From listening to proponents of open borders speak about immigration, one would come away with the impression that we have just experienced a protracted period of low immigration. They contend that our “limited legal immigration” has engendered a need for people to migrate here illegally. However, the Census Bureau published new numbers illuminating a fact that is self-evident to anyone who has studied immigration: we have already gone through a “second great wave of immigration.”
Here is the key takeaway from the Census update, which was cited by Alex Bolton in The Hill over the weekend:
Many Americans can trace their ancestral roots to the “great wave” of immigration that occurred during the late 1800s and early 1900s. This is not surprising, as the foreign-born population grew rapidly during this period, doubling in size from 6.7 million in 1880 to 14.2 million in 1930. Between 1880 and 1930, the foreign-born population represented between 12 and 15 percent of the total population.
As immigration to the United States slowed after 1930 and the resident foreign-born population either died off or emigrated, the size of that population continued to decline, falling to 9.6 million in 1970, the lowest level in the 20th century. Less than 5 percent of the total population in 1970 – or less than one in 20 people – were foreign-born.
However, over the last four decades, the United States has experienced what many are calling the “second great wave” of immigration. Since 1970, the foreign-born population has continuously increased in size and as a percentage of the total U.S. population. The foreign-born population quadrupled after 1970, reaching 40.0 million by 2010, and about 13 percent of the total population – or one in eight – were foreign-born.
Once again, the country is approaching a percentage of foreign-born not seen since the late 1800s and early 1900s. Will this proportion continue to increase, perhaps exceeding the high of nearly 15 percent achieved in both 1890 and 1910?
This is the simple historical context that has eluded 90 percent of the politicians in Washington. With over 1 million new immigrants every year for most of the past three decades, the foreign-born population is now approaching 41 million. Obviously, the sheer size of the current wave of immigration is unprecedented, while the percentage increase is approaching the proportion of the Great Wave era – a time when the country was relatively new and underpopulated.
During the ‘20s, there was a broad consensus of the need to cool down the pace of immigration to allow for absorption and assimilation. Remember, we did not have a robust welfare state or separatist lobbies like La Raza at the time. The ensuing “cool-off” period clearly netted positive results, as the immigrants from the Great Wave became absorbed into the fabric of America and helped build the country into what it is today.
It’s not surprising that the presidential elections from 1968-1992, which represent the GOP’s most auspicious political era at the federal level, overlapped with the period of time when the first great wave had completely assimilated and the second great wave had not yet affected the outcome of elections in a significant way. If not for Watergate and Jimmy Carter running as a southern conservative, Republicans would have won every election in a landslide.
Fast-forward three decades, and GOP policymakers and politicians are living in a dream world. In terms of policy, the second great wave matches or exceeds the magnitude of the first wave in every respect. Also, we now have a robust welfare system and separatist lobbies to ensure that newly arrived immigrants, many of them impoverished and from the third world, don’t seek upward mobility or absorption into the broad population.
The policy vices of doubling the current record-baseline of immigration should be sufficient to give Republicans pause about passing a Democrat version of “immigration reform.” However, because they often sell amnesty and immigration expansion as an electoral boon for the party, it’s important that we challenge their agenda on political grounds as well. With the level of immigration approaching record-high levels under the current trajectory, from which what planet have these people originated to suggest that doubling immigration will do anything other than create a permanent Democrat majority?
As the national average of foreign-born residents exceeds 13 percent, many states have a much higher concentration of immigrants. According to CBO, Nevada, Florida, New York, and New Jersey all have an immigrant population higher than 18 percent of the respective state’s population. California tops out at 26.1 percent as of 2012.
As the Census report notes, it’s unclear whether the population swell from the second great wave has already crested or whether there is more to come. The accompanying report on the immigrant population under the age of 35, seems to suggest that the trend could continue and that it has already grown since 2012. Any Republican who thinks they can win by doubling that baseline is not grounded in reality.
Obviously, the most important issues pertaining to immigration include an end to illegal immigration, protecting our national security from terrorists, and finally ending the cycle of open borders. But at some point, Republicans will have to address the issue of immigration in terms of quantity. Immigration benefits a country at large. And for those who benefit the broad population (as opposed to narrow special interests), we should make the process easier and cheaper. But how much? Over what period of time?
There is no simple answer to that question. But those who seek to address it should not be dismissed as “anti-immigrant” by those who peddle special interest policies without the best interests of the country in mind. And either way, coming off the longest expansion of immigration in American history, should we really consider doubling the current level without batting an eyelash?
To quote John Boehner, “are you kidding me?!!”