Assessing Immigration to America

The economic and social consequences of America’s immigration policies – both deliberate and by default – are among the most hotly debated issues of our time. According to CarryingCapacity.org, the United States “now accepts over one million legal immigrants each year, which is more than all of the other industrialized nations in the world, combined.” Additionally, according to ImmigrationCounters.com, there are nearly 23 million illegal immigrants currently living in the U.S.

Attempting to quantify and project the costs and benefits of immigration into the U.S. is not easy. According to About.com, quoting the Federation for American Immigration Reform, “the costs of education, health care and incarceration of illegal aliens to Californians is $10.5 billion per year.” According to the Center for Immigration Studies, “households headed by illegal aliens imposed more than $26.3 billion in costs on the federal government in 2002 and paid only $16 billion in taxes, creating a net fiscal deficit of almost $10.4 billion.”

Statistics abound – and for every study suggesting that America’s immigration is creating a burden on the economy, there is another that concludes the opposite, that immigrants continue to provide a net economic benefit to the economy. So rather than provide yet another regurgitation of battling statistics, it is important to note some crucial qualitative differences between immigration trends in America today, compared with past centuries in America.

WHY IMMIGRATION TO AMERICA IS DIFFERENT TODAY THAN IT WAS 50+ YEARS AGO:

(1)  Immigrants today are not coming from nations of equal or greater economic achievements to America. In the past, immigrants from Europe, for the most part, were emigrating from nations that were as advanced as the United States was, if not more so. Today the overwhelming volume of immigrants are coming from developing nations.

(2) Immigrants in the past came primarily from European nations which had cultural values – educational, religious, and political – that were, if not nearly identical to American cultural values, were on a shared trajectory towards achieving those values. Immigrants today come from nations that, relatively speaking, have far less cultural similarities to America than past waves of immigrants.

(3) Immigrants today, for the most part, are coming from nations that are rapidly increasing in population and, in aggregate, dwarf the United States in population. Related to this is the fact that in the past, the people already in America were themselves rapidly increasing in population, but this is no longer the case, except among populations of recently arrived immigrants.

(4) Immigrants in the past arrived in an America that had a voracious need for unskilled workers. Today the American economy is relentlessly automating jobs that used to require unskilled labor, and the American population already has a surplus of unskilled workers.

(5) Immigrants today are arriving in a welfare state, where they are assured of food, shelter and medical care that is, in general, orders of magnitude better than anything available to them in their native countries. This creates a completely different incentive to today’s immigrants. In past centuries, immigrants came to America to find freedom and to work. Today they are offered a smorgasbord of taxpayer-funded social services.

(6) Immigrant students today – especially in the coastal urban centers where most of them settle – enter a public education system that teaches them with a reverse-racist, anti-capitalist bias. They are taught in our public schools not to assimilate, but to celebrate diversity, not to earn opportunities through hard work, but through fighting discrimination. They are taught, often in their native language, that they have arrived in a nation dominated by racist and sexist white males, who exploit the world to amass evil profits.

(7) Immigrants today arrive via ten hour hops on an airliner, past waves of immigrants spent ten months traversing land and sea in a journey of staggering expense and significant dangers. While this isn’t universally true, particularly for those who risk America’s southern border, in general it is – coming to America today does not require the commitment it required in the past.

(8) Similarly, in the past, immigrants pretty much renounced the nations of their origin, they made a one-way trip, and they adopted the language and values of America. Today, retaining cultural unity with one’s country of origin is a few clicks on the internet, a cheap telephone call, an affordable airfare. Technology has greatly eroded the forces that used to impel immigrants to become Americans.

The impact of these eight differences between immigration to America today, compared to immigration to America in the past, are clearly social and cultural in nature. The reader is free to determine for themselves whether or not the social and cultural shifts that are occurring due to these eight factors is significant, or desirable. But it is fair to suggest there is also an economic fall-out from these eight factors, which by default constitute America’s immigration policy today.

Clearly an increasing population, all else held equal, does cause overall economic expansion. It isn’t clear at all, however, that this is the optimal way to create economic expansion. First of all, global human population is destined to level off by 2050 anyway, so rather than expanding the population through immigration, economic policy needs to search for the answer as to how to continue to experience economic growth despite a stable, aging population. In Japan, they have already made this policy decision – with zero net immigration and the oldest population on earth, Japan leads the world in the development of androids that will, presumably, become caregivers to the elderly. Economic growth oriented towards improving the quality of life for the elderly is one example of a sustainable growth sector – economic growth dependent on an immigrant-fueled population expansion is not sustainable.

In the short-term, immigration policy reformers might make it a priority to examine points (4) unskilled workers, (5) welfare state, and (6) reverse-racist culture. Immigration itself is not bad, and the other factors differentiating immigration today vs. immigration in the past, points 1-3, 7, and 8, are themselves not nearly as of concern, if the three points relating to job-skills, welfare, and cultural messaging are addressed.

To suggest Americans ought to resist competing with highly skilled immigrants, for example, is not only xenophobic, but it smacks of an entitlement mentality. Allowing immigrants into the United States who are qualified to join our ranks of scientists, engineers, researchers and doctors will only help our economy and overall standard of living. Allowing unskilled immigrants into this country, however, when we already have tens of millions of unskilled workers who are either in our prisons or collecting welfare – who themselves could perform this work – is much more likely to constitute a drain on our economy.

Similarly, allowing immigrants into an America where public school teachers crow about the evils of capitalism and the incorrigible racist, sexist core of our American culture is a recipe for disaster. This is particularly true when accompanying this siren song of corruption is easy access to social services of all kinds, including welfare. If new immigrants are taught the cards are stacked against them, and at the same time they are offered a free ride that provides a standard of living many times greater than what they knew in the countries they came from, why work?

A long time ago, when discussing the demographic trends of modern immigration with a friend of mine who worked in public policy, I asked him how the millions of immigrants arriving in America would assimilate. The question had an urgency then, and even more so now, based on these significant differences between immigration in the past compared to immigration today. His answer was illuminating, albeit cliche – “it depends on how they’re treated,” he said.

This is the crux of the issue – how immigrants are treated when they arrive in America – not who they are or where they come from. If immigrants today arrive in a nation that recovers the values that greeted immigrants in prior centuries, then they will adapt, they will work, they will be successful, they will contribute, and they will appreciate becoming an American. But if they continue to arrive in a nation undermined by leftist educators and self-serving welfare administrators, their increasing numbers will only become increasingly problematic.

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