A fascinating study from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) came across my e-mail the other day.
We all know there has been a massive influx of immigrants (both legal and illegal) in recent decades, but the numbers CIS reports are astounding: approximately 61 million immigrants and their young American-born children now live in the United States. Of that group, 45 million are legal immigrants and their children.
CIS took the data set back to 1970 to find that the share of immigrants and their children in this country has increased from 13 million to 61 million in that timeframe. As a percentage of population, this group has surged from 6.6% to 18.9%, although you may notice CIS concedes there may be an undercount in the number of immigrants.
While CIS has valid reasoning to exclude more recent census counts (because they did not ask about place of birth), 1970 is also a good demarcation line because it came shortly after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 went into effect. Prior to that, immigration had been limited for four decades so the 1970 census was the nadir for immigrants’ share of the population.
A key cultural difference, however, seems to permeate the most recent wave of immigration. My ancestors came over in the late 19th century, along with millions of others, in order to better their lives with the opportunities America provided for them. But they also chose to be part of a “melting pot” where, if the initial immigrants didn’t assimilate, their children were eager to conform with American culture.
Now we have more of what is described as a “salad bowl” mentality where we are supposed to honor whatever culture comes along – good, bad, or indifferent. This more recent wave of immigrants, at least anecdotally, is content to live as they did in the old country and raise their children as foreigners. Granted, American culture still has its pull but as time goes on we seem to be losing that which makes us exceptional.
CIS asks a number of valid questions:
While the national debate has focused on illegal immigration, the enormous impact of immigration is largely the result of those brought in legally. These numbers raise profound questions that are seldom asked: What number of immigrants can be assimilated? What is the absorption capacity of our nation’s schools, health care system, infrastructure, and, perhaps most importantly, its labor market? What is the impact on the environment and quality of life from significantly increasing the nation’s population size and density? With some 45 million legal immigrants and their young children already here, should we continue to admit a million new legal permanent immigrants every year?
It’s a series of questions that can’t just be answered with a wall, whether Mexico pays for it or not. Border security can be part of the solution, but 40% to 50% of the illegal immigrants had permission to be here initially – they chose to overstay their visas. That’s a challenge a wall won’t address.
My cohort Cathy Keim proposed a pause on immigration last year, which would address some of the problem. Although her point was more with bringing a halt to Syrian refugees and accepting student visas from particular nations, hopefully the mess that is the current system will be among the first things addressed by a new administration.
America is, as always, a welcoming nation. But it’s up to those who come here not to wear out their welcome by insisting that things be just like where they came from – otherwise, what was the point in coming here?