Illegal Immigration: A Matter of Utility Maximization

People view immigration through many different lenses. As the son of a Cuban immigrant who has spent much of my time volunteering with newly arriving immigrants, I am often puzzled by those who do not understand why immigrants travel to America. While I understand and respect various opinions on the topic, I encourage people to take a rational perspective before judging illegal immigrants.

Ignoring moving costs, economics tell us that people will switch between locations until each location has the same utility. According the CIA World Factbook, the GDP per capita in 2014 was $4,700 in Honduras, $8,000 in El Salvador, and $7,500 in Guatemala. Comparatively, the GDP per capita in 2014 in the United States was $54,800. Looking at another statistic, Honduras was named the murder capital of the world, with 90.4 homicides per 100,000 people in 2012, according to a United Nations study. El Salvador came in fourth, with 41.2 homicides per 100,000 people, closely followed by Guatemala, which came in fifth with 39.9 homicides per 100,000 people. Comparatively, the homicide rate in the United States is 5 per 100,000 people.

I would encourage people to take a step back and think before judging illegal immigrants. After all, economics tells us that we are all utility maximizing individuals.

-Jake Medina



6 thoughts on “Illegal Immigration: A Matter of Utility Maximization

  1. ddowen17

    It is clear to understand that immigrants come to the United States to maximize their own utility and to seek a better future. A common question may be how these immigrants affect the US economy and native workers. I recently read an article that showed when looking at the effect immigrants have on local labor demand, they can create downward pressure on non-immigrant’s wages and benefit the non-immigrants by increasing the variety of local services available. On average, each immigrant creates 1.2 local jobs for local workers, and they increase local non-tradeable sector wages, benefitting the US economy. So before judging the immigrants, we should ponder the positive effects that they have on our economy.

  2. nmlori16

    As this post shows, immigrants would economically do better in the US. But, there are more factors that could entice these workers to come to the US like the environment, education systems and corrupt governments. For example, in Tijuana which was an industrial manufacturing giant for US companies in the early 2000’s. The people of Tijuana are still facing the terrible environmental and health problems associated with the US factories that are situated right above their towns. Their water is polluted, the workers were exposed to toxic chemicals and their children are breathing in chemically filled air everyday. The money that the US companies paid Mexican workers was more than the workers could find elsewhere, but the US manufacturers in Tijuana forgot about health and safety standards for their workers in exchange for saving some money. Therefore, the city of Tijuana is permanently marked by big business. They still need to provide for their families but their towns are now polluted and controlled by a government that will not help. Why wouldn’t these workers try to work in the United States where there are some laws protecting workers from big businesses?

  3. richardbarber68

    The experience you have with immigration is second to none among people I know. Getting to work up close with immigrants must be quite an experience. Perhaps if more people that bash illegal immigration were to try volunteering with new immigrants in America, their views would change. At least this is what I’d like to think. I am very appreciative of your encouragement for others to be open minded about illegal immigration. Very nice statistics to help your case as well. A large amount of Americans do not consider the situation of a lot of illegal immigrants, especially with what has happened in Honduras.

  4. anthonycritelli

    You bring up some great points in this post. Some people have harsh feelings for immigrants, but it is important to put yourself in their shoes and think about why they may be immigrating in the first place. The United States many times offers a hope for a better life in many different aspects, and so it is important to take this into consideration. The statistics you share also make a convincing case for why people choose to immigrate to America.

  5. Victor Matheson

    There is the caveat that increased low-skilled immigration is likely to put downward pressure on low-wage workers in the US. That being said, one would think the sort of people likely to immigrate are those most willing to work hard to make their futures better. In other words, they are exactly the sort of people one wants as citizens.

  6. jerojas16

    Jake, you and Professor Matheson nailed it. Immigrants are just people that want to improve their way of life and set up their family for the best future possible. One thing i’d like to add is that some of the jobs that illegal aliens acquire are those that would not be taken by low-skilled American workers in the first place. i.e harvesting food, working at dairy farms, etc.

    Here is a nice little snippet from vice news that highlights just that. In the video ~ 3 minute mark the narrator goes to a labor office and asks unemployed Americans (Don’t know whether they are low skilled workers or not) if they’re willing to work at a dairy farm that has open job opportunities. Mostly everyone said no, but the hispanic workers said yes.

    *Some explicit language


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