In This Review

Heaven's Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy
Heaven's Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy
By George J. Borjas
Princeton University Press, 1999, 264 pp

A former Cuban refugee, Borjas addresses vexing questions in the U.S. immigration debate, offering an up-to-date and informative assessment of the modern immigrant experience and an excellent review of the recent academic research. Immigration to the United States increased sharply in the 1990s to nearly one million entrants a year, including political refugees and estimated illegal entries. Meanwhile, the educational level of immigrants has dropped sharply from that of 40 years ago. New immigrants also use welfare services much more extensively than their forebears did and work for below-average wages. These changes largely resulted from the 1965 law that shifted U.S. immigration policy from one based on country of origin to one based on (extended) family unification. Assimilation of immigrants' children does occur, but much more slowly than conventional wisdom would have it. Borjas concludes that immigration provides a net economic gain to resident Americans, but warns that this gain is so small that it may be outweighed by its costs -- depressed wages of low-skilled Americans. The author suggests that the U.S. economy would be better served by placing greater weight in immigration policy on skills and education, and less on family unification.