, are even more law abiding. Indeed, all they are looking for is a safe place where they can work hard and build a life for themselves and their families. That also makes them a major economic boon.

Here’s Dalmia’s proposal for asylum seekers, in which she takes a page from Stephen Miller’s and President Trump’s proposal for illegal immigrants:

Therefore sanctuary cities should not just roll out the welcome mat, as many of them are pledging to do if Trump makes good on his threat. They should go a step further and offer to pick up the tab for transporting these migrants so long as the administration gives them work permits right off the bat, as I recently suggested, not after six months as is currently the case. The permits could confine the asylum seekers to working in the sponsoring city for a while, but that would be a whole lot better than being in a detention camp. They could, however, petition other participating jurisdictions for sponsorship if they wanted to move. If they skipped town, that could count against their asylum petition. But to minimize that eventuality, sanctuary cities can send emissaries to the border to inform asylum seekers of the kind of local work that is available and let them choose the place that best suits their skills and experience.

Dalmia notes that this is true federalism:

For now, the beauty of the plan to let sanctuary jurisdictions sponsor asylum seekers is that it would be a mini-experiment in federalizing immigration policy, something that many immigration reform proponents, including me, have been recommending since before Trump became president. Those jurisdictions that feel that asylum seekers will strain their resources more than they contribute to the economy don’t have to admit them. But those who believe the opposite don’t have to be deterred by such objections. Whoever turns out to be right will become an example for others without the federal government having to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on the whole country.

Well said.

I have one objection. In the second-to-last quote above, Dalmia writes, “They [local governments of sanctuary cities] should go a step further and offer to pick up the tab for transporting these migrants so long as the administration gives them work permits right off the bat.”

I disagree. One of the strongest arguments those of us who favor more immigration make is that we are not advocating that immigrants, legal or illegal, be subsidized. It’s simply wrong for a government in a local area to tax people to pay for immigrants, whether illegal or asylum seekers, to locate there.

Indeed, with the web today, it would probably not be hard for various local pro-immigrant groups to set up GoFundMe cites or other fund-raising vehicles to pay for transportation. Bus fares are relatively low.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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