Commentary Magazine

Border War

To the Editor:

Linda Chavez’s article is anything but realistic about the ramifications of mass immigration for America [“The Realities of Immigration,” July-August]. Perhaps the most major adverse consequence is rapid population growth. According to the Census Bureau, the U.S. population has grown by almost 50 million since 1990, mostly due to immigration. By 2050, it is projected to be 40-percent larger than it is today.

Rapid population growth puts severe strains on society, especially when it comes to the poorly educated and the labor market. Linda Chavez cites studies showing how immigration adversely affects native-born high-school dropouts, but she is dismissive of this large segment of society for its lack of motivation and its low labor-force participation. My own research and that of others have shown that the low participation rates can be attributed largely to the competition from immigrants, which takes away jobs and drives down wages. Rather than giving up on our own people, we should help them become economically self-sufficient by limiting mass immigration.

Linda Chavez believes that continuing mass immigration is an economic necessity. I know of no economist who shares this view. Immigration has been shown to have a very small impact on the overall economy. That is because the large gains it creates for high-income Americans are offset by the large losses it produces for low-income Americans. Immigration, like other aspects of globalization, increases inequality.

If immigration were reduced, the U.S. economy would do what it does best, namely, adapt. Employers would raise wages, reorganize, and invest in new technologies in response to labor shortages. Standards of living would rise.

Linda Chavez is enthusiastic about the Senate immigration bill, but she fails to note that the White House has estimated that it will double the rate of legal immigration over the next two decades. Other estimates are much higher. Nor does the experience of the 1986 amnesty give much hope that the Senate bill will reduce illegal immigration. Perhaps Linda Chavez looks forward to living in a much more crowded country. I, for one, do not.

Steven Shulman

Colorado State University

Fort Collins, Colorado


To the Editor:

Linda Chavez claims that in my 1995 book, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, I called for “more immigrants who look like me.” This is flatly untrue. Instead, I called for a moratorium, for no net immigration. I am not going to accuse her of lying because I know from experience that immigration enthusiasts are motivated by intense emotion and are literally incapable of telling truth from falsehood.

In particular, they are apt to project their own motivations onto their opponents. Because Linda Chavez wants to expand the ethnic groups to which she is allied, she naturally assumes that everyone else wants to do the same for their group. Thus, she finds it “curious” that I, a white, can be interested in the impact of immigration on American blacks, whose unemployment rate has actually risen during the current recovery. But beyond smearing me as a racist, she feels no need to address the facts. Conveniently for her, whites in today’s America are not supposed to defend their own interests.

The bottom line in the immigration debate is this: for more than fifteen years, the consensus among labor economists, confirmed by the 1997 National Research Council report, has been that native-born Americans gain no significant benefit, in aggregate, from the unprecedented influx of immigrants since 1965. America is being transformed for nothing. There is no economic rationale for our policy—except for the special interests who fund Washington think tanks. There must be a political rationale. What is it? Why does Linda Chavez want to transform America?

Peter Brimelow



To the Editor:

Linda Chavez’s article misses many critical facts. There is a limit to how many people the United States can sustain with a reasonable standard of living. The population has more than doubled to 300 million in the last 50 years. More people mean more crowding of schools and highways, destruction of farmland for housing, and increased demand for imported petroleum.

President Bush slanders the American worker when he says that immigrants do work that Americans are no longer willing to do. Americans will do any work if they are given decent pay and working conditions.

Linda Chavez states that “employers favor immigrants” over “poorly educated natives” who are often lacking in “motivation.” This slam on blacks and poor whites may be partly true, but is an insufficient reason to allow unfettered immigration. If immigration is stopped or severely limited, there will be a need to educate the uneducated and motivate the unmotivated. The needs of these Americans must come before those of would-be immigrants.

Lawrence Briskin

Centerville, Ohio


To the Editor:

Linda Chavez’s article seems to overlook some critical points. First, while emphasizing the economic and cultural dimensions of immigration, she gives less attention to nationalistic concerns. Is not citizenship related to embracing the national creed, or have we lost confidence in what America stands for? Are we unwilling to make such demands of immigrants?

The 1986 Immigration Act theoretically imposes fines on employees who hire illegal immigrants. Recently, I called the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to inquire how many of these fines have been imposed. (There were about 4 million illegals in the U.S. in 1966; there are about 12 million today). “We aren’t sure,” was the answer I received, “probably a few.” When Linda Chavez argues that we can have an immigration program that is enforceable through fines on employers, she would be well advised to consider the experience of the last two decades.

Linda Chavez also argues that illegal immigrants who have been here for five years should be treated more favorably than recent arrivals. On the face of it, this is a perfectly reasonable position. But when I inquired with the USCIS about how the length of an immigrant’s residence is ascertained, I was told that “a personal affidavit would suffice.” Which illegal immigrant is likely to say that he has been here for less than five years?

Before this nation embraces a new stance on immigration, legislators and analysts should learn from experience, which in my view yields two important lessons: first, the USCIS does not have the resources to monitor our existing immigration program, much less any new one; and second, among the conditions for naturalization should be a commitment to the nation and its principles.

Herb London

Hudson Institute

New York City


Linda Chavez writes:

Steven Shulman knows of no economist who shares my view that “continu[ed] mass immigration is an economic necessity.” He ignores my citation of congressional testimony precisely to that effect by none other than former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. Nor is Green-span alone; during last summer’s congressional debate on comprehensive immigration reform, 500 economists, including five Nobel laureates, signed an open letter to the President and Congress attesting to the economic benefits of immigration. Granted, the net benefits are modest, but that is to be expected in a $13-trillion economy.

Peter Brimelow, for his part, suggests that immigration hurts American workers, citing the National Research Council’s 1997 report, The New Americans, which (as he summarizes) found “no significant benefit, in aggregate, from the unprecedented influx of immigrants since 1965.” But what the report actually said was this: “The domestic gain may run on the order of $1 billion to $10 billion a year. Although this gain may be modest relative to the size of the U.S. economy, it remains a significant positive gain in absolute terms” (emphasis added).

Mr. Shulman’s suggestion that native-born high-school dropouts have low labor-force participation rates because of competition from immigrants is far-fetched. The rates for black males, for example, have been low for decades, having declined (relative to those for whites) in the 1940’s and 50’s. All in all, labor-force participation rates bear little relation to the ebb and flow of immigration. Thus, a recent study by the Pew Hispanic Center, which looked at state data on employment and immigration in the periods 1990-2000 and 2000-2004, found no consistent relationship between growth in the foreign-born population and unemployment among native workers.

Lawrence Briskin asserts that there is “a limit to how many people the United States can sustain with a reasonable standard of living,” a criticism implicit in Mr. Shulman’s letter as well. Indeed, as I noted in my article, many restrictionists oppose immigration because they fear overpopulation. But maintaining or reducing our population size is certainly no guarantee of an increase in our standard of living; arguably, it would bring about the opposite effect. Mr. Briskin notes that the population has doubled in the last 50 years, but he fails to acknowledge that per-capita GDP (in constant dollars) has increased three-fold in the same period. And, of course, a larger population base not only increases the capacity for wealth creation but also helps reduce the cost to each individual of common goods like national defense.

In any case, economic arguments are not at the heart of opposition to current immigration policy; discomfort with the ethnic—or, if you will, racial—composition of the present flow of immigrants is. Mr. Brimelow accuses me of smearing him as a racist; I have never done any such thing. I would say that he is (proudly) ethnocentric. It is true that in his book Alien Nation, Mr. Brimelow proposed a moratorium on immigration. But he devoted many pages to waxing nostalgic about America’s whiter past and worrying about its browner future. “Suppose I had proposed more immigrants who look like me,” he wrote. “So what? As late as 1950, somewhere up to nine out of ten Americans looked like me. That is, they were of European stock. . . . In those days, they had another name for this thing dismissed so contemptuously as ‘the racial hegemony of white Americans.’ They called it ‘America.’”

At any rate, Mr. Brimelow accuses me of being ethnocentric when he claims that I want to expand the ethnic groups to which I am putatively “allied”—by which I assume he primarily means Mexicans. This is a remarkable assertion from someone who has known me well for some twenty years. I have been one of the most outspoken critics of race-conscious policies for my entire career, earning me enmity among virtually all of America’s Hispanic advocacy groups.

It is ludicrous to suggest that I support immigration because some of my ancestors were Mexican. As Mr. Brimelow knows, my mother’s family hails from the British Isles; I have yet to see any of the readers of his website, who all too frequently invite me to “go back to Mexico,” suggest that I return to England or Ireland.

Finally, Herb London’s criticism that the federal government has not done an adequate job enforcing current immigration laws is no argument against changing them. Indeed, the 1986 law to which he refers was never workable, and is largely responsible for the mess we currently find ourselves in. As for his insistence that immigrants who wish to become naturalized citizens must commit themselves to the nation and its principles, I heartily agree.

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