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The immigration debate ignores that a dynamic society needs immigrants

Written By | Dec 27, 2018

WASHINGTON: The growing Immigration Debate debate over U.S. Immigration policy is an important one. However, it is often based on myth rather reality. It is true that every society must determine which immigrants it wishes to welcome. What requirements they must meet.  It is also true that we are not in proper control of our borders.

The increasingly partisan rhetoric about immigration is often misleading.

We do not have a skyrocketing number of illegal immigrants. According to Pew Research, their numbers have been decreasing for years.

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Criminal justice statistics show that immigrants do not engage in criminal activity in larger numbers than native-born Americans. Moreover, illegal immigrants are less likely to commit crimes.

Whether a wall across the Mexican border would actually impede an already slowing number of border crossings, is a subject of legitimate debate.

Any serious discussion of immigration must be based on reality.  Shortly after then-candidate Donald Trump announced his presidential campaign, he suggested that the number of undocumented immigrants could exceed 30 million.  But a new study puts the number far lower and shows a significant decline over more than a decade.

The Pew Research Center report released in November, put the number of undocumented immigrants at 10.7 million in 2016, down from a peak of 12.2 million in 2007.

Facts are facts, no matter what partisan politicians may say.

And one important fact is that this nation of immigrants needs continued immigration to remain a dynamic and prosperous society.

America’s demographic reality.

The population of the United States grew at its slowest pace in more than eighty years, the Census Bureau reported in December, as the number of deaths increased and the number of births declined.  Not since 1937, when the country was in the midst of the Great Depression and birth rates were down substantially, has it grown so slowly, with just a 0.62 per cent gain between July 2017 and July 2018.

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With Americans getting older. fewer babies are being born and more people are dying.

The year 2017 saw a particularly high rate of deaths, 2.81 million, and relatively few births, 3.86 million.  If the pattern continues, immigrants  will soon be more important to population gains than the natural increase, or the number of births minus the number of deaths.

That was not the case ten years ago, when natural increase accounted for a far higher share of population gains.

“The aging population is starting to take its toll,” William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution says.  “I think we need to get used to the fact that we are now a slow-growth country.”

According to Frey, population change is a major indicator of the demographic health of a country and is made up of three flows, births, deaths and immigrants.  In the US an aging native population is being buoyed by new flows of immigrants, who in the past year made up about 48 per cent of the total increase.

“Over the past ten years,  in every area except North Dakota and Washington. D.C. the number of deaths came closer to the number of births” says Kenneth Johnson, a demographer from the University of New Hampshire. “But for most states, immigration and domestic migration made up the difference, and so most saw their populations grow in 2017.”

In nine states the population declined in 2017:  Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, West Virginia and Wyoming.

 “The drop is simply stunning,” says Professor Johnson.  “Just 10 years ago, the surplus of births over deaths was 44 per cent higher.”

The pattern of rising deaths and decreasing births has taken hold in many parts of the country. More so in areas with little immigration, like New England.  This has led to fewer students and schools, diminished economic vibrancy and strains on social services.  Maine and West Virginia each recorded more deaths than births.

James Tierney, a former attorney general of Maine, says,

“We have an aging problem of immense proportions.”  He reports that some towns have had a hard time finding snow plow drivers.  “These shortages are immense and growing and in some parts of the state, desperate.”
At the present time, businesses cannot find people to fill their available jobs.

The 7.1 million openings recorded at the end of October easily topped the 6 million people the Labor Department said were unemployed and actively seeking jobs.

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Many of the jobs available are not unappealing, low-paying jobs. The Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that the openings included more than 20,000 jobs in the information sector, more than 38,000 in real estate and leasing, and nearly 40,000 in education, including state and local government jobs.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics says this is the first year it has recorded more job openings than unemployed people seeking work.  The most common complaint among employers is a lack of qualified applicants.

Those who demonize immigrants have little understanding of our history.

Immigration, Illegal Immigration, Allan C. BrownfeldVisiting New Amsterdam in 1643, French Jesuit missionary Isaac Jogues was surprised to discover that 18 languages were spoken in this town of 8,000 people.

In his “Letters From An American Farmer,” J. Hector St. John Crevecoeur wrote in 1782:

“Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men, whose labors and posterity will one day cause great changes in the world.”

Other than native Americans, we are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.  As Herman Melville said in the mid-19th century:

“If you shed one drop of American blood, you shed the blood of the whole world.” – Melville

Today, while some gain political advantage by falsely charging that immigrants are overwhelming the country with crime and drugs, the reality is that immigration numbers are declining and our own population is aging. With more people dying than being born and an increasing number of jobs are untilled.

Real political leaders confront the real problems their societies face.  Our demographic reality makes the fact that America is an attractive destination. Both men and women come to the US in search of a better life. This is a positive thing for both them and our future.

Without immigrants, our future dynamism and prosperity would be in real jeopardy.  Unfortunately, political partisanship and demography are two radically different enterprises.


Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.