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Let them in and let them work



Let them in and let them work

In mid-October 2023, I wrote a draft of a blog post that I ultimately did not post. I reproduce it below, word for word, as I wrote it in October. In October I put it to a very pro-immigration friend and, while he largely agreed, he thought my proposal would have no chance of being accepted. The barriers for people to immigrate from anywhere, he rightly argued, are simply too high. So the idea of ​​letting in people from Gaza didn’t seem worth pushing.

He convinced me. I shouldn’t have let myself be convinced. Because look what just happened. The Biden administration is starting to talk about letting people in from Gaza. Here is a post from Dave DeCamp of, titled: “The White House is considering taking in Palestinian refugees from Gaza.”

And here is a quote from his short message:

The Biden administration is considering taking in certain Palestinian refugees and giving them permanent safe haven in the US. CBS News reported on Tuesday.

The report states that officials from several government agencies are exploring options to resettle Palestinians who have immediate family members who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. They are also considering making the option available to Palestinians with any family members who are American.

The number of Palestinians eligible for permanent resettlement in the US is expected to be relatively small, but the report said this would be the first time the US refugee program has accepted large numbers of Palestinians.

I should not have accepted the idea that proposals that seem unlikely today will also be unlikely in six or seven months.

Here is my post from October. I kept the same title.

Or at least let some in.

Nikki Haley and Ron DeSantis have been compete recently for the title of who most wants to keep people from Gaza out of the United States. I can’t compete because I want to allow a lot of people from Gaza to come to the United States. And even in the likely event that I cannot convince many people, I want to allow many people to leave Gaza. They are not allowed to do that now.

Many critics of the Israeli government’s policies have claimed that Israel has turned Gaza into an “open-air prison.” But a simple look at a map shows you that that can’t be true. The Israeli government cannot do it alone. What has turned Gaza into an open-air prison is the fact that the Israeli government will not let many Gazans into Israel, and the Egyptian government will not let many Gazans into Egypt. There is no complete lockdown for people entering Israel, or at least not before the horrific Hamas killings on October 7. Likewise, there has not been a complete lockdown in Egypt until recently. But in both cases it was a trickle.

There is of course another way to leave Gaza: by boat. But the Israeli navy is forcibly preventing people from leaving Gaza by boat.

Let’s imagine that the US government or some other government decides to let in some people from Gaza and the various governments convince the Israeli government to let them go. How would a government choose who to let in?

It should be clear that it is a very bad idea to let in members of Hamas or even non-members who strongly support the Hamas agenda of exterminating Jews. And vetting it is not easy. What types of documents would a government need? When I immigrated to the United States in 1977, I had to get a certificate from the RCMP that I had no criminal record in Canada. That was relatively easy to do. Can the US government trust a police force in Gaza as much as it could trust the RCMP? Probably not.

In short, I don’t have a good suggestion for vetting potential immigrants from Gaza. But that doesn’t mean no one does. In particular, I’d like to know what Alex Nowrasteh and David Bier, two immigration analysts and advocates of the Cato Institute, think.

One thing that helps the vetting problem is self-selection. Many people would rather stay in Gaza than leave because they still believe they can take over Israel and drive the Jews into the sea. Fortunately, that’s highly unlikely, but try telling them that.

Better yet, try not to tell them that. Leave them and choose from those who want to come.

Let’s say the vetting problem is solved. It’s unlikely that we’ll get a million people out of Gaza, for example. It’s more likely that there are hundreds of thousands. For example, if it were 200,000, that is about 10 percent of the population. That may not sound like much. But one conclusion I came to when I was an economist on President Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisers is that if you solve 10 percent of a problem, and do it with virtually no new government spending, you’ve done a lot.

And the way to get virtually no government spending, other than the amount spent on vetting, is to make it work. People coming from Gaza, like immigrants from other low-income countries, would immediately multiply their productivity, as Bryan Caplan has shown in Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration. So the government does not have to house or feed them.

You may wonder why then governments in various cities are busting their budgets to house and feed immigrants coming through our southern border. There is one important reason for this: they cannot work legally for the first 180 days they are here.

What about the fear that even those who do not support Hamas will be anti-Semitic? This is a reasonable fear. But before Ariel Sharon forcibly removed thousands of Jews from Gaza, those Jews got along quite well with many of their Arab neighbors. What has changed is that now the only contact most Gazans have ever had with Israelis (the average age of a Gazan is about 19) is with Israeli soldiers or the Israeli police. This will undoubtedly affect their general impression of Jews in a negative way. The late Carlos Ball, whose father was once the Venezuelan ambassador to the United States, told me that his father had said, “Never judge a country by its government bureaucracy.” The implication was that the people of any country are almost always nicer than the bureaucrats. If I had to judge Americans by the way the Immigration and Naturalization Service bureaucrats treated me, I wouldn’t have wanted to come. Likewise, many Gazans who come here might be anti-Semitic. But most of them would be too busy making money and enjoying the incredible wealth they would create. Trade creates peace. It also reduces racism.