Immigration by the Numbers

Democrats have renewed their vows to unwavering support of open borders. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tussled last week with former Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Thomas Homan. After she described fence-hoppers as asylum seekers, Homan reminded her that they all have the option of presenting their asylum claims at the ports of entry. Her attempt at “gotcha” backfired.

Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) got tongue tied on “The View,” saying that she didn’t want to “decriminalize” illegal immigration, but that “we’re not going to treat people who are undocumented [and] cross the borders as criminals, that is correct.”

Most dramatically, the entire lot of Democrats running for president raised their hands in support of giving free healthcare to anyone who makes it into the country, legally or otherwise.

Is There a Crisis on the Border?
Only a few short months ago, the Democrats mocked Trump for suggesting there was a crisis on the border. Now they agree there is a crisis, but they’re chiefly concerned with the conditions of the detainees. While kids every day are separated from parents who are caught with a bag of weed, and our prisons are chaotic nightmare worlds for nonviolent offenders, substantially better confinement conditions for illegal aliens are supposed to raise an alarm.

Trump was right the first time. There is a crisis on our border. It may not be that much worse today than yesterday, but it’s a crisis all the same, a chronic one. At least 12 million (probably many, millions more, in truth) are living here illegally, having snuck across our borders or overstayed visas. We have the equivalent of a caravan coming every day.

The problem does not end at the border. Dubious asylum claims benefit from our overly solicitous immigration courts, the purpose of which seems to be multiplying procedures and expending resources to keep every illegal immigrant here indefinitely. Many are released pending a final adjudication of their asylum claims. When they do show up after being released, their asylum claims rarely pass the straight face test. These people are desperate and poor, but they’re not Andrei Sakharov.

The Accident of Geography
The fact that so many people are fighting to get into our country is not that surprising. We have an abundance of jobs, wealth, peace, stability, and technology largely absent from the Third World. Our “poor” are rich by global standards, and our lax interior enforcement ensures that many jobs are available for those who happen to break in.

While Europe is starting to deal with a similar problem, part of the reason America is particularly burdened arises from geography. Whereas Europe has the Mediterranean Sea acting as a natural moat from its Third World neighbors to the south, America and Mexico share the largest frontier on Earth between a First World and Third World country. Mexico itself has even poorer neighbors in Central America, who can blend in as they make their way north. All of these countries have deficient institutions that guarantee a great many of their inhabitants will live impoverished lives and seek a better life elsewhere.

The diverging fortunes of the United States and its Latin American neighbors is a cautionary tale. English colonization of North America began over 100 years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico, but the United States soon surpassed its neighbors to the South. The Anglo-Protestant, individualist, and liberty-oriented United States has always been very different from the Hispano-Catholic, hierarchical, and authoritarian world of Latin America. We can drink the water.

The two systems and peoples are now being thrown together through a mixture of legal and illegal immigration. More than 600 million people live in Latin America, and 150 million people in the rest of the world have expressed an interest in migrating to the United States. The ethnic mix, as well as social and political culture of the United States, is changing in the process. At first denied by defenders of mass immigration, the change to our demographics was then acknowledged, and finally employed as a triumphant boast against those uneasy with the scope and pace of the change.

The only reason America is wealthier, safer, and more powerful than its neighbors is because of our people, our culture, and our laws. But these things are not frozen in amber. Change the people, and the laws and culture will change too. Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar would not have been elected in the America of yesteryear, nor would their socialist and resentful, anti-white politics have been popular. Yet they are the archetype of America’s political future and a product of the new American people.

The Conservative Impulse
One does not have to believe that the mix of people in America before 1965 was perfect to be uneasy with a massive and sudden changes to those numbers. One simply must be a conservative. The sheer number of legal and illegal immigrants has caused an impact that would not be present if there were only 10,000 or 100,000 immigrants per year. Instead, as we have seen, a rapid demographic revolution is fraught with risk and promises changes in culture, expectations, and other dimensions of a “way of life.” While the land, laws, history, and institutions are all important to our national character, people ultimately make the country.

The 1924 immigration restrictions are often maligned as hateful and prejudiced, but the formula made a lot of sense: it was designed to match the proportions of the people already living in the country. In other words, the pre-1965 immigration regime did not disrupt the basic nature of the country and its people by design. One does not have to be a white supremacist to want one’s country to remain more or less the same; it is a natural and conservative impulse.

While Republicans were arguing about marginal tax rates and school choice, the future was being remade under the steady influence of the 1965 Hart-Celler immigration law. Come 1990 the diversity visa began being awarded to completely random people, typically from impoverished Third World states. Massive numbers of relatives of immigrants were allowed through chain migration without regard to those relatives’ skills.

Finally, the numbers themselves are enormous, and some years have exceeded 1 million legal immigrants. As a result, we now have the highest number of foreign born that we have had at any time in American history, and nearly the largest percentage of foreign born compared to any earlier period.

This is a revolution and, unlike earlier waves of immigrants, the highest proportion come from a single, impoverished region: Latin America.

Who? How Many?
Before Trump, no one seemed to ask, “Who should come?” And, if they should come, how many? Again, 150 million worldwide would immigrate to the United States if permitted. This would be 50 percent of our current population. There is little reason to think the current rate of immigration is the right number (it’s too much) or that a much larger number guaranteed by the de facto open borders policy of the Democrats would be superior.

Setting aside the stresses on our culture and social capital, an artificially growing population is not good for the people already here. There are costs to growth uncaptured by the free market, such as congestion costs and rising real estate prices, as exemplified by the Dickensian “pod living” of workers in San Francisco.

Unlike earlier periods of migration, we also bear the burden of a large and generous welfare state, a system that is supposed to benefit our fellow citizens—that is, our struggling brothers and sisters. While the Democrats caused scandal at their debate by raising their hands for giving illegal immigrants free healthcare, a great many receive exactly that today by showing up at emergency rooms. This costs all of us a lot of money, as do the burdens of a large and non-English speaking population in our public schools. We cannot take care of everyone, and the situation is unsustainable.

The Democrats’ drive to decriminalize illegal entry suggests they think Americans are clamoring for more immigrants. But the 2016 election, as well as numerous surveys, show that Americans are uneasy with this state of affairs, and this becomes more pronounced when Americans have exposure to large immigrant populations. At some point demographics may provide the Democrats a permanent majority, but this is a dynamic situation, and legacy America is starting to act more like a bloc as its destiny becomes more imperiled.

The current immigration debate is mired in slogans and sentimentality. We are told that we are a nation of immigrants, as if that settles the matter for all time. The media and prominent Democrats complain that people who broke the law are treated like everyone else who breaks the law. These are not serious arguments.

The immigration problem and the immigration debate changes dramatically when the number is 100,000 a year, 1 million a year, or extended to the 150 million likely immigrants. As the saying goes, “quantity has a quality all its own.” Today, the total population of foreign born and their children is at least 70 million, or 1-in-5 people. Enough is enough.

Photo Credit: Paul Ratje/AFP/Getty Image

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About Christopher Roach

Christopher Roach is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness and an attorney in private practice based in Florida. He is a double graduate of the University of Chicago and has previously been published by The Federalist, Takimag, Chronicles, the Washington Legal Foundation, the Marine Corps Gazette, and the Orlando Sentinel. The views presented are solely his own.