Lifeboat Ethics As Regards Immigration.  Part II – April 23, 2022  (Review Part I here.)

Well-Considered Immigration Policies Require Painful Decisions.  Are We Up To It?

America needs a regular flow of immigrants, millions of them.  But the magnitudes greater numbers of migrants that would come were there no restrictions would overburden our systems and leave a lower standard of living for our children and grandchildren.

Beginning in 1787, America needed people to settle the vast new lands, so virtually unrestricted immigration was policy.  In 1921 policy was changed by the Emergency Quota Law and then by the Immigration Act of 1924, which established quotas based on national origins in order to freeze the demographic composition of America and cap the number of immigrants.  This quota system ended with the Nationality and Immigration Act of 1965, a “preference system” focused on family relationships and desirable skills.  With much confusing and contradictory legislation, that system continues to this day as America’s nominal immigration policy.

The 335 million residents of ‘lifeboat’ America are relatively safe and secure, but the world ‘ocean’ includes around 160 million desperate people who would enter America if they could.  America needs and can take on (assimilate?) a relatively small number of these people, upwards of 2 million a year to offset our declining birth rate.  But even with the ‘right’ combination of education, lingual and vocational skills, much more than that 2 million will burden the economy, infrastructure and social systems beyond what they contribute.  At some point they would swamp ‘lifeboat’ America.

Each job filled by an immigrant reduces the job pool for others.  While there are few jobs that Americans will not do, there are jobs that most Americans won’t do for the lower wages that immigrants will accept.  Immigrants do not compete for jobs equally across the economic spectrum; they ‘take’ jobs mostly from poorer Americans.  Most wealthier Americans experience virtually no competition from immigrants.  Rather, they benefit from paying lower wages to employees.

Working immigrants may pay the same taxes (or less) that would have been paid by citizens they displace from jobs.  Unemployed immigrants burden educational, medical, safety and social systems just as do unemployed citizens whose jobs have been taken by immigrants.  And many employed immigrants send a portion of their earnings out of the country to relatives living ‘back home’; virtually all wages paid to citizens are spent in America.

America has always needed and taken in immigrants, many more than any other country.  And we must continue to do so, including a reasonable number of refugees, legitimate asylum seekers and immigrant family dependents.  But were America to become the world’s unrestricted ‘lifeboat’ accepting virtually all comers, a huge cost would be imposed on present Americans, and on our posterity.  Continuation of America’s standard of living would seem to require that we govern our actions by ‘lifeboat ethics’, harsh though they may be.

What do you think?  Is the ‘lifeboat’ metaphor valid for America?  Why or why not?

Part III, our next blog, will suggest elements for a realistic modern immigration policy in America.

(For more, preview Immigration here.)

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