The United States Immigration Debate

Problem of Immigration

At the end of the twentieth century, immigrants are coming to the United States in numbers seen only once before, at the beginning of the century. In earlier periods, most of the immigrants were white Europeans; today the great majority are Latino or non-white. Immigration is the most visible manifestation of the growing connection between the United States and the third world.

The arrival of these new immigrants is generating a backlash of opposition, for reasons that are both economic and cultural. The backlash is met in turn with a spirited defense of immigration. With each passing year, the debate grows more heated; immigration will probably be a major issue in the politics of the next decade and beyond.

This book defends immigration. Although I take serious account of the many reasons advanced for opposing immigration, I conclude that immigrants contribute positively to the quality of American life and that immigration is consistent with the moral values that Americans hold closest. The book is an attempt, therefore, to help stay the rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Chapter 1 begins with the debate itself. The chapter is not a description of the individual debaters; instead, it focuses on the reasoning. What are the many arguments for and against immigration?

The next seven chapters turn to an analysis of immigration. They answer the broad question: what do we need to know in order to make sense out of the debate? Chapter 2 surveys the history of immigration into the United States, showing how the current numbers compare with earlier waves, how immigration legislation has evolved and how the national backgrounds of the immigrants have shifted over time. Chapter 3 paints a portrait of today’s immigrants: where they come from and what their skills and backgrounds are. Chapter 4 turns to the question of why they come: what combination of social forces at work in their home countries and in the United States, plus individual

Unwelcome Strangers: American Identity and the Turn against Immigration. Contributors: David M. Reimers – author. Publisher: Columbia University Press. Place of Publication: New York. Publication Year: 1998. Page Number: 46.

ZPG did not take a stand on immigration numbers, although it did favor action to stem illegal immigration. The organization said that “the United States should adopt an overall goal for immigration as part of its national population.This goal should be set in the context of a federal commitment to plan for demographic changes and to stop population growth.” 11 Recognizing the shifting patterns of immigration, ZPG specifically insisted that immigrants and refugees “should be admitted equitably, without preference to race, national origin, color, religion, gender, or sexual preference.”

Immigration Policy

Immigration and population growth were not yet widely connected to environmentalism. 13 It Was in 1977 that Gerda Bikales, later closely tied to FAIR and head of U.S. English, made the connection clear. Writing in National Parks and Conservation Magazine Bikales argued:

Not so very long ago an article about United States immigration policy would have seemed out of place in a publication on environmental concerns; too social, surely, and outside the realm of interests of a readership dedicated to the preservation of the natural habitat.

The continued degradation of the environment, a growing national awareness of the adverse effects of increased population pressures upon our natural resources and of the ensuing decline of the quality of life, the swelling stream of immigrants landing on our shores and crossing our borders, and an immigration policy incapable of coping with this invasion have changed our perspective during the past decade.

Tony Smith, head of the National Parks and Conservation Association (NPCA), also wrote a piece about immigration and he too wanted his organization to take up the population issue. But in 1979, following a financial crisis in NPCA, Smith was ousted as president, and NPCA did not follow his advice.

The reluctance of NPCA and ZPG to become involved in the growing immigration debate was echoed by the Sierra Club, which adopted a controversial pro-choice position and favored population stabilization, yet was unwilling to take a stand on immigration. It was this very reluctance led environmentalists to form FAIR, which has become the major force in the new restrictionist movement.

Immigration or the welfare state

Article Title: Immigration or the Welfare State. Contributors: Ron Unz – author. Journal Title: Policy Review. Issue: 70. Publication Year: 1994. Page Number: 33.

On the policy level, important environmentalist groups such as Zero Population Growth and the Carrying Capacity Network have adopted a strong anti-immigration line, and the most prominent anti-immigration organization, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIP), has its origins in the environmentalist movement. Such hostility to immigration is rooted in the role that immigration plays in increasing America’s population and birth rate, and generating economic and industrial growth, all anathema to fervent environmentalists. Since most immigrants hail from crowded Third World nations in Latin America and Asia, one might also suspect that a mental image of immigrants turning the empty expanses of America’s natural beauty into another densely populated Hong Kong is also at the back of environmentalist concerns.

Then, too, there exists an obvious incompatibility between immigration and an extensive social welfare state, in which low-skilled newcomers are mouths to feed rather than hands to work. Even the most stubborn liberal Democrats must realize that extending America’s generous welfare benefits to all Third World inhabitants who cross our borders would quickly bankrupt any economy, and cause the collapse of the modern welfare state. Witness the recent Democratic proposal to fund national health care by eliminating various social benefits for legal immigrants, a position maintained despite the outrage of Hispanic and Asian Democrats. It is no coincidence that immigration is a much more dramatic political issue in California, which has an extensive welfare state, than in Texas, which does not.

These facts underlie the anti-immigrant rhetoric of Senator Barbara Boxer, Representative Tony Beilenson, and other prominent California liberal Democrats. Boxer has advocated such measures as building a defensive wall across the Mexican border, to be patrolled by the National Guard, while Beilenson has proposed amending the Constitution to deny the right of U.S. citizenship to immigrant children born in America. Proposals that the media only recently used to demonize as nativist the Buchananite right wing of the Republican Party have now become the common currency of the left wing of the Democratic Party. All of these forces are inevitably driving the Democratic Party toward an anti-immigration stance, and there is no policy change that can avert this conclusion. It is no coincidence that Governor Pete Wilson, a leading anti-immigrant figure in the Republican Party, is a very liberal Republican, being both a strong environmentalist and a firm believer in the social welfare state.

Thus, if used properly, immigration could serve as the issue that breaks the Democratic Party and forges a new and dominant conservative/Republican governing coalition. Certain major segments of the Democratic Party, aside from the Asians and Hispanics, are pro-immigrant or at least cosmopolitan, including Jews, academic and media elites, and top business executives. But they have neither the numbers or the fervor of the anti-immigrant elements, and, just as in the related issue of the Democratic Party’s gradual reversal of its historic support for free trade, they will eventually be pushed aside.

Furthermore, although many in these pro-immigrant Democratic groups have long recognized the failure of welfare policies, and the harms inflicted by bilingual education and affirmative action, they have usually been unwilling to attack these programs directly. Once it becomes absolutely clear that these policies inevitably provoke widespread anti-immigrant sentiment and simply cannot be reconciled with America’s traditional openness to immigrants, these Democratic groups will split into pro-welfare state and pro-immigrant wings, with the pro-immigrant wing being drawn toward a pro-immigrant Republican Party.

Rights and Ratios?

Evaluating the Relationship between Social Rights and Immigration. Contributors: Elizabeth J. Clifford – author, Brian K. Gran – author. Journal Title: Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Volume: 26. Issue: 3. Publication Year: 2000. Page Number: 417.

Whether we compare immigration levels to immigrants’ access to social welfare programmes or to overall access, our findings remain the same. Our second measure, based on the Pythagorean Theorem, captures and compares liberalism of the various countries somewhat better. Using this measure, we compare the extent to which immigrants have the same access to social welfare programmes that citizens do, while at the same time assessing the scope of the country’s social welfare programmes. Nevertheless, it is not clear that the use of the overall access measure provides a better opportunity to evaluate the rights-based hypothesis. Instead, it seems that what is important to immigration levels is not so much the overall level of liberalism, but how easily immigrants can gain access to the fruits of the welfare state: in this case, family allowances and old-age pensions.


What is the relationship between the number of immigrants entering a country and their eligibility for social welfare programmes in that country? The rights-based hypothesis suggests that countries have difficulties restricting immigration because of the expansion in rights. Consequently, we would expect immigration to increase correspondingly with rights.

The rights-based hypothesis receives mixed support from our research. For the 25 years that we examine, we find fluctuations in both social rights and immigration ratios. The rights-based hypothesis has explanatory strength for interpreting the immigration of children. Countries with more generous family-allowance programmes allow entry to more child immigrants. With the exception of countries with easily-fulfilled work-based requirements, the more generous the old-age pension programme, the fewer older immigrants permitted entry.

Our findings that the relationship between social rights and immigrants varies by age suggests that other factors may explain, perhaps in combination with social rights, differences in immigration levels. Rather than a natural growth in rights, countries may grant social rights to non-citizens in exchange for their contribution to the host society. Similarly, countries may use social rights as incentives. Family allowance programmes, for example, may be used to attract immigrant families with children in an effort to increase a country’s population. Gender differences in immigration levels raise questions about who benefits from social rights. Future research should place the rights-based hypothesis alongside or in combination with other explanations to evaluate reasons for fluctuations in long-term immigration.

How immigration harms minorities

Article Title: How Immigration Harms Minorities. Contributors: Norman Matloff – author. Magazine Title: Public Interest. Issue: 124. Publication Date: 1996. Page Number: 61.

The popular press tends to portray proposals to reduce yearly immigration quotas as pitting whites against nonwhites. Yet they are overlooking the fact that the downsides of immigration often fall more heavily and more directly on nonwhites, i.e., on blacks, Asians, and Latino Americans. As one Mexican American put it, when immigration’s negative impacts come, “We get hit first.”

It is thus no wonder that many minorities strongly support immigration reform, both in terms of legal and illegal immigration. An Empire State Survey taken in 1993 found that half of the immigrants in New York agreed with the statement, “Immigration has made this city a worse place in which to live.” In California’s 1994 vote on Proposition 187, the rates of “yes” votes among blacks, Asian Americans, and immigrants were all near the overall statewide rate of 59 percent. A Hispanic USA survey found that up to 80 percent of Mexican Americans agreed that “there are too many immigrants.”

And, though it has become politically popular to draw a sharp line between legal and illegal immigration, the fact is that minorities tend not to make this distinction, since the problems arising from the two kinds are typically the same – overcrowded schools and depressed wages. Moreover, the yearly volume of legal immigration is several times larger than that of the illegal kind. Thus, in this article, the term “immigration” will refer both to legal and illegal immigration, with an implicit focus on the former.

Most analyses of the impact of immigration focus on economic issues. These are not unimportant, and I will describe the economic harms brought upon minorities by immigration. Yet the noneconomic problems are at least as important, and probably more so. The current high yearly immigration quotas are contributing to a pervasive (though largely unconsciously created and maintained) new American caste system among U.S. minorities, with Asian immigrants at the top, native blacks on the bottom, and Latino immigrants in between. This has the unfortunate effect of undermining America’s commitment to improving the condition of blacks.

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