July 3, 2002

Six Reasons Why U.S. Immigration Policy Should be Reformed

By Douglas McGill
The McGill Report

As with parenting and motorcycle maintenance, the first rule of national immigration policy should be ďIf it ainít broke, donít fix it.Ē Even after 9/11, many people still argue that our present policy of essentially unchecked mass immigration is a wonderful idea.

I beg to differ. The thing looks broke to me. Here are six reasons why, and therefore, why our national immigration policy should be fixed:

1.   Our existing immigration policy does not flow from a national sense of identity and purpose.  Instead it is an ad hoc assemblage of civil rights, big business, and Cold War-era policies that have resulted in the greatest immigration wave in U.S. history. There has never been an effort to update our national immigration policy despite its having added 24 million people to the population Ė three New York Cities, or about one-tenth the countryís total -- in the past 10 years.

2.  Itís inhumane to bring so many people into the U.S. with no plan to educate them or their children. Todayís global economy depends more than ever on high-level skills and thus a high level of education to succeed. However, our present high tolerance for accepting illegal immigrants is based on their usefulness as low-wage workers.  A low-wage job can be a stepping stone to better jobs in the future, but thatís true only as long as education is available to help immigrants make that jump. It is not, and there are no plans to make it so.

  9/11 shows our present immigration policy puts America at great risk. Immigration policy cannot address the problem of homegrown terrorists, but it should be repaired so it no longer allows fanatical subcultures of foreign origin, devoted to Americaís destruction, to flourish here. Whether it is Timothy McVeigh, an American citizen, or Mohamed Atta, an Egyptian here on a temporary visa, the very presence of such subcultures in this country is an obvious risk.

4.  We need to debate the consequences of a 50% increase in the U.S. population by 2050. The Census Bureau estimates that the U.S. population will increase to 400 million in 2050, the vast majority of whom will be immigrants and their children. Such an increase will  exacerbate many social problems ranging from an overwhelmed welfare system to urban sprawl, school overcrowding, and the destruction of arable farm land. Hospitals, courts, and government agencies will be further stressed. Are we willing to accept these challenges in return for the benefits that high immigration brings? As a nation we are still mostly unconscious of the tradeoffs that we are already accepting in our daily lives. We need to become aware.

  We are forming a permanent underclass in America. It happened with the welfare state, and now itís happening with immigration. Research by respected groups such as the Center for Immigration Studies, the Urban Institute, and the Rand Corporation show that rates of income, home ownership, and citizenship have all declined steadily among immigrants since 1970, reversing more than 100 years of the opposite trend. The 2000 U.S. Census shows that the median household income by the mid-1990s had risen for a decade among most groups; among Hispanics, the fastest-growing immigrant group in the U.S., it dropped 5.1%. In California, where roughly a third of the 34 million people are Hispanic, many immigrants live and die speaking Spanish, never become American citizens, and never assimilate at all. They live in a different culture and a different economy. Itís not a matter of whether the U.S. can afford this economically. It certainly can, and both big business and consumers are benefiting from the low inflation that low wage workers make possible. The question is whether, in the long run, the U.S. can afford it culturally. 

   The present policy of tacitly accepting illegal immigrants is politically dubious and legally wrong. Time and again, strong business lobbies championed by U.S. legislators have beaten back the INS when the agency has tried to crack down on illegal immigrant laborers. The mass amnesty for illegal Mexican immigrants that came close to passing before 9/11 was a political lunge for the Hispanic vote that trumped fair policy-making. If the U.S. had passed that law and granted amnesty to four million Mexicans, on what possible legal grounds could it reject a similar plea from the four million illegal aliens of other ethnicities now living in the U.S.? It is not pleasant to contemplate increased enforcement of the existing 1986 law that prohibits the hiring of illegal aliens. Yet failure to do so means that we as a nation are embracing a two-tiered class system of the privileged and their servants. Guestworker programs and tacit acceptance of illegal immigration fundamentally promote such an unequal society.  Is that who we are? Is that who we want to become? If so, so be it. But we should at least be aware and consciously debate the question first.  

Copyright @ 2002 The McGill Report