The recent travails of an LDS missionary, an unauthorized visitor in the United States, has prompted concerns by many for the plight of such people who risk deportation. There are calls for improvement of immigration bureaucracy and laws, which are all very laudable, but sidestep some fundamental questions. Should one country enforce any limits on how many people from other countries may live there?
The World Bank estimates that 300 million people in China subsist on a dollar a day or less; that’s a purchasing power parity dollar, not a currency exchange rate dollar. This group of mostly rural people, as large as the entire population of the United States, faces internal restrictions impeding migration to China’s cities. For example, the children of rural Chinese are classified as rural even if born in the city and can’t attend schools for city children without paying fees that may exceed their parents’ income.
China is the world’s most populous nation, but it’s not the only place with vast numbers of extremely poor people, people much poorer than most Mexicans. Let’s say there are a billion such people. Now, most of that billion, because of ties to their homelands, would likely stay where they are even if they could earn $10 or $50 a day elsewhere, but it is not unreasonable to estimate that 200 million of them would jump at the chance to move to a country like the United States. Each who moves would improve his own prosperity, and he would have opportunities to be much more productive than before, so the world as whole would be richer.
How many should the United States allow to take up residency over the next five years? How many should Canada allow? As many as it takes until a Chinese peasant living on a dollar a day sees no advantage in moving to the United States or Canada? If fewer than that, then may restrictions be enforced?