The obvious quotation marks around the word “facts” in my title are meant to highlight that we are constantly fed some politician’s notions on this subject. What is unassailably a fact is that our nation and its leaders have been debating who should be allowed to immigrate since the very beginnings of our United States. And to be honest, they do not yet have a good answer.
I used to be a big George F. Will fan. No longer. But in the piece I draw from today he outlines some of the history of political opinion about how to fashion an immigration “plan.” It’s very informative.
[Source: Who’s worthy of immigrating here? We may never decide. By George F. Will]
The two men who most shaped our nation, Jefferson and Madison, both had concerns about immigration. As Will points out, Madison addressed the issue in the First Congress. Madison stated, “It is no doubt very desirable that we should hold out as many inducements as possible for the worthy part of mankind to come and settle amongst us.” Even a brief analysis shows that the 115th Congress is stuck on the same dichotomy. Democrats want to hold out “as many inducements as possible.” Republicans are concerned with whether or not our current “plan” is attracting “the worthy part of mankind.”
Today, we hear a lot about the porosity of our southern border and Mexicans crossing in droves (more on this fallacy later). But Thomas Jefferson was worried about European immigrants – that’s right, read it again, European immigrants. Jefferson wrote of his concern that European immigrants might be favorable to monarchies because they had been living under monarchies and their notions about monarchies had been “imbibed in their early youth.”
As the son of an immigrant I favor legal immigration and am concerned over too many restrictions. As a taxpaying citizen I want secure borders. I believe that a vast majority of Americans agree with me.
Here are some facts from the Will article that are worth considering as the 115th Congress continues its debate (again, I did not research “counter-facts”):
- We have 80 million immigrants living in our nation;
- That number includes 11 million (yes, I am aware that estimates vary) illegal immigrants;
- The 11 million estimate includes their children either born elsewhere (so-called DREAMers) or children born here and, thus, are US citizens (indeed, the estimate of “illegal” immigrant children is 33% of the total);
- It is estimated that 42% of illegal immigrants didn’t flood across our southern border, but instead landed at US airports with valid visas and overstayed;
- Spending on border security quadrupled in the 1990s and the tripled again in the next decade;
- Mexicans come and go across our southern border and net immigration from Mexico has been negative for a decade (If I were the President of Mexico, I wouldn’t “pay for the wall” knowing that statistic);
- Our dollars for “wall building” might be better spent building the wall around Guatemala;
- 58% of illegal immigrants have been living here more than 10 years;
- 31% are homeowners.
So let me summarize by saying that the problem is complicated. It is also true that prior attempts at immigration policy have been both xenophobic and racist – although much of that blame goes to “progressives.” (Footnote 1)
And, by the by, I am reposting William Jefferson Clinton’s notions on the issue. (Footnote 2)
[Directly from the Will article] …Theodore Roosevelt, who detested “milk-and-water cosmopolitanism,” saw virtue emerging from struggles between the “Anglo-Saxon” race and what his friend and soulmate Rudyard Kipling called “lesser breeds without the law.” Roosevelt, who worried that the United States was becoming a “polyglot boarding house,” supported America’s first significant legislation restricting immigration, passed to exclude Chinese people, because he believed Chinese laborers would depress U.S. wages and be “ruinous to the white race.”
In 1902, in the final volume of professor Woodrow Wilson’s widely read book “A History of the American People,” the future president contrasted “the sturdy stocks of the north of Europe” — e.g., Norwegians — with southern (i.e., me) and eastern Europeans who had “neither skill nor energy nor any initiative of quick intelligence (i.e., me).” U.S. Army data gathered during World War I mobilization demonstrated, according to Carl Brigham, a Princeton psychologist, “the intellectual superiority of our Nordic group over the Mediterranean, Alpine and Negro groups.” Richard T. Ely, a leading progressive economist, spent most of his academic career at the University of Wisconsin, but first taught at Johns Hopkins, where Wilson was one of his students. Ely celebrated the Army data for enabling the nation to inventory its human stock just as it does its livestock. In 1924, Congress legislated severe immigration restrictions, which excluded immigrants from an “Asiatic Barred Zone.”
For more on this unsavory subject, read “Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era ,” by Princeton economist Thomas C. Leonard . And “One Nation Undecided” by Peter H. Schuck, professor emeritus at Yale Law School, who writes: “In what may be the cruelest single action in our immigration history, Congress defeated a bill in 1939 to rescue 20,000 children from Nazi Germany despite American families’ eagerness to sponsor them — on the ground that the children would exceed Germany’s quota!”