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ImmigrationU.S. shouldn’t give up benefits of ‘green card lottery’ over low risk of terrorism

By Ethan Lewis

Published 3 November 2017

After a man barreled down a New York City bike path on Oct. 31, killing eight, President Donald Trump reacted by calling for an end to the “green card lottery” program that allowed the attacker to enter the country. As someone who researches the impact of immigration on workers, I believe their plans to change who can enter the country legally is a big mistake. We would be giving up a program that benefits American workers with very little chance of a gain in safety. Immigration that emphasizes diversity, rather than merely merit, tends to attract more people who specialize in occupations uncommon among U.S.-born workers. And, in fact, this is the key source of the well-known economic benefits of immigration. Studies show this tendency toward job specialization is a key reason the large volume of low-skill immigration does not drive down incomes of Americans. Other research shows that simply encouraging immigration from diverse origins lifts wages. Put differently, there is direct evidence that the sort of diversity that the green card lottery encourages makes all Americans better off. It would be a shame to give all of that up because of a tiny risk of terrorism.

After a man barreled down a New York City bike path on Oct. 31, killing eight, President Donald Trump reacted by calling for an end to the “green card lottery” program that allowed the attackerto enter the country.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, as it is officially known, has been in the sights of the president for a while. In August, Trump publicly backed a GOP bill that would end the program and replace it with a merit-based system.

Trump and his fellow Republicans have long decried illegal immigration, but they have traditionally favored the legal kind, partly because their business donors demand it.

As someone who researches the impact of immigration on workers, I believe their plans to change who can enter the country legally is a big mistake. We would be giving up a program that benefits American workers with very little chance of a gain in safety.

Curbing immigration
While Trump’s tweets about the lottery program are based on security concerns, the usual argument supporting curbs on immigration is that new arrivals hurt native-born American workers and the economy at large.

I’ll leave analyzing the security concerns to other experts; suffice it to say that the risk, according to experts, is very small. Green card holders have killed just 16 people — including yesterday – in terror attacks on U.S. soil since 1975.

As for the economic impact on U.S.-born workers, the key thing to bear in mind is that the more homogeneous and similar immigrants are to natives, the greater the odds they’ll in fact have a negative effect.

In contrast, immigrants who come from diverse backgrounds with a range of skills – such as the lottery winners and the so-called “Dreamers” – tend to produce greater economic benefits. That may be one reason at least some Republicans and most Americans are in favor of keeping the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals program that protects the Dreamers from deportation, which Trump recently ended.

A new approach
Currently, the U.S. receives a lot of immigrants without a college degree or with imperfect English. About half of immigrants fit either description.

Legislation proposed earlier this summer – the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act – would exclude most such workers and reduce the total number of green cards awarding permanent legal U.S. residence to just over 500,000 from more than one million today.