The issue of immigration has many facets. I want to share some facts about immigration to America over the past 240 years that could help frame the debate.
The two most populated countries in the world are China and India, with conservative estimates of 1.4 billion people each. The next-most-populated country in the world may surprise you: the United States, with about 325 million people. To add more perspective about the top three, there are only six countries with 125 to 325 million: Indonesia at 265 million; and Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and Russia at 145 million. Many of the developed countries we think about, visit and trade with (including England, Germany, Japan, Egypt) have populations of 60 to 125 million. While China and India certainly stand apart, so does our country. When we look at immigration, crime, employment, education and a whole host of other topics, one lens we must consider is population.
In the past three decades, the U.S. has allowed about 1 million immigrants into the country a year. This number does not include illegal immigration. About .5 million people are estimated to enter the U.S. every year illegally and another .5 million are unsuccessful. The 1 million immigrants is a fraction of the 4 to 6 million people that apply for immigration every year. At 1 million per year, the U.S. allows more legal immigration than any other country in the world. Current estimates suggest that a quarter of our population today is first- and second- generation immigrants. Could you imagine what our population would be like if we allowed all 4 to 6 million applicants into our country each year over the past 30 years? With just a little bit of growth, on the back of a napkin, the U.S. population would be .5 billion. If we take the numbers back to post WWII – using less applicants, but more growth – the napkin would suggest a population of 900 million.
I am always perplexed by people who start a conversation about immigration with the notion that “I (or my family) are immigrants.” Of course you are! The overwhelming majority of us are immigrants having been in the U.S. four generations or less. In fact, less than 25 percent of us Americans are fifth-generation or more, and it should be noted that half of that population is African-American. With the U.S. being at least 1,000 years younger than China, India, Russia and most EU countries, we are all immigrants, by default. Going back to the napkin, less than 1 percent of us have been in the U.S. for 10 generations or more.
More statistics: In 1776, there were about 2.5 million Americans. In 1800, 5 million. In 1900, a whopping 76 million. By 1950, 150 million, and at the turn of the century, year 2000, 282 million people were living in the U.S. Governing 76 million people in 1900 is vastly different than 320 million today. At the turn of the 20th century, the U.S. had as many people as the average European country does now! Bottom line, I think we can all agree that this country was built on immigration. My family is statistically just like yours. These numbers also suggest a sound rational for why immigration limits began in 1882 and were subsequently significantly modified in the 1920s and 1960s. Without limitation, think of how crime, employment and education would look in the U.S. today.
Being a country of immigrants in no way, however, supposes that a policy of open borders is prudent. I am for continued immigration. Immigration to unite families; immigration to bolster our work force; immigration because we are the land of milk and honey. I am biased. I would have liked to have seen significantly more Jewish immigration during the 1930s and 1940s. Alas, I am also cognizant of the numbers and realize that open borders, or even merely doubling our immigration quota, is not sustainable, practical nor governable. I am not even sure if our current level of immigration is sustainable. I certainly see how governance, crime, employment and education are impacted by our current liberal immigration policies over just the past 30 years. As an example, as we discuss crime in the U.S. today, I don’t think one can have a rational conversation without taking into consideration the crime rates in 1900, when the population was 76 million, and the quadrupling of the population a mere 118 years later. More on that in future columns.
The numbers make it clear that we cannot accept every applicant, and if we don’t accept every applicant, decisions will be made that will adversely affect the majority of applicants. When we discuss immigration, we should keep these numbers in mind.
Statistics have been compiled from the Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Pew Research Center, the Migration Policy Institute and Worldometers.