Whether to cut legal immigration is an important question badly in need of being asked and answered. The answer will determine the future of this nation—in terms of quality of life, economic prosperity, national security and our ability to help less fortunate countries.
America is experiencing the highest volume of legal immigration since the Great Wave ended a century ago. Unfortunately, most Washington politicians don’t understand immigration policy and its consequences. Those who do tend to be liberals with a political agenda. Equally unhelpful is when uninformed opinions blur the picture.
For example, the political website RealClearPolitics.com ran a column asserting that the American people don’t care about current legal immigration levels, that it’s really just illegal immigration that has them upset.
“Americans support legal immigration and oppose illegal immigration,” RCP’s chief political correspondent David Paul Kuhn wrote. “But another picture often emerges from the chattering class. Americans’ opposition to illegal immigration is wrongly described as opposition to immigration itself.”
Mr. Kuhn claimed that legal immigrants possess characteristics of human capital not much different from native-born Americans and markedly superior to illegal aliens. It’s true that legal immigrants generally stack up better than illegals. But sadly, today’s legal immigrants trail the native-born in critical socioeconomic indicators.
Census Bureau data show how legal immigrants are generally poorer, less educated and lower skilled than your typical American. The Census-based figures that follow are for all immigrants, legal and illegal combined, except for those specifically breaking out results for illegal aliens. About one-third of the foreign-born population is unlawfully present.
Perhaps the most important predictor of socioeconomic success in America is education. Today, 57% of illegal aliens lack a high school education, 24% finished high school and just 19% have any education beyond the secondary level.
Thirty-one percent of all foreign-born adults have failed to complete high school. Only 8% of the native-born are dropouts.
Fifty-five percent of illegal aliens earn less than 200% of the poverty level. Two-fifths of illegal alien households (through U.S. citizen children) are in a major welfare program. About two-thirds of illegals lack health insurance.
By comparison, 40% of immigrants make less than 200% of poverty wages, 28% of Americans earn that little. A third of immigrant families are on welfare, while 19% of American families are in a welfare program. Some 34% of immigrants are uninsured, while 13% of the native-born lack coverage.
Legal immigration volume runs four times higher than the average of the nation’s first 200 years. Immigration averaged 250,000 a year from 1776 to 1976. Congress liberalized immigration laws in 1965 and again in 1990. This led to sustained legal immigration exceeding a million a year for the past two decades.
The new policies put “family reunification” on steroids. Instead of sticking to nuclear families, which no one has a problem with, extended family members now qualify for visas. The original immigrant’s grown brothers and sisters, adult kids, nieces and nephews, in-laws and on and on end up with a visa. This is called “chain migration.”
Chain migration causes members of nuclear families to remain apart for longer. It awards a visa to distant relatives based on nothing other than their being related by blood or marriage to someone who immigrated to America. These chain migrants often are uneducated, have few job skills or any other prospect of success in America.
So, is Mr. Kuhn right? Are Americans today unconcerned with legal immigration?
In fact, Americans—at least by a plurality—favor the reduction of immigration levels. They want less legal immigration. They remain consistent about this over time.
In the latest Gallup Poll asking U.S. citizens if immigration should be increased, decreased or kept at its present level, fully half the respondents said it should be cut. Over the past decade, those selecting the reduction option have generally led the pack.
CBS News/New York Times pollsters have asked specifically about legal immigration. With rare exception over the past decade, this survey question has the same response pattern: A plurality or majority say cut legal immigration. Keep it at the present level gets about a third and widening immigration comes in last place.
Dealing with vastly more immigrants who compete directly against the most vulnerable Americans, it would much benefit America to cut legal immigration by half or more. That would promote assimilation, ease fiscal pressure on taxpayer-funded programs, naturally improve wages and working conditions through market competition and brighten job prospects for American and legal immigrant workers alike.
There’s an unanticipated benefit to reducing immigration levels: Lowering legal immigration would curb illegal immigration. The main source countries of legal immigrants are also the sources of illegal aliens. Nations that send few legal immigrants rarely cause us illegal immigration problems.
The best course for our nation’s well-being is to reduce legal immigration. And that’s what the American people really want.