Former half-term Governor Sarah Palin defended Arizona’s immigration law today. That sentence is about as much attention to her views as is deserved. (UPDATE: Except for TBogg’s whack at it.)

I would rather point to a series of new studies showing that the law was birthed in and supported by ignorance of the reality at the border and the facts behind immigration. First, on the border, where crime has not increased in any way, despite claims to the contrary. It’s not for nothing that the sheriff in that ridiculous John McCain “Complete the Danged Fence” commercial was from an interior Arizona county; the sheriffs at the border aren’t seeing a problem:

Reporting from Nogales, Ariz. — On the other side of the metal barrier that separates this town from its namesake in Mexico, there have already been more than 120 homicides this year, including the assassination of the assistant police chief.

In this sleepy town of 21,000, there hasn’t been a killing in three years.

“If you look at it statistically, if you look at the community as a whole, it’s very, very safe,” said Police Chief Jeffrey Kirkham.

Despite the drug war that has claimed thousands of lives in Mexico, communities along the U.S. side of the 2,000-mile southern border have shown virtually no increase in crime for several years.

There are dozens of towns, counties and cities along the border and no single measure of crime along the whole frontier. But a review of crime statistics for the largest communities and interviews with law enforcement officials from Texas to California show that, despite a widespread perception that the violence in Mexico has spread north, U.S. border communities are fairly secure. Some have even become safer.

You can do a lot of work with one isolated incident or some gruesome pictures from Mexico. But the facts are plain to see – border communities in the US are reasonably safe places to live. There are acts of violence taking place due to drug operations throughout the country, if not at the border, but we know how the response to that over the past forty years that has fared – it’s been an abject failure.

Furthermore, it has little to do with the bulk of immigration into the country, both legally and illegally – people wanting a better life for them and their families who are willing to work for it. And contrary to the popular opinion of blowhards on the subject, increased immigration creates more jobs and even increases wages in almost every sector.

But most economists and other experts say there’s little to support the claim. Study after study has shown that immigrants grow the economy, expanding demand for goods and services that the foreign-born workers and their families consume, and thereby creating jobs. There is even broad agreement among economists that while immigrants may push down wages for some, the overall effect is to increase average wages for American-born workers […]

Immigrant workers “create almost as many” jobs as they occupy, “and maybe more,” said Madeleine Sumption, policy analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, which is funded by a range of foundations, corporations and international organizations. “They often create the jobs they work in.” In addition, “they buy things, and they make the economy bigger,” she told us. As she and a co-author wrote in a report last year for a group created by the British government:

Somerville and Sumption: [T]he impact of immigration [on a nation’s economy] remains small, for several reasons. Immigrants are not competitive in many types of jobs, and hence are not direct substitutes for natives. Local employers increase demand for low-skilled labor in areas that receive low-skilled immigrant inflows. Immigrants contribute to demand for goods and services that they consume, in turn increasing the demand for labor. And immigrants contribute to labor market efficiency and long-term economic growth.

Analysts from the libertarian Cato Institute and the liberal Economic Policy Institute agree on this point: immigrants who work in this country grow the economy, purchase goods and services in America which adds to overall demand, and creates openings for higher-wage earners in a variety of sectors. If anyone is harmed financially by an influx of immigrants, it’s the other immigrants with who they compete in low-wage sector jobs.

We have a large and diverse country and that’s among our strengths. As long as overpopulation isn’t a factor, which it isn’t, we can absorb people willing to work in our society and grow our stateside economy. In fact, it would be better for all involved if this activity was in the real rather than the shadow economy, so the workers would contribute through taxes to the commons.

In a general sense I would sanction employers hiring undocumented immigrants because they’re almost certainly exploiting them. The rest of this is simple demagoguery, people taking out frustrations on the underclass about wage stagnation and joblessness which should be directed at the futility and mistakes of the overclass.

David Dayen

David Dayen