Immigrants to the United States, rights advocates say, are treated like cattle. Little do they know how wrong they are. Cattle are treated much better. In fact, as I write, alien cows are swarming America's borders, and the U.S. government is welcoming this mass of bovinity with open arms. Such inconsistency cries out for reform, and the steaks -- pardon, stakes -- could hardly be higher.
In an age when anti-immigrant opinion shapes policy from Phoenix to Paris, there is one group that still manages to cross borders and swap nationalities with ease: cows. The United States places no caps on the number allowed in each year, and the country saw 2 million immigrant cattle in 2009, a year when only 1 million human immigrants became permanent residents and the Department of Homeland Security recorded an 800,000-person fall in the illegal immigrant population. In other words, the net flow of humans was about one-tenth the flow of cattle.
Cows can travel across global borders with relative impunity, covered by the umbrellas of the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement. When violence in Mexico made it more dangerous for U.S. government officials to travel across the border to pre-process bovine immigrants last year, the Agriculture Department immediately responded by opening up additional facilities inside the United States to ensure the cows weren't delayed in their relocation.
And the benefits of being a bovine don't stop at the border. Once in the United States, Canadian and Mexican cattle have to be treated just like native-born cows -- they can't be labeled differently to consumers or otherwise discriminated against. Canadian and Mexican people have no such luck. For example, Canadian Kiefer Sutherland, star of the hit TV show 24, couldn't apply for the government job he pretends to have on TV, despite his character's role as a forceful practitioner of truth, justice, and the American way.
One element of this bovine bias is that cows get immediate access to the U.S. welfare system. In 2009, 9 million dairy cows living in the United States received $1.35 billion in subsidies, regardless of their country of origin. That's about $20,000 a year per bovine household (or herd, which averages around 133 cows). Meanwhile, annual payments for the average human household on welfare are only around $16,800 -- and, of course, around four-fifths of legal immigrants aren't on any type of welfare at all, while illegal and nonpermanent human residents aren't even eligible. If you want to see a real welfare queen, check out a dairy cow.
What makes the U.S. favoritism toward cattle particularly odd is that every additional Mexican or Canuck cow actually is taking a job from a native-born cow -- a common argument against letting in non-American laborers. Demand for bovine labor has been falling over time, as both milk and beef become a smaller proportion of the U.S. diet.
Conversely, for humans, the net effect of immigration has been to create more jobs for native workers -- and especially low-skilled workers -- according to a 2010 analysis by economists Gianmarco Ottaviano, Giovanni Peri, and Greg Wright. That's because human immigrants boost demand for the output of other humans by doing jobs that would otherwise be outsourced abroad, producing goods for export, and spending money in the local market. Again, Peri compiles statistics from across U.S. states, finding that there is no evidence that immigrants crowd out native unskilled employment -- and considerable evidence that they actually increase productivity: Each 1 percent increase in employment due to immigrants is associated with a half-percent rise in state income per worker between 1960 and 2006.