There were two interesting articles in today’s New York Times. Leave it to me to try to turn them into one idea. The first was The Immigration Facts Donald Trump Doesn’t Like. It lists figures regarding the policing of illegal immigration. The other describes the efforts of GiveDirectly to establish a universal basic income program in Kenyan villages with the purpose of eliminating poverty, The Future of Not Working .
The most modest number from the first article is that we spend about $2 billion a year to maintain 34,000 beds for illegal immigrants who are detained and awaiting due process. This is important because it is a yearly cost, not a massive one-time expenditure. Put another way, it’s sustainable.
Here’s where the other article comes in. GiveDirectly is paying the residents of about 40 rural Kenyan villages the equivalent of $22 a month. The idea is that most foreign aid is paid in kind and is often useless to its recipients either because it does not work or is not something they need. But everyone can use cash and put it directly to use as necessity demands, whether it is to pay children’s school fees or for food or medicine or to invest in a business. The total cost of this is only $3 million a year and the plan is funded in some places to run for twelve years.
Imagine solving two problems at once. Let’s assume the illegal immigrants have come to America because there is poverty in their home countries. What if we just stopped rounding up immigrants and sent the $2 billion directly to the home countries? That kind of money would go a long way in Guatemala or Honduras. (Not so far in Mexico, but there are very few Mexicans coming into the US according to the article.) The immigrants who can’t come legally would have an incentive to stay home and the remittance money they send sporadically, when they are not being exploited, would be a steady thing. As for the “bad hombres” Trump is worried about, well, the last I checked we still arrest criminals in the US so I suspect they’ll get busted when they commit a crime.
Let’s think bigger. The second article also says that the cost to bring ALL of the world’s poor above the poverty line is $22 billion dollars. Now that’s a lot for you or me and I sure wouldn’t want to get a bill like that in the mail, say for a wall I don’t need, but it’s only equal to the amount spent every year in the US on lottery tickets. Instead of funding education with gambling, let’s fund it directly and use the lottery money to turn the world’s poor into consumers.
If that were the deal, even I would buy a lottery ticket. And everyone would win.