Is There Any Limit to Immigration?

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013 and is filed under Blog, Immigration, News

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We’ve been entreated to endless platitudes and bromides over the past few months about the virtues of immigration.  But like most other positive things in life, everything must be applied in moderation.  Too much of anything is no good.  This is especially true with regards to immigration.

One question that the politicians in Washington refuse to answer is how much immigration is too much.  They seem to have no understanding of the current baseline and historical trends of immigration.  Over the past few decades, and particularly over the past 15 years, we have let in over 1 million new legal immigrants every year.  That is more than at any other time in our history, including the great wave of immigration at the turn of the 20th century.

And speaking of the great wave of immigration, there are 4 fundamental differences between then and now.

1)      We had no welfare state over 100 years ago.  As such, we could let in many immigrants with the understanding that they would have to rely on rugged individualism.

2)      We had no multicultural society and lobby for bilingual education.  Now we have it in spades.

3)      The country was still relatively new and filling up.  While I don’t believe we are overpopulated, I don’t think we specifically need to fill up the country. At this point, immigration should be more about targeting those who best benefit the country than simply padding our numbers.

4)      Most importantly, after this historic wave of immigration, Congress shut off immigration for almost 4 decades.  In 1924, President Coolidge signed the law that took our annual immigration flow from 400,000-800,000 down to 50,000-200,000 for many years.  Now, after years’ worth of 1 million+ annual flows of immigration, instead of implementing a slowdown (not a shutoff) so that we can assimilate those already here, the politicians want to double our record baseline.

When immigration is done properly and gradually it can enrich the civil society, improve the economy, and strengthen the character of our nation.  But when done too precipitously, it can destroy our culture and balkanize the nation.  No conservative can contend that the status quo is working.  We are already having serious problems with dependency and patriotic assimilation.

Just yesterday, CBO published its updated report on the description of the immigrant population.  They find that we have a record 40 million foreign born residents in the country and the highest percentage of foreign born since 1920 – the end of the great wave, after which we shut off the spigot.  Some states have shockingly high averages.  California is now 26.1% foreign born!  Again, if we want to remain a country and a civil society that passes down our shared values and traditions, we need to preserve the melting pot and preclude it from becoming a salad bowl.  There are legitimate grey areas where policymakers can disagree, but it is clear that we have already crossed that line between a melting pot and a balkanized state.  Doubling that level is just preposterous.

Which brings me to today’s Senate Judiciary Committee markup of the amnesty bill.  Senator Sessions offered an amendment to cap all future flow of legal immigration at 1.2 million per year – still higher than the current record levels.  Remember, at this time after the great wave in the ‘20s, we dramatically shut down immigration.  Nobody is suggesting we do that.  All Sessions was asking for is some sort of a reasonably record high cap.  Every single member of the committee, including some great conservatives, voted it down.

Folks, there is a serious lack of education regarding the history and current trends of our immigration system.  Almost none of these members have ever studied the annual DHS yearbook on immigration to understand the baseline that they wish to increase.  None of them have ever provided a specific number or level of immigration that would ever be too much.  Do they have such a limit?

I hear some members suggesting that the way to stop illegal immigration is by having an expansive legal immigration system.  But again, how much?  You could never have a large enough legal immigration system to accommodate everyone in the world who wants to come here, thereby preventing people from entering illegally or overstaying their visas.  Just last year, a whopping 8 million people applied for the diversity visa lottery!  So even an annual level of 2 million green cards would not be sufficient to cover all those who yearn to come here.  According to a recent Pew survey, 35% of Mexicans would like to come here.  That’s 39 million people from one country.

As we look for candidates to endorse this election cycle, this is one issue we will focus on heavily and help educate candidates about the broader implications of such an expansive immigration policy.  Immigration policy is too important to our fiscal and social well-being for it to be driven by emotion, platitudes, and dearth of facts.  We are conservatives after all.