The Case for More Immigration
For the first time in a quarter-century, and only the fourth in our entire history, Congress is attempting a comprehensive update of our immigration laws. The Senate has already passed a bill and the House of Representatives is now deliberating on a version of its own. If, in concurrence with the President, they produce legislation, it could be the most important action taken by our government in this decade. It would not only change the blend of the American clay, it would significantly influence any number of powerful issues, from competitiveness to national purpose. Immigration policy, in short, critically affects the relative position and prosperity of the United States, both domestically and on the international scene.
The first thing to be said about current immigrant flows to this country is that in historical terms they are fairly moderate. While the actual number of foreign citizens now entering the U.S. may seem high—about 650,000 per year, counting legals, illegals, and refugees, and subtracting out-migration-it amounts all in all to an annual increase in the population of only about one-fifth of 1 percent. At the turn of the century, by contrast, when immigration was at its height, it increased the U.S. population by about 1 percent per year. Furthermore, the fraction of our current population that is foreign-born is not only well below earlier U.S. peaks, it is lower than the present levels in several West European nations, and considerably below the proportions in other immigrant nations like Australia and Canada.
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