David Brooks’s simplistic immigration argument

Saying that immigrants make an area economically dynamic might be confusing the chicken with the egg. One could just as easily say that immigrants are attracted to areas of the United States that are already economically dynamic. Skyscrapers are found in many economically dynamic areas, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that erecting a 50-story building in the middle of a small Appalachian town will lead to an economic boom.

Moreover, there are plenty of areas with a small foreign-born population that have low rates of poverty, and areas with a high percentage of foreign-born individuals that have high rates of poverty. So it remains unclear that a high concentration of native-born Americans is a guarantee of widespread misery. Indeed, as the Center for Immigration Studies has revealed, immigrant households use government assistance at a much higher rate than native-born households. This finding should not be used to demonize immigrants, but it does suggest that some immigrant families struggle to climb the ladder of opportunity.

And this brings up another empirical problem with comparing immigrants and the native-born: Many native-born Americans are themselves the children of immigrants, so conditions that affect immigrant families can be registered in both natives and the foreign-born. If we want to look at the overall effects of immigration, we need to look at immigrants themselves as well as their children and grandchildren. Evidence gleaned from a multigenerational perspective could suggest the need for reforming immigration flows.