Politics: Immigration



Table of Contents

1. Personal Background

My family comes from assorted Scot, Irish, Welsh, English, and German folk who turned up in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Illinois by the mid 1800's. I can't prove that any of them got there by official naturalization mechanisms. We depend on the clause that, if you were born in the US, you are a US citizen.

Due to a visit to the Oslo Olympics, I happened to be born in Denmark. I was brought back to the US by the time I was 6 months old. I've been here ever since, with a few trips to Canada. So I personally rely on the clause that, if your parents are citizens, you are too.

After the Patriot Act it was clear I'd need a passport for my next visit to Canada. Lo and behold, I discovered no one could find my birth certificate. The passport used when I was a baby was missing. My parents' marriage license was lost in a courthouse fire years ago. I was "undocumented".

After 50 years in the US, 40 years in the same house, holding various security clearances, and voting since 1970, I had to ask George Bush and Condi Rice to declare that I was an official US citizen. I was pissed off. Given what they have done to my country, they should be asking me for authorization to call themselves citizens. I was also a bit nervous. If you've actually read the Patriot Act and its demon-spawn, you know I was officially a candidate for a midnight knock on the door.

If the neocon thugs can make me nervous, imagine how un-documented or under-documented citizens with Latino or Islamic backgrounds must feel. Further, under these expanded "national papers" efforts, the US Govt and the corporations which own the government know a heck of a lot more about me than they have any right or need to know.

The following essay will explore the "immigration" question in its political context.

2. Is there a problem?

First, we have the basic issue of the biosphere's carrying capacity and the impact of human population (and human habits) on that biosphere. To summarize: Yes, there is a problem in North America, it is getting worse.

Second we have the question of how much of that problem is attributable to immigration. To summarize: Mostly this is due to birth rates and cultural habits among people legally here in the US. However, there is a significant increase due to people illegally in the country, and to births to such people.

2.1. Biological Context

2.1.1. Population

Immigration is the movement of people from one place to another. That has been going on since we left Africa to colonize the world. Usually humans would show up, learn to survive in the local ecosystem, and either establish a sustainable relationship with the ecosystem, or destroy it and move elsewhere.

If there are already humans in the ecosystem, the new folk often just blend in, or live side-by-side. If resources are scarce, though, there can be warfare to take or keep control of the resources. Hunting grounds, water, arable land, and minerals have been such resources.

That worked just fine for tens of thousands of years, while we were too few and too weak to do much damage. More recently, (since the neolithic revolution) we've learned to use tools to extract more from the ecosystem, thus grow our population, thus stress the ecosystems we depend on. There are no unpopulated human-friendly ecosystem left. And where we do live, we've overstressed and thus degraded the system. Population is going up and the Biosphere's ability to sustain us is going down.

While there is archaeological evidence of these ecosystem breakdowns from prehistory, Ben Franklin seems to be the first to spell out the math of overpopulation. On a trip to Scotland, he visited Thomas Malthus, who wrote it up in a now-famous essay. Since then there have been many similar analyses. Some will claim it doesn't happen; some claim it has already happened. Which brings us to ...

2.1.2. Frog Soup

They say that if you put a frog in boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put it in cold water and gradually raise the pot to boiling, the frog will stay and cook.

Humans are like frogs in that regard. As biological specimens we are evolved to walk about in rich, biodiverse ecosystems while living with and working with a small band of folk. That would be an ecosystem at its carrying capacity for humans. But such gardens of eden were played out years ago. Most of us now live in truncated ecosystems, drinking polluted water and eating contaminated foods while co-existing with millions of others cheek-by-jowl.

It isn't acceptable now, and it can only get worse if there are increases in population.

2.1.3. Enlightened Solution

Honorable people all over the world realize this, and have made adjustments for the good of coming generations. 2 children or less per family. First birth later in life. Education and opportunities for women, beyond perpetual childbirth.

Such people also adjust their lifestyles and purchasing habits to reduce eco-impact per person.

2.1.4. Tragedy of the Commons

Unfortunately, not everyone is so enlightened.

  • People just moving from harsh environments with many-births-many-deaths overshoot replacement targets when they move to few-deaths communities.

  • People who believe their religion or culture must win via out-populating the "other guy" pump out vastly excessive numbers of children.

  • People who are clueless about their personal eco-impact may have few children but still have damaging impact.

  • People whose religion anticipates near-term end-of-the-world ignore all duties to future generations -- there won't be one.

  • People who are just plain greedy collect (by force if need be) the resources they want, and lay claim to a chunk of relatively pristine ecosystem. There they live their pampered lives as the Biosphere crumbles around them. Their conscience is salved by economists who (for a price) will spin them a tale of never-ending resources and magical innovation.

Anyone can make these mistakes, but for a systematic exploitation of such mistakes you must turn to professional economists and the speculators they serve. It takes serious post-graduate work to convince yourself (and others) that clearcutting another forest or bulldozing another pasture or cutting the quality of life for workers is a social good. You have to use (and be mesmerized by) projections, estimates, trendlines, sensitivity analyses et al.

What you cannot admit into your analysis is the common, shared context in which we all live. Only when you are selling pristine mountain meadows and lonely beaches to centi-millionaires can you admit the value of a butterfly or a smog-free sunset.

This willingness to exploit the Commons for personal greed, and the parallel inability of society to prevent it, is known as the Tragedy of the Commons.

2.1.5. North American Immigrations

North American was already at its carrying capacity when Columbus showed up. Native Americans had filled in every eco-niche from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. They had developed sustainable cultures which balanced births and deaths. To be sure, there were wars, slaughter, and slavery mixed in with peaceful co-existence. But by whatever means, it was sustainably at the carrying capacity.

Population increases since then have been made possible via exterminating the original inhabitants and converting their very robust/diverse biosphere into a fragile petroleum-based agribusiness model, and then converting that farmland into shopping malls and subdivisions.

2.2. Historical context


From this analysis:

It looks we've been running 5-10% foreign-born, with a spike to 14% from 1870-1920/:

Of those, 40-60% were naturalized (with a decrease from 1970-1990):

2.3. What are the concerns?

The National Academy Of Sciences did a 1997 study on economic impact of immigration:

(NOTE: It appears the study did not take into account biosphere issues.)

The NY Times summarized the study as

Among the NAS study findings are:

* Immigration is the driving force behind rapid population growth.

* Immigration has a negative impact on lower-skilled, less-educated Americans.

* Immigration is exacerbating the wealth gap.

* Immigration has contributed to the increase in high school dropouts.

* Immigrant-headed households use more in government services than they contribute in state and local taxes.

* Immigration is a substantial tax burden to native households, especially in states with large immigrant populations, and, on average, for the nation as a whole.

Others have used both the study and additional insights to form their own summaries:

Post l970 immigrants and their descendants have added between 35 and 45 million people to America's population. (1) This is the equivalent of absorbing all of Central America in less than 30 years. If current immigration levels are not changed, then we will double our population in less than 70 years - and 90% of this growth will be due to recent immigrants and their descendants.

...Immigration levels are determined solely by Congress, and Congress is free at any moment to alter the number of immigrants. For example, the current level of immigration is about four times greater than we averaged through out most of this century. Immigration laws have usually been written in response to the demands of special interests who profit in some way from this policy. Their profit is extremely expensive for the rest of us. Many immigrants and recently naturalized citizens are using: Medicaid, SSI, Social Security, subsidized housing, fuel assistance, food stamps, TANF, bilingual education, subsidized legal aid, and earned income tax credits. The disparity between what immigrants pay into these programs and what they use in services runs into billions of dollars every year.

...Adjusted for inflation, real average weekly earnings of working class Americans have dropped 20% since l973, as a function of the law of supply and demand in the labor market. The enormous costs of mass immigration is falling upon their shoulders. We should not be surprised if they become irritable and unsympathetic to the cause of bringing in millions and millions of outsiders. Advocates for illegal immigrants and mass immigration often use stirring words like "social justice" and "resisting oppression" and "building community" to justify their views. But building community begins with respect for your fellow citizens. They deserve to be consulted. Enthusiasm for embracing outsiders has made advocates for immigrants oblivious to the burdens they place upon their fellow countrymn and this is no way to build community.

Jonette Christian 1999

3. Politics

3.1. Responses to Invasion

People who have any sense of self-determination at all react strongly to threats of invasion, because invasions have led to rape, pillage, and untold suffering and death.

The people of the USA explode into action when truly threatened. Of course this has seldom happened. More commonly, politicians tell us we are about to be invaded, and that we must therefore make the appropriate sacrifices, including giving vast sums to war-profiteers (aka defense contractors). Also, we have historically appreciated that everyone might get a bit of the rich spoils of war, plus of course romantic adventure in far off places.

Unfortunately, we've all seen enough war-mongering to become a tad suspicious. It takes a new spin on the old theme to get the juices flowing.

That is why the Project for the New American Century needed a Pearl Harbor event. Something so dramatic it would get the nation's wealth flowing again to the war-profiteers.

An Arab with close ties to the Bush family rather conveniently supplied that event on 9/11. It worked. Hundreds of billions of dollars were siphoned out of American communities and shipped to Texas billionnaires. (What, you thought it went to Iraq?)

But after a few years of incompetence, corruption, and greed, we began to question the game. A new threat was needed. Another invasion.

3.2. The Rusty Grenade

Invasion by immigrants. Not just any immigrants, but specifically brown-skinned immigrants who didn't speak English. It would be a classic Rovian Wedgie: The immigrants were getting uppity and starting to vote, and didn't much believe the GOP had their interests at heart, so he needed to squelch them. Joe Sixpack was losing faith the the Iraq WMD story, and needed a new villain to hate. Get Joe to hate Jose, and Rove wins in a walk.

It didn't quite work. As the Economist notes econ31_8504_32, this midterm immigration was supposed to be a winner for the GOP. But people who ran on it lost, even in border states. One candidate said it had become a rusty grenade, dangerous to use.

Whether it worked or not in these elections, it sure left a lot of shrapnel flying around. Let's try to clean up the mess:

3.2.1. Citizenship

Citizenship is precious. It implies a duty to civic affairs, and an ability to carry your share of the work. It implies a right to live, work, and love anywhere in the USA. We therefore are willing to add a few people, who have decent prospects of fitting in, earning their way, and being informed and active citizens. How do we divvy up these precious slots? By Birth

Our country is based on families. The heart of the family is a biological mother with her children. The rule should be that a mother's children are US citizens by birth if a) the mother is a citizen no matter where the baby is born, or b) the mother is a non-citizen mother legally in the US at time of birth (visa for work, education, travel, asylum, etc.)

Historically, the rule has been that if the mother or father is a citizen, then the baby is. But determining fatherhood is too tricky for such an important task. I'd prefer to make it strictly dependent on the mother's citizenship.

What if the mother pumps out baby after baby? Should we say all children after the first 2 are non-citizens? I don't think this can be handled by legislation. Instead, it should be handled by social disapproval, ostracism, or shaming. At a minimum we should stop celebrating mothers who give birth to squadrons of children.

To ensure this baby grows to be an informed, effective citizen, we must also commit to:

  • Pre- and post-natal care, plus family leave.

  • Lifelong medical care and schooling sufficient to develop and maintain "informed and active citizen" status.

  • Treaties which protect US citizens from "the race to the bottom", which makes slaves of our citizens as we compete with slaves elsewhere. By Naturalization

How many more should we accept? We are already over carrying capacity, so we cannot absorb new citizens unless existing citizens go below replacements rates.

Further, to "fit in", the new citizens cannot swamp the current citizens. Maybe 1 per 10,000 per year. Thus over a 70 year life, a US citizen in a typical town would cross paths with 100 new citizens. For the current 300M, that means 3E8/1E4=3E4=30000/year.

This is much below the current actual rates, which are in the 500,000/yr range.

[Is that the right number? What about 1 per 1,000 per year and thus 300,000/yr? What consititues an absorbable rate of immigration?] (figure 2)

How do we divvy up these precious opportunities?

  • They have skills we want, or wealth we want. Of course this sounds suspiciously like the ownership society looking out for itself. Or like "legacies" at Ivy League schools. Allow 10%.

  • They are fleeing terror in their homeland. We are warmhearted and want to help them all, but can't. Of course, a good deal of world warfare is US or transnational corporate-sponsored, so we are indirectly responsible. Allow 10%.

  • They are just reasonably decent people who want to move to American. Allow 80% on a strict lottery basis, with the lottery restarting each year (no waiting list). No quotas by country of origin.

3.2.2. English

Each wave of immigrants to the USA starts with a close knit community speaking the home language. Then the children learn English at school, on TV, on the streets. A few of the first generation and most of the subsequent generations become competent if not fluent.

In other words, English is our lingua franca. Our trade pidgin. Our Swahili. Without that we do not have a shared community.

Now, should we make laws to this effect? No, because we would then have to legally define what is "English" and what is not. Instead, we need to publically proclaim English is our shared common language, and then work to achieve it.

Require children to learn and use English in school. Give them 1 year extra tutoring to help make the transition.

Require children to learn one other language in school. The reason is to ensure that they are aware of the art, beauty, and sophistication of other languages -- that English is merely convenient, not somehow the "better" language.

3.2.3. Social Services

It costs money to provide education and medical care. We accept that cost for citizens. We have a right to not accept the cost for non-citizens. However, it is damaging to our culture to distinguish which children get to go to school, and which children get their broken legs fixed. We cannot afford that decision as a people. It is Sophie's Choice that hurts us as much as the children.

So I'm for giving education and medical care equally for illegals, undocumenteds etc.

How about we shift $100B from the military budget to education and medical care and then discuss this again?

3.2.4. Un-documented

A lot of fine Americans have been un-documented except perhaps an entry in the family Bible. So before I get all excited by an undocumented crisis, I want to see substantiated numbers on the problems caused thereby.

On the other hand, we should help folks get formal papers if they want them.

3.2.5. Illegals

Just as soon as Bush and Cheney go to jail for destroying the Constitution, I'll worry about Jose and Maria.

Yes, there are people here who slipped across the border. There are also post-graduates who overstayed education visas, and H1Bs who took jobs away from Americans, and got special consideration from government agencies.

Where illegals have taken jobs, we know they will be pressured to accept low (illegal) wages. This race to the bottom hurts all our citizens. Sure, we can round up the illegals and ship them home, but the real solution is to jail the employers. No jobs, no illegals.

3.2.6. The Fence

A 700 mile fence? Built by the same Texas millionaire contractors who gave us Iraq?

3.2.7. Knock on the Door

We now have ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) agents rounding up people for old offenses, minor offenses, or no offenses at all. This is pure political bluster. It is the vicious side of the rusty grenade.

What worries me is that brown-skinned illegals are just the practice run. Transnational corporate neocons and their GOP (and DLC) spokesmodels have shown their true colors by voting repeatedly to destroy the Constitution.

We've tried roundups of citizens before. It takes generations to recover for both the victims and the perpetrators. We can't afford to allow ICE agents to continue their roundups.

I believe this is where "immigration" activists can best connect with mainstream US citizens. Get the Libertarians involved. If the Minutemen had any idea at all what was going on, they'd be shooting the ICE agents, not the immigrants.

3.2.8. Aiding Illegals

I've heard it is illegal to help illegals.

Let me get this right. Poor, dark-skinned, troubled people struggling to escape unbearable conditions and make a new life for themselves and their children. If caught, they are tortured and shipped back where they started. If any whites try to help them, the whites are considered criminals.

Can you say Underground Railroad?

Yes, we have a mess, driven by transnationals and their NAFTA, CAFTA disasters. Let's take care of people who are here, and clean up the mess that drove them to immigrate. Can you really believe a descendent of the Aztecs will be happy in Minnesota?

3.2.9. Amnesty

We already tried amnesty. It didn't work. I do not give away citizenship so easily. No more amnesty programs.

3.2.10. Guest Worker

This is better than ICE agents in the night, or amnesty. But it doesn't solve the carrying capacity problem. Let's do what we can to help the source nations clean up and provide quality living there.

Like Fair Trade and adding eco and labor regulations to treaties.

4. Working together

Some of us have taken actions to have *fewer* than replacement children, purchase and maintain land in a relatively robust form (woods and wildflowers rather than petroleum-based green lawns), and put our purchasing power into organic and "local food" activities. We need to recognize and appreciate one another.

Some cultures (e.g., Native American and the brown-skinned immigrants from the South) are already well-attuned to North America's ecosystems. We need an infusion of the techniques and spiritual values these people can bring to the table.

And we need to enjoy living well by living softly on the Earth. Only then will those not so enlightened notice, become envious, and eventually beg to be let in on the secret.

5. References


The Economist. "Immigration: The rusty grenade". Nov 18, 2006. 31:8504, pg32.

"It was said that illegal immigration was going to be our magic carpet ride to power," says Jeff Flake, a moderate Arizona Republican. "It turned out to be quite the opposite".

Migration Information

Urban Institute See figure 2 for naturalization rates.


Creator: Harry George
Updated/Created: 2008-03-05