Just How Many Immigrants? – Let the Debate Begin

Published on January 20th, 2015

To some people, notes Simon Hankinson in a recent column in The Fiscal Times, we have a “broken” immigration system because “America does not admit enough immigrants legally and quickly.” This, incredibly, is at a time when – for the past 25 years – we’ve had the highest sustained level of legal immigration in our history, averaging around a million a year. In addition, during that period, several hundred thousand illegal immigrants per year have entered and settled permanently in the U.S.

Large-scale immigration made some sense in the 19th century when we still had wide-open and undeveloped spaces to fill. But what sense does it make to have such an ongoing influx when we are, and have been for quite some time, a fully developed country?

It’s a question that demands an answer, but is seldom asked in the media or by our elected officials and other policymakers. In 2013, to illustrate, the Senate passed legislation to increase legal immigration substantially, and for a time it appeared that it would become law.

Why can’t we discuss the numbers of immigrants, and whether those numbers are excessive? Hankinson, who is an MA candidate at the National Defense University, has some ideas. The primary problem, he maintains, is that sympathy for immigrants – particularly individuals – preempts serious discussion of the practical consequences of mass immigration.

With reference to the often-stated claim that foreigners simply want to come for the American Dream and to become Americans, Simon observes that “[T]here are so many would-be Americans in the world who would potentially make just as good citizens as any of us.” The problem is that we live in a world where “Bourgeoning populations, limited economic opportunities, wars, poor governance, and other push factors are going to get worse before they get better.”

Little Italy, New York City, circa 1900.

Later he wonders if immigration advocates want to raise immigration levels to “two million, five million, or ten?” Then he asks the key question: “What is the maximum annual capacity of the United States to absorb immigrants?”

Surely some limits are in order because the number of potential arrivals would constitute a tidal wave of humanity. In 2012, a Gallup poll found that 640 million adults worldwide would like to move somewhere else. Of those, 150 million said they would like to move to the United States. The four leading countries where they reside are China, Nigeria, India and Bangladesh.

Taking this basic number, nearly one-half of our current population, we could let them all in by increasing legal immigration to 10 million a year for the next 15 years. Would this cause strains and stresses on our society? Any sane person would have to concede that it would.

But wait, far more than 150 million people would come if that many were granted entry. The reason is that our immigration law gives high priority to family ties in deciding whom to admit. Legal immigrants can bring in their spouses, minor children and adult unmarried children. Once immigrants become citizens, they also can petition to bring in their parents, adult married children and siblings. These individuals, in turn, can bring in their relatives – and on and on.

Thus, in less than a couple of decades, the potential flow of immigrants could jump to as much as a half-billion, or even higher, as an expanding number of people find that they have a definite chance to come to America.

Immigration advocates style themselves as compassionate and moral for wanting to keep our Golden Door of immigration wide open. They insist that immigrants are the finest of people. Be that as it may, they have no excuse to dodge the simple question of just how many fine people can we accept before sheer numbers overwhelm us – fiscally, culturally and environmentally. It is not compassion to ignore practical consequences; it is grossly unethical and grossly irresponsible.

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