HOLDEN — The Senate immigration bill will legalize 11.7 million illegal immigrants and hugely expand visas for new foreign job seekers, requiring us to issue more than 30 million green cards in the first decade alone. By comparison, between 1890 and 1950, we admitted 24 million immigrants.
Billed as “reform,” this legislation is a massive expansion, and it’s not popular with the public. If it doesn’t pass, then what other “reform” might we consider? We have two issues: what policies will best serve our long-term national interest and, secondly, what to do about the 11.7 million illegal immigrants
Immigration policy is too important to rush. We need to work for national consensus and a thoughtful, fact-based discussion of fundamental issues.
First, do we want a regulated system, setting and enforcing limits, as other nations do, or do we want “market forces” to decide how many come? With seven previous amnesties and multiple expansions in legal visas, we’ve essentially slid into de facto open borders at the behest of well-funded lobbies. But the American people were never honestly consulted. And the goals of immigration were never clearly stated. In the absence of clear goals, how do we decide what’s “broken” or how it should be “fixed”?
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, immigrants and their children account for more than 80 percent of future population growth, fueling a surge from 314 million to about 440 million by 2050, and much larger if the Senate bill passes.
Despite our seeming divisiveness today, most Americans support the following goals: reducing poverty and inequality, expanding the middle class, increasing wages, rebuilding infrastructure, reducing carbon emissions, the national debt, etc. And how will immigration policy affect these goals? Does adding 125 million more Americans in 35 years make it more likely that we will achieve these goals? Or less? We need to talk.
If we choose a regulated system, then four questions are before us:
• 1. How many immigrants should we admit on a yearly basis?
• 2. What’s the rationale for that number?
• 3. What criteria should determine whom we choose? For example, should a nation requiring an educated workforce admit millions of unskilled workers who don’t speak English?
• 4. What’s the most humane way to enforce our laws?
Over the last four decades, Congress recognized that immigration is a political hornet’s nest. And wisely, they removed immigration from the political arena, and created multiple blue ribbon commissions of experts to study immigration policy and advise Congress.
But the press largely ignored these commissions, and so did Congress. In choosing an alternative to the Senate bill, we might begin by reviewing the recommendations of these experts, whom Congress chose to consult and then ignore.
In 1972, the Rockefeller Commission on Population Growth and the American Future was charged with looking at immigration in light of long-term goals.
This commission concluded: “We’ve looked and cannot find any convincing economic argument for continued national population growth. … a gradual stabilization of our population would contribute significantly to the nation’s ability to solve its problems.” They recommended that immigration be frozen at 400,000 a year.
In 1980, the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy concluded that immigration was “out of control” and recommended that immigration be capped at 350,000. In 1994, Sen. Harry Reid introduced legislation to cap immigration at 325,000.
The U.S. Commission on Agricultural Workers (1993) concluded that amnesties reduced wages, encouraged labor contractors recruiting illegal workers, retarded modernization in the industry and failed to improve work conditions. Legalization also led to labor shortages, as amnestied workers left agriculture, competed for other, better-paying jobs, and were replaced with new illegal workers.
President Carter’s Global 2000 Report called on the federal government to “develop a U.S. national population policy that included attention to population stabilization, … and just, consistent, workable immigration laws.” President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development concluded that “reducing immigration levels is a necessary part of population stabilization and the drive toward sustainability.”
And finally, President Clinton’s U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform told Congress to significantly reduce immigration numbers, especially low-skilled workers, curtail family chain migration and enforce laws at the worksite. That commission also called for periodic reviews in response to labor market realities. Twenty million Americans are looking for full-time jobs today.
The message from congressional experts, and not the corporate-funded lobbyists who framed the debate in our press, has given us the blueprint for true reform: Reduce the numbers. Enforce our laws.