Immigration - Discussion

Main Points

  1. Around 200-million adults worldwide want to emigrate to America; we can’t take them all.
  2. Three principles are essential for successful immigration policy.
  3. Present U.S. immigration policy cannot be successful.
  4. What must we do to have a successful immigration policy?

Questions & Answers

  1. 200 million!  Where do you get that number?

    In March 2013, Gallup published the results of their international poll on migration attitudes (  It showed that around 630-million adults would like to leave their country permanently and move somewhere else.  The No. 1 desired destination is the United States: 138-million adults.  Assuming one child for every two adults, that comes to 207-million people.

    Q:Of course we can’t suddenly take in 200-million additional immigrants.  But even if we ended all restrictions, not all those people would actually come.

    No, surely not.  Many factors inhibit people from emigrating from their homeland, even those who say they’d like to.  (And many things force people who don’t want to move, to become refugees.)  But any reasonable person can see that our immigration numbers would jump by magnitudes if we opened our borders.  We have trouble accommodating a little over a million immigrants each year.  What would happen if that number suddenly became 3, or 5 or 8 million?  The impact on education, social programs, housing, employment, welfare, infrastructure, etc. would be agonizing.  And, of course, some of these immigrants would threaten our safety.  We have a right and a responsibility to control who comes to our country.

    Q:Many argue that we’re doing that adequately right now.

    Sure, we have some barriers on the southern border.  We require passports of those who come through ports of entry.  We have a list of people categories we won’t knowingly allow in – avowed communists, fascists, anarchists, the diseased or mentally incompetent, etc.  But most of those entering legally are vetted only minimally or not at all.  Millions have entered illegally, of course, with no vetting at all.  And half-a-million close relatives of permanent residents enter legally each year with no further qualifications.  We could talk for hours about the problems and inconsistencies of our present immigration policy and practice.

  2. Immigration presents immigration policies of many nations.  Which one has a policy we should emulate?

    None of them.  I examined eleven policies of seven nations, including the three we’ve had in the United States.  Some were disasters.  Some were / are highly successful.  But none addresses today’s unique circumstances in America.

    Q:Such as ...

    Well, if you ask any three or four people why we should take in immigrants, you’ll surely get three or four different answers.  And probably none of them will include the reality that the birth rate in America is below what’s necessary to sustain our population; it’s been that way for decades and likely won’t change.  Our workforce has been declining.  We have thousands of miles of coastlines and unpatrolled borders.  We have a tradition of freedom and exceptionalism that is unique in the world.  So we require a unique immigration policy.

    Q:Probably almost everyone would agree that our immigration policy is unique, and most would also agree that it needs to be changed … it’s not successful!  What does it take?

    All successful immigration policies adhere to three general guidelines; all the unsuccessful policies deviate from at least one of these guidelines.

    1. Immigration must be guided by a very few clearly-articulated national interests,
    2. Immigration must be consistently implemented through laws and controls that advance that purpose, and
    3. Immigrants must acculturate (assimilate) effectively without avoidable delay.

    Q:Give examples of nations’ successful and unsuccessful immigration policies.

    First, understand that success is the degree to which a policy achieves its stated purpose.  If you enjoy good results without a clear policy, you’re just lucky.  If we don’t follow a coherent policy, we’re trusting our future to luck. Here are examples:

    • In the early nineteenth century, Mexico lost what became Texas.  The need to populate that territory was clearly articulated, and laws supported that interest.  But Mexico didn’t consistently enforce those laws, and it didn’t require immigrants to assimilate.
    • Since 1958, French immigration policies have violated all three guidelines.  National migration interests are rarely well articulated and never long range; French law allows for frequent change, membership in the Schengen-area free movement protocol renders the border ineffective and, even into the third and fourth generations, Muslim immigrants are not well assimilated or integrated.
    • Singapore and Australia have enjoyed great success with their immigration policies, which, though quite different, rigidly adhere to all three immigration guidelines.  And, likewise, the United States’ first two immigration policies were highly successful.  But not our present one.

  3. Okay, America’s present immigration policy is a mess, and almost nobody likes it (albeit for different reasons).  But if we enforce the laws and build that wall, won’t it then become successful?

    No.  None of the guidelines for successful immigration is reflected in our current policy, starting with the imperative of a clear national interest.  Ending the discriminations inherent in the quota system that had been in place since 1921 was a clear mandate for passage of the Hart-Cellar Act in 1965.  But the same Act introduced diluting and conflicting rationale, and subsequent acts have added objectives until we now have at least six conflicting national interests to be served by immigration policy.  It’s impossible to serve them all.

    Q:What are conflicts that exist in our immigration laws?

    Well, first consider numbers.  Hart-Cellar established an annual limit of 290,000 total immigrants.  Its proponents ‘promised’ that total immigration would never exceed that number.  But the Act exempts family members from that limit.  So persons born or naturalized in the United States can bring in virtually all their close relatives without restriction.  Almost half of our annual 1-million-plus legal immigrates enter under that provision, and the number grows each year as immigrants have babies and become naturalized.

    Hart-Cellar proponents assured continuance of a stable demographic profile of America through a 20,000 person annual limit on immigrants from any one country … except ‘family’, refugees, asylum seekers and anyone else granted entrance or amnesty under ‘parole’ powers given to the President / Attorney General.  The demographic profile of America has become distinctly different than what it was from 1921 – 1965.

    The proponents of Hart-Cellar recognized that America’s economy can accommodate only a small number of immigrants having no special skills, without lowering living standards.  But the cascade of persons entering as family, refugees and illegally includes few with the special skills needed by today’s economy.  Indeed, of the 10-million immigrants granted status as legal permanent residents during 2001-2010, only 15% were classified as Priority Workers, Professionals, Skilled and Unskilled Workers.

    And one final conflict:  Immigration is supposed to adhere to security concerns, and so the law specifically prohibits entry of various categories including anarchists, communists, etc.  But it gives preference to religious teachers and workers without consideration of whether some will be teaching things not in our interest (islamist Jihad and Shariah law, for instance).

    Q:Okay, so lacking one of the three guidelines is enough to doom an immigration policy.  But what of the other guidelines?  The second has to do with laws and regulations.  This must be the one that illegal immigration violates.

    The way we handle illegal immigration is the most visible violation of the second guideline.  But it’s not the only way we flout this requirement for successful immigration.

    Laws and rulings concerning immigration rival the tax code in their mind-numbing complexity and stifling effect on efficiency.  Many immigrants who come here legally expend years to navigate the labyrinth of our immigration laws, an almost paralyzing process for most immigrants other than family and certain refugees.

    The layers of regulations and court rulings have so negated the intent of immigration laws that most persons slated for deportation can delay the process for years, or indefinitely, if they choose.  That puts a real damper on enforcement.

    Q:In your book you say that 25% to 50% of our illegal aliens originally came here legally.  How does that work?

    In addition to documented immigrants, more than 150-million people enter and leave the United States legally each year.  Most foreigners – business travelers, tourists, students, etc. – enter on visas that allow them to stay for defined, relatively short periods.  Some simply don’t leave when they should.  Those who overstay their visas become illegal aliens / immigrants – up to half of our entire illegal immigrant population.  And we don’t keep track of such illegals … even though we could.  Databases that store traveler arrival and departure information are maintained, but there’s no indication that such data is routinely matched with visa data to identify and apprehend aliens who’ve overstayed their visas.

    Q:The third pillar of successful immigration policy is assimilation.  And that’s an individual matter.  How can we be at fault for any immigrant’s choice to not assimilate?

    Indeed, assimilation is a conscious or default decision on the part of each immigrant.  But, increasingly, we make it easier for immigrants to not assimilate.  For instance, assimilation in America requires fluency and communication in English, but instead of making that a requirement for immigration, or even a necessity once here, we make it easy for immigrants to cling to their former language.  You can see such anti-assimilation forces at work today in America – the use of multiple languages in public schools, government, signage, commerce and media; official recognition of foreign holidays such as cinco de mayo and dies y seis; and even foreigners working to preserve loyalty to Mexico among Mexican migrants to America.

  4. So what do we do about it?  How do we get a successful immigration policy?

    It’s very doubtful that we’ll arrive at an immigration policy and system that we want and need by standard congressional practice of passing incremental changes to existing law.  That approach has been taken for the past 50 years, or so.  What’s needed is to construct a new policy that attends to the three guidelines, then replace the entire mass of existing immigration law with that new policy.

    That won’t be easy, but it can be done if the President and leaders of Congress resolve to do it.  As in 1965, the effort could begin with joint House and Senate hearings to arrive at consensus of what national interest(s) require immigration and, to some extent, how many and what type of immigrants.  That will be the lengthiest and most difficult step.

    Once we have defined the relevant national interest, and with a little discipline on the part of our leaders, passing laws that facilitate bringing in immigrants who characteristically support that interest will be much easier.  Much of the administrative procedure for implementing the laws should be written into the laws (as is done in Australia, for instance), to minimize the extent to which administration can be used to thwart the laws.

    As much as practicable, the new laws would prevent or discourage anti-assimilation practices and behavior.

    Finally, the new immigration law(s) would repeal, en mass, all prior immigration legislation.

    Q:Okay, that’s a neat process.  But what specific provisions should be in the new immigration policy?

    Nobody knows.  Of course, almost anyone you ask can say what they think should be in the policy.  Including me.  But all opinions are irrelevant until we’ve agreed on the specific national interest(s) to be served by that policy.  We need to start with crafting that long-overdue consensus … without further delay.