Don’t offset declining birthrate with more immigration

In a time of increasing environmental consciousness and concern over economic inequality, the theory that the U.S. should seek a perpetually expanding economy and population must be challenged. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the U.S. population is projected to grow to 438 million by 2050 if all present trends continue, an increase of 129 million over the 2010 census count of 309 million. Most of the population growth over the next 40 years will be attributable to post-2010 immigrants and their descendants, with only a small portion attributable to the natural growth of the 2010 baseline population.

How will we provide good jobs, good educational opportunities, good health care, and good housing for 129 million additional residents given our current track record? How many more vehicles will be added to our highways? How many more millions of barrels of oil will we have to import from the Middle East, or extract from deep-water wells drilled into the ocean floor? How many more millions of tons of coal will have to be burned, or nuclear power plants launched, to generate electricity for another 129 million people?

In recent years the U.S. has been admitting approximately 1 million legal immigrants every year, mostly based on family connections, which is more than the number of legal immigrants admitted to any other country. If we count only those receiving comparable permanent residence and a clear path to full citizenship, the U.S. admits more legal immigrants than all the nations of the world combined. In addition, illegal immigrants have succeeded in violating U.S. immigration law so that the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. is estimated to be around 11 million.

The demographic challenges affecting Social Security and Medicare should not be addressed by further increasing the current historically high level of legal immigration to the U.S., which would only increase the eventual demands on those programs and aggravate other social problems. Instead our legal immigration program should be more narrowly focused on admitting immigrants who are most likely to make contributions to solving our challenges.

We should expand preferences for immigrants holding advanced degrees in science, technology, and engineering, or with demonstrated ability in business management. We should disfavor those with low levels of skills and education who are least likely to make contributions and most likely to burden our economy with their problems. We should favor young immigrants with many years of work ahead of them to contribute to our economy, and we should disfavor the middle-aged and elderly. We should favor immigrants who have demonstrated an ability to learn and work using the English language, which makes their future success more likely. We should not admit any immigrants based on family relations except for spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens and legal immigrants.

We should vigorously enforce our immigration laws against violators. We should focus like a laser on getting unemployed and underemployed Americans back to work. I reject the idea that any job is too hard or too dirty for American workers to do. American workers just expect and demand to be paid a decent wage.

When employers say they can’t find any American workers to do their jobs, so they have to hire illegal immigrants, they mean they can’t find any American workers at the low wage level that they want to pay, but that immigrant workers will accept low wages and poor working conditions. If cheap immigrant labor is made unavailable, employers can hire Americans at a higher wage, or replace low-wage immigrant workers with technology and automation, which will create a smaller number of skilled jobs for Americans.

Besides taking jobs from American workers, illegal immigration creates huge economic burdens on our health care system, our education system, our criminal justice system, our environment, our infrastructure, and our public safety. It breeds disrespect for American law, and it insults the millions of qualified legal immigrants still waiting patiently outside the U.S. for their chance to immigrate legally.

Finally, we should reject the notion of a temporary “guest” worker program to exploit low-wage immigrant labor for a few years before forcing their return to their home countries. America has always regarded our legal immigrants as future citizens, with equal protection under the Constitution from the moment of their admission. We should adhere to that concept and refuse to emulate Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich non-democracies dependent on exploitable, vulnerable, and disposable temporary foreign labor.

A condensed and edited version of these comments appears as part of a debate on population growth on the NY Times website.

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