Them vs. Unz: A Debate on Immigration
Policy Review, Special Letters Section, Winter 1995
Lawrence Auster, Vernon M. Briggs, Lawrence W. Fuchs, George B. High, Donald L. Huddle, Fred C. Ikle, Alan C. Nelson, Daniel A. Stein
Ron K. Unz, in ‘Immigration or the Welfare State’ (Fall 1994), challenged the notion that out-of-control immigration is fueling a host of social and economic problems, from crime to welfare dependency to job loss. Unz, chief executive officer of Wall Street Analytics Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif., argued that immigrants–both legal and illegal–are among his state’s most productive entrepreneurs. He identifies welfare policies as the real cause of social breakdown. His critics respond.
Even as the American national identity and way of life are being delegitimized and submerged by the continuing Third-World invasion of this country, utopian ideologues like Ron Unz keep telling us that such invasion is a ‘blessing’ for which we must be grateful. As an example of Unz’s thoroughgoing denial of reality, he depicts San Jose, California, as an immigrant city with ‘virtually no significant ethnic conflict.’ Yet it was San Jose’s large Hispanic community that, in 1992, violently protested, as a ‘symbol of conquest,’ the erection of a statue commemorating the raising of the American flag in California during the Mexican War. This past year San Jose’s Hispanic-dominated city council voted to erect, in a public square, a 25-foot-high statue of Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god of human sacrifice as a celebration of Hispanic culture. And just recently, thousands of Hispanics protesting Proposition 187 marched in the streets of Los Angeles carrying Mexican flags, an event that shocked even liberal Californians into voting for 187. Pace Unz, such manifestations of Third-World revanchism cannot be explained away as side-effects of the welfare state or affirmative action; rather, they are a direct result of the sheer numbers (and mounting political power) of the culturally unassailable peoples who have been admitted into this country under the suicidal immigration policies of the last 30 years.
Of course, it does no good to point out these things to the open border advocates, for whom immigration has the status of a religious faith. Thus the argument goes on interminably. In the end, the immigration issue will not be decided in the pages of intellectual journals such as this. It will be decided by an aroused American public who are looking at reality with their own eyes, who see their nation and way of life vanishing, and who resolve, finally, to do something about it.
Author of The Path to National Suicide:
An Essay on Immigration and Multiculturalism
New York, NY
In his article, ‘Immigration or the Welfare State,’ Ron Unz asserts that the mass immigration that the United States is currently experiencing is a ‘strong net positive'; that there is ‘no connection between’ immigration and job loss; and that concerns about criminality and welfare abuse by immigrants are ‘overstated.’ Praise is heaped on immigrants; scorn expressed for the welfare system; and the possibility of any linkage between the two is simply dismissed. Rather than present an objective appraisal of these two complex issues, his essay seeks primarily to find a way to exploit the public’s confusion for partisan political gain.
Unz bases his case on the fact that immigration in the past was crucial to the building of the nation. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, most of the immigrants were unskilled, poorly educated, and non-English speaking. Likewise, most of the jobs required little in the way of human capital. The nation was shifting from an agriculturally based economy to a goods-producing economy. That era of immigration ended around 1914–only a year after assembly-line production was introduced by Henry Ford, ushering in a new era of machine technology. Mass immigration, therefore, was essentially a pre-industrial production strategy that relied on labor-intensive technologies and low-wage workers.
From 1914 to the late-1960s, immigration declined significantly and continually. Over that period, the United States emerged as the world’s leading economic superpower. It did so by shifting its attention away from the use of cheap labor toward efforts to develop the productive capacities of its native human resources. It adopted more capital-intensive production technologies. It sought to become a high-productivity economy that could provide high wages and a rising standard of living for its work force. This, incidentally, is exactly the strategy that Japan (which simultaneously pursues a zero immigration policy) is following today.
But starting in the late-1960s, the United States accidentally revived the sleeping giant of mass immigration. Unfortunately, the preponderance of post-1960s immigrants are exactly like the immigrants of the early 1900s in terms of their lack of human capital. But the economy of the United States of the 1990s in no way resembles the economy of the 1890s.
Job growth in the United States today is disproportionately centered in occupations that require educated and skilled workers. The goods-producing sector is in sharp decline in terms of its ability to generate employment opportunities. Almost 80 percent of the work force is employed in service industries. Jobs in the service sector stress cognitive abilities, not physical stamina. Speaking English is necessary.
Hence the immigrant inflow is disproportionately affecting the low-skilled segment of the labor market where job opportunities are shrinking faster than is the supply of low-skilled job seekers. Welfare enters the picture here. The fierce competition for low-skilled jobs is forcing many low-skilled, native-born persons into unemployment, welfare, and lives of crime. The infusion of low-skilled immigrants into the low-skilled labor market is also a contributing factor to the rapidly declining real wages and real family incomes of low-skilled workers. It adds to the growing income inequality the nation is experiencing.
Unz fails to see this linkage between contemporary immigration flows and the growth of the welfare state. To be sure, immigration is not the only factor involved in these divisive trends. But it is one of the few causes that is subject to direct legislative correction. It is time for the nation’s immigration system to be held accountable for its counter-productive economic consequences.
Professor Vernon M. Briggs
School of Industrial and Labor Relations
New York, NY
Mr. Unz is absolutely right in taking on the spurious allegation that legal immigration is the cause of economic and social ills in California and the country. The politically inspired attacks by Governor Pete Wilson and others on immigrants is not justified by the data, some of which Unz cites. He is correct that California benefitted from the large influx of immigration in the 1970s and 1980s, and that the real explanations for California’s economic troubles in recent years lie elsewhere.
I also agree with Unz that it is a great mistake to acculturate immigrants to state-based, ethnic-conscious policies such as ethnic set-asides, ethnic gerrymandering, hard statistical outcomes linked to timetables for employment and admission to colleges and universities, unequal testing by ethnic groups for admission to competitive high schools, and ethnocentric school curricula. These policies are escalating divisiveness at a rapid rate. I also agree that insufficient resources are being committed to help newcomers learn English.
Having expressed this agreement, I have the following problems with the article. Unz does not make sufficient distinction between the impacts of illegal immigrants and those who are lawfully admitted. He makes light of the dependence of southern California on illegal aliens for hotel and restaurant employees, nannies and gardeners, failing to acknowledge that employer dependence on a continuing pool of exploitable labor depresses wages and standards and may result in some displacement of persons lawfully eligible to work. He fails to acknowledge that recent research from the Urban Institute shows a net cost from illegal immigration. It is true that the Urban Institute’s estimate of $1.3 billion for education costs in California is 40 percent lower than Pete Wilson’s estimate; but there are costs. Unz does not seem particularly serious about doing anything regarding illegal migration. He acknowledges that ‘all sovereign nations control their borders’ and that ‘the INS should ‘deter illegal entry.” But he never says why or takes on the tough issue of creating a secure, universal system of identifying employees eligible to work linked to sanctions against employers who knowingly hire illegal aliens.
The author’s simplistic assertion that the welfare system is the major cause of all social ills in the United States is not an argument supported by data or analysis in this article. His dismissal of ‘black xenophobia’ and ‘the criminal pathology in many black neighborhoods’ reveals a profound lack of awareness of the deep pain and grievance felt by many blacks in the United States, some of which does result in immigrant scapegoating, but which also has to be faced and not simply dismissed.
Unz’s labeling of ‘politicians, government bureaucrats, and trial lawyers’ as coming from ‘the most parasitic sectors of American society’ is currently fashionable but, at least when applied to those people in the government who have worked hardest on the immigration issue, viciously misapplied. Senators Alan Simpson, Ted Kennedy, Paul Simon, and the half-dozen members of the House of Representatives who have worked on immigration policy extremely hard and conscientiously for the past 15 years don’t deserve that cheap shot. Perhaps Unz has Governor Wilson in mind. The criticism there should be simply on the governor’s inconsistency with respect to curtailing illegal immigration. In the early 1980s, he was quite complacent about it, and indeed fought and succeeded in 1983 to cripple the INS’s ability to conduct warrantless searches in open fields.
Unz makes a factual mistake which does not undermine his overall argument that legal immigration at approximately present levels strengthens the U.S. He says that in 1900 ‘some 20 percent of America’s total population was foreign born, and an additional 10 percent arrived in the following decade.’ Actually, in 1900, slightly more than 12 percent of America’s population was foreign born, and that figure passed 13 percent in 1910. Both percentages were considerably higher than the proportion of foreign born in the population today. But, there was much more xenophobia then, too.
Lawrence W. Fuchs
Meyer and Walter Jaffe Professor of
American Civilization and Politics
Vice Chairman, U.S. Commission on
Politics aside, Unz’s views on immigration would make sense only if you: (A) accepted the rosy assumptions of the Urban Institute on the fiscal impact of immigration; (B) believed that the nation’s workforce needed large numbers on unskilled immigrants; (C) thought that unskilled immigrants did not compete with unskilled Americans for scarce jobs; and, (D) saw no connection between U.S. population growth, resource consumption and environmental degradation.
But, in reality, recent immigrants have an overall negative fiscal impact. The Center for Immigration Studies released a study in September that documents how immigrants of all categories who have entered the country since 1969 generate expenses to American taxpayers of $92.6 billion and offsetting tax contributions of $63.5 billion, for a net annual cost of at least $29 billion.
Legal and illegal immigrants, who now are arriving in numbers well over 1 million per year, often work in low-wage jobs and generate much less tax revenue than the cost of services they receive, especially if they have children who are educated in public schools. In addition, some work ‘off-the-books,’ thereby paying no payroll taxes. Those who see in these young immigrant workers a panacea for the impending crunch in the Social Security system are being lured into a Ponzi scheme, because the contributions will not cover the future costs when the immigrant workers become eligible for benefits.
Even if immigration were not a fiscal drain, does it benefit the economy, as Unz suggests? The American consumer benefits from lower prices for perishable produce harvested by low-wage earning immigrants, and fast foods served by them, but in fact those prices are subsidized by the taxpayer who pays for the social services that sustain families living in poverty. In addition, meager earnings are not all fed back into the economy, as open-border advocates assert. Rather, a large amount of immigrant earnings are lost to the American economy, because they are remitted to families abroad.
Despite a currently rising economy, recent reports document worrisome persistent poverty and pockets of high unemployment. El Paso, with its 23 percent immigrant population, may have a low crime rate, as Unz asserts–it dropped markedly after the Border Patrol effectively began to prevent illegal border crossings last year–but it also has high unemployment (9.2 percent in August, compared to 6.2 percent for Texas overall) and an economy that lags behind the rest of the state. Do we want a high-wage, high-skill economy to compete with Europe and Japan, or increasingly to compete with the Third World on the basis of low-wage, low-skills employment? If we try to do both, we will pull our country apart. Already, we are experiencing increasing income disparity between high- and low-wage earners.
Not only are recent immigrants increasingly costly to the taxpayer and in competition for overextended public assistance resources, but they also compete in the job market with American citizens and established immigrants with similar skills. How can we hope to help people get off the welfare rolls and into jobs if we turn a blind eye to unfair competition from immigrants who are willing to work long hours at low wages?
The influx of immigrants today is higher than ever before in our history. Yet America does not have the virgin territory and expanding industrial production it had at the beginning of the century, when we last had wide-open immigration. We are bursting at the seams in highway usage and overcrowded schools and prisons, to cite just a couple of symptoms, especially in areas where new immigrants are concentrating. Fresh water resources and landfill capacity are overtaxed. As we have learned more about the link between population size and the environment, we have learned that rapid population growth is one of the major issues we must deal with. To do so, we must reduce immigration.
Unz’s reluctant acceptance of the need to do a better job controlling the border does not go far enough to undo recent unwise expansion in the admission provisions of our immigration laws. Leaving aside the unsound opinion sampling based on hypothetical questions cited by Unz, it seems clear that proponents of continued, large-scale immigration will have a hard time convincing the public that immigration is a non-issue.
The public seems to understand that the problems associated with an open-door immigration policy touch their lives, more often than not in negative ways. That view is shared by majorities of all racial and ethnic segments of our society.
George B. High
Center for Immigration Reform
Ron K. Unz poses a false dichotomy in ‘Immigration or the Welfare State: Which Is Our Real Enemy?’. The truth is that both immigration and the welfare state are very costly to the taxpayer. As my 1994 national study for Carrying Capacity Network showed, post-1969 immigrants cost the American public $4.2 billion in 1993 after deducting the local, state, and federal taxes they paid. Contrary to popular opinion, legal immigration accounts for 77 percent of total expenditures compared to only 23 percent on illegal immigrants.
Unz claims that were there no welfare costs, an extremely unlikely proposition in itself, immigrants would be an economic boon to America. 1990 Census and governmental data do not support this claim. If we eliminate all welfare-related programs from the 25 categories of public services in our study, immigrants still cost the taxpayer over $20 billion after taxes. The largest public service costs are not welfare-related, but are for public education from kindergarten through grade 12, social security, county/city services, public higher education, and criminal justice/corrections.
Unz also overlooks the private and public costs of labor displacement and wage depression. My published studies show that more than 1.8 million native-born, low-skill workers were unable to work in 1993 because of legal and illegal immigrants in the labor force. Econometric studies by Altonji, Card, and other economists find substantial immigration induced wage depression. Both increase assistance costs to displaced and increasingly impoverished American blue-collar workers.
According to Professor Goerge Borjas, immigrant skills and education continued to plunge over the past three decades. Unz wishes to continue large-scale immigration of 1.3 million yearly, but two-thirds of these immigrants are unskilled. While this ‘cheap labor’ policy benefits U.S. business, it is not a free lunch. The American taxpayer pays the hidden subsidy to employers of immigrants by picking up their public service costs. Meanwhile, the U.S. distribution of income continues to worsen, further polarizing the rich and the poor.
Donald L. Huddle
Professor Emeritus of Economics
Election day in California demolished Ron Unz’s theories on immigration with triple hammer blows. First, the voters soundly rejected Unz’s diversionary appeal that the problem now to be addressed was not excessive flows of immigration, but the well-known ills of the welfare system. Second, Unz’s theory that Republicans should seek to propitiate pro-immigrant voters (a theory propounded also by Jack Kemp) was smashed into a cocked hat by the votes cast on the immigration issue and the candidates. Third, while Unz scoffed at fears of a balkanization of our country, the turmoil about California’s Proposition 187 provided harsh evidence that such balkanization has already arrived; witness the all-out attacks on the very idea of halting illegal immigration.
Let’s start with Unz’s main theme: the diversionary argument that all other defective policies must be solved first, before addressing immigration, and that, indeed, once the ills of welfare policies, education, black neighborhoods, and so on have been fixed, the free market will cure immigration of all its ills and transform it into a blessing recognized by all Americans. This is the hackneyed free market utopia of libertarian theoreticians. Let the untrammeled free market do its good work and brilliant illegal immigrants will create Silicon Valley growth firms, Chinese engineers will innovate American technology, while–at the same time–immigration will provide an unending flow of ‘reliant’ but ‘cheap, low-skilled labor’ to keep American industries humming. The welfare cutbacks and the libertarians’ abolition of the minimum wage will force all the lazy whites and blacks (who–too bad for them–may be second- or tenth-generation Americans) to underbid wages acceptable to economic refugees from Central Africa or Bangladesh, unless they want to scrape along with handouts from private charities. And, of course, the American voters will keep supporting this libertarian miracle.
To be sure, Unz is right about the many ills of our society; from the grave defects of federal and state welfare policies to the unholy power of the trial lawyers. But it is politically naive at best, or worse, a devious feint, to place all these problems into a queue to be solved today, while banishing immigration problems to the end of the queue for tomorrow.
A second theme developed by Unz is the idea that conservatives would gain a political advantage by opposing the alleged ‘anti-immigrant’ policies of Democrats. He predicts, plausibly, that in states like California and New York, first-generation immigrant voters might, within a few decades, outnumber second-, third-, etc., generation immigrants. But he then concludes mistakenly that these new voters will favor continued large-scale immigration and that they will predominantly vote Republican. Recent polls indicate that majorities of the so-called ‘Hispanics’ and ‘Asians,’ those who are entitled to vote as Americans, favor sensible restrictions on immigration. Thus, if the Republicans were to adopt the libertarian utopianism toward immigration that Unz advocates, these new voters might well favor the Democrats. Moreover, figures that Unz cites from pre-1994 elections show that only 40 to 50 percent of what he calls ‘ordinary Asians and Hispanics’ voted Republican.
But the idea that policies propitiating those who want unlimited immigration will be a vote-getter for conservatives is not only contradicted by recent voting patterns, it is utterly nefarious as a political principle for our republic. If the election dynamic between America’s principal parties ever came to depend on imported voters–1 million from Mexico, 2 million from China–a future Edward Gibbon could easily pinpoint the cause of a rapidly spiralling Decline and Fall of the United States.
Unz also anticipates a grand sorting out among voters into pro-immigration ‘conservatives’ and a benighted faction of the Democratic Party that remains stuck in an ‘anti-immigration’ groove. To explain this grand re-alignment, Unz mentions some givens: Jews with their ‘liberal guilt’ have been a ‘bedrock base of the Democratic Party,’ while the ‘Asians’ tend to be anti-liberal. The blacks who have voted overwhelmingly for Democratic candidates antagonize these Asian and Hispanic immigrants, given the ‘rise of black xenophobia’ plus ‘the criminal pathology in many black neighborhoods.’ Hence, these anti-immigrant forces locked into the Democratic Party will push pro-immigrant Democrats (such as the ‘Asians,’ Hispanics, and Jews) into the arms of the pro-immigrant (if Unz has his way) Republican Party. And this isn’t all. This fabulous racial Gotterdammerung in America will also ‘spark a massive rollback of the welfare state.’
Contrary to this racial Valhalla, November 8, 1994, revealed the opposite dynamic. A much larger number of Californian voters opted for restrictions on immigration than for Pete Wilson. That is to say, Proposition 187, despite its clumsiness and legal difficulties, gained more support than the top candidates of either party.
The third theme advanced by Republicans who favor ‘open borders’ (or–like Unz–favor large flows of immigration) is an insouciant confidence that the United States would not become balkanized. This was unwarranted optimism even before the battle about California’s Proposition 187 had played itself out. As John O’Sullivan wrote in the National Review, ‘the arrival of more and more people speaking a language other than English’ promotes ‘cultural ghettos’ that, instead of being absorbed, continue to survive and expand.
The California scene before and following the November election woke us up to the fact that for America’s balkanization, it is later than we thought. Even though the voters decided, by a factor of two to one, that the 187 measure, with all its defects, was better than nothing, the opposition skillfully mobilized forces that promote these new ghettoes. There were not only Mexican flags carried in several demonstrations, but also less visible portents, such as financial support for the organization that opposed 187 from a Spanish language television network and from the California Teachers Association (which is hostile to welfare reform and wants to maintain bilingualism). Moreover, official and unofficial voices from Mexico claimed, in effect, an international entitlement to send illegal immigrants into the United States. Worst of all, the big-government establishments in Sacramento and Washington have since been stoking the fires of balkanization by exhorting everyone to break the law, if necessary, in order to keep illegal immigration flowing. The larger this illegal flow, the easier it will be for the ‘balkanizers’ to suborn the new immigrants into a ghetto culture.
Fred C. Ikle
Ron Unz concludes that immigration is being blamed for America’s social and economic problems. Not true. There is legitimate concern regarding illegalimmigration and a renewed determination to take action to combat illegal immigration, already against U.S. laws. There also is the need for honest debate about proper levels of legal immigration. But Unz is wrong if he believes such public interest and concern amounts to blaming immigrants for the fundamental societal problems.
Immigrants, if legal, are a ‘blessing’ as Unz asserts. Illegal aliens are not a ‘blessing’–they undercut our laws, our heritage of legal immigration and represent a drain on our economy and social network. Unz wants to return to ‘the Ellis Island tradition,’ which he notes was ‘harsh but fair’ and which excluded those ‘with illnesses of who were otherwise likely to become a burden on society’. This is an argument for legal immigration, which I accept.
Unz then proceeds, however, to give examples of legal and illegal aliens needed to do ‘unpleasant jobs’ and cites an example of a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur who was illegal. This justification of illegal immigration is inconsistent with Unz’s push for a return to the Ellis Island tradition. Unz’s broad assertion that immigrants pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits does not stand review. First, you must separate legal from illegal immigrants. Second, at least half the illegal aliens do not pay taxes! They are paid in cash, there is no withholding, and no tax returns are filed. However, even if there is alleged economic benefit received from illegals, you cannot justify illegal activity on such grounds. If you do, you have restated the argument for slavery.
Unz states that ‘there exists an obvious incompatibility between immigration and an extensive social welfare state.’ He further states that ‘…extending America’s generous welfare benefits to all Third World inhabitants who cross our borders would quickly bankrupt any economy and cause the collapse of the modern welfare state.’ These statements are accurate. Moreover, they certainly show a significant relationship between immigration and the social welfare system.
Unz advocates that the Republican Party support reasonable levels of legal immigration and pursue efforts to deter illegal immigration. The Republican Party position pursued under Ronald Reagan was exactly that. Certainly a strong party position against illegal immigration is both good domestic and foreign policy as well as good politics.
Unfortunately, Unz, in positions stated in his article and in appearances in California, opposes every known approach to stopping illegal immigration. He agrees with more border enforcement but notes that half of the illegal entrants are visa overstays. He is against employer sanctions, which are the main deterrent to illegal aliens obtaining jobs. He opposed California Proposition 187, which will enhance existing laws to prevent illegal aliens from obtaining benefits. He blurs the distinctions between legal and illegal immigration and appears to accept illegal entrants if they work hard.
From my experience as U.S. Immigration Commissioner, to stop illegal immigration we must pursue a combination of efforts to stop the magnets of jobs and benefits, strengthen border enforcement, and improve the public resolve not to tolerate illegal immigration.
The concluding statement by Unz is that ‘our goal must be to return our entire society to the values of individual liberty, community spirit and personal self-reliance…drawing from the traditions of the Western frontier and Ellis Island.’ A good place to start is to take definitive steps to stop illegal immigration which undercuts all such values.
Alan C. Nelson
Commissioner, Immigration and
Naturalization Service, 1982 to 1989
Co-Author, Proposition 187
President, Americans Against Illegal Immigration
Newport Beach, CA
Ron Unz’s diatribe against those arguing for less immigration (‘Immigration or the Welfare State,’ Fall 1994), contains the same faulty reasoning that has characterized Jack Kemp’s view on this subject. It goes:
1) Immigrants are not a problem, rather it’s welfare and other disincentives to work. Without welfare, immigration ‘is a blessing.’ The more immigration, the bigger the blessing. The solution is to cut welfare and forget immigration policy.
2) If we cut welfare, we get the support of conservative ethnic groups who are naturally disinclined to support welfare.
3) If the Republican Party gets into a discussion of immigration policy, the difficulties of the issue will ensnare the party in divisive issues that will prevent outreach to ‘people of color.’
If immigration were not moving swiftly up the issue curve, such a ‘behind the curve’ strategy might make sense. But immigration will soon be one of the top five issues in America. For those conservatives who see immigration as only a tool to attack the welfare state, they are fixating on too narrow a part of the picture. A huge issue will be left unattended by an important wing of America’s intellectual field.
Immigration issues are dramatically affecting all phases of American society, driving a deep self-analysis of who and what we are–and want to be. The rapidly-growing pressure on America’s borders has created an altered sense of our vulnerability to outside forces in controlling our destiny, and in passing on to future generations a nation with the same qualities as those we inherited from our ancestors.
Rather than rely on outmoded myths of the past, or create new ones out of the future, conservatives like Unz should engage the issue directly on its own merits: Why do we need immigration? If we do, how do current policies reflect the need? If we don’t need immigration, why have it? This is the real debate on immigration. Let it begin.
Daniel A. Stein
Federation for American Immigration Reform
Ron Unz Responds:
The basic thesis of my Policy Review article was a simple one: that immigration has generally been a good thing for America over the years, but that the recent leftist policies of multiculturalism, bilingualism, affirmative action, and welfare dependency are severe threats to our society, with or without immigration. My position probably represented the widely accepted mainstream of conservative thought just four or five years ago, and few facts have changed since then. I suggest that the enormous hostility this position provoked demonstrates the near-hysteria gripping all too many anti-immigration intellectuals. I will do my best to respond with as much common sense as possible.
Although Lawrence Auster is free to indulge his hyperbolic rhetoric–exemplified by the title of his 1990 book on immigration, The Path to National Suicide–he should be more careful of his facts. That a few political activists in San Jose (peacefully) protested an allegedly ‘insensitive’ public statue in l990 (not 1992) is hardly a sign of significant ethnic conflict, and it was actually the Anglo multiculturalist liberals controlling the city council who chose to waste $500,000 on a statue of an Aztec pagan god. This latter statue has actually aroused much criticism among San Jose’s large Hispanic immigrant community, who are overwhelmingly pious Catholics or Evangelical Protestants. These immigrants might have preferred, say, a Catholic Saint such as Our Lady of Guadaloupe as the subject, but while the (Anglo) ACLU has no problems with spending public money on statues of pagan gods, it would obviously never permit religious images in the town square. I belabor the point because the story of the Quetzalcoatl statue has received much national attention, and local nuances are often lost across 3,000 miles.
Similarly, the display of Mexican flags by the anti-187 marchers was a political blunder, but not all that different from the display of Irish flags during St. Patrick’s Day marches, or various other forms of traditional ethnic American pride. More than a few of the protesters were proud Mexican-American veterans who attended the rally with their U.S. Army medals, decrying what they (rightly) perceived as the anti-Mexican rhetoric of many pro-187 activists. In fact, Los Angeles’s Mexican-American community has among the nations highest rates of military service, and is enormously patriotic on national defense issues.
Prof. Briggs’s criticisms are far more tempered, but I believe that they are mistaken all the same. The decline of European immigration dating from 1914 was obviously caused largely by the outbreak of war and its disruptive aftermath, which were soon followed by the harsh Immigration Restriction Act of 1924. The Great Depression which began a few years later hardly proves that restrictionist policies guarantee jobs and prosperity. Furthermore, the enormous human capital of the German and Eastern European Jews, who would have fled to America in the 1930s, was certainly lost to our nation, with the notable immigrant exceptions of Albert Einstein and most of the other fathers of our A-Bomb program.
Turning to post-1965 immigration, a very substantial fraction of these immigrants demonstrate exactly those high cognitive abilities which Prof. Briggs argues are so important to our economy. The great prevalence of these immigrants and their children as winners of academic and science competitions as students and faculty members at our finest universities, and as leading employees and entrepreneurs in sunrise industries, is one of the most dramatic changes in American society over the past two decades. The major computer software company founded by Philippe Kahn, an illegal immigrant, has certainly created more jobs and produced more tax revenue than all of the United States’ anti-immigration theorists combined.
Moreover, Prof. Briggs’s praise for the economic strategy of Japan (which has minimal immigration) is an echo of the ‘America in Decline’ economic school of the late 1980s, still widespread among many Democrats, Japan’s recent financial collapse notwithstanding. Although Japan still remains quite competitive in industries such as steel and cars, American companies in many high-technology, high-value industries have crushed their Japanese (and European) competitors, and America’s industrial position is probably stronger today than at any time during the past 30 years. Japan’s domestic personal computer industry is currently in the process of being annihilated by Compaq and other U.S. clone makers, while Bill Gates of Microsoft is almost a figure of legend among Japanese schoolchildren. I would guess that a list compiled of the world’s 100 leading-edge technology companies (in such areas as computer hardware, computer software, telecommunications, biotechnology, and entertainment) would contain some 95 American names. And these are the industries in which immigrant employees and entrepreneurs are most heavily concentrated. America’s willingness to open its door to the best and brightest of the world is no small ingredient in our current economic success.
Finally, I see no evidence of any obvious link between the presence of low-skilled immigrants, and economic and social stress to the native-born population. For example, New York contains huge numbers of low-skilled immigrants, and its large black population has high rates of unemployment, welfare, and crime; but the blacks living in Detroit, which contains virtually no immigrants, have even worse problems in this regard. Immigrants both create and absorb wealth, and their impact on native populations is far from clear.
I am grateful to Prof. Fuchs for his kind words regarding several of the crucial points I raised, and trust he will accept my disagreements in the spirit in which they are given. Since my article dealt with immigration matters in general, and since illegal immigrants represent merely a small fraction of our total immigrant population (perhaps 10-15 percent), I did not discuss the issue aside from declaring general support for INS efforts at border control. However, I and other conservatives have elsewhere expressed our opposition to such proposed measures as a national identity card or computer registry system, and I trust that less intrusive approaches can be developed. I would consider it a tragedy if the legal 99 percent of America’s population sacrifices too many of their traditional freedoms in order to expel the 1 percent consisting of illegal nannies and gardeners.
I stand by my view that our welfare system is a major cause of our current social ills, and believe that most readers of Policy Review would agree with me that the evidence on that score is overwhelming. Although I recognize the historical roots of black social rage, to understand is not to excuse, and the widespread racial attacks on all non-blacks (immigrant and otherwise) during the 1992 riots were unconscionable, as was the widespread defense or even praise of such acts by leading black politicians. Pogroms are pogroms, regardless of race.
I apologize for my ‘cheap shot’ criticism of most ‘politicians, government bureaucrats, and trial lawyers’ as ‘parasitic,’ though recent election results indicate that I have much company among the voters. I also acknowledge my apparently erroneous 20 percent foreign-born figure for 1900, which, however, I obtained from a Hoover Institution publication by a leading immigration researcher.
George High would have us believe that America’s typical immigrant is an unskilled farm worker, living in poverty ,or perhaps on the dole. Far from the case. Data from the 1990 Census reveals that the average per-capita income of America’s immigrant population is actually several percentage points higher than that of its native-born population, which casts grave doubts on High’s fears that our nation is being transformed into a low-wage, low-skill society. He argues that although a heavily immigrant city such as El Paso may have a minuscule crime rate, but that its unemployment rate is quite substantial (9.9 percent). But the 1994 Vedder, Gallaway, and Moore nationwide study shows that taken in aggregate, those states with high immigrant concentrations have substantially lower unemployment rates than those states with few immigrants.
Perhaps these facts will soothe High’s immigration concerns, but I doubt it. For I would suggest that he is being somewhat disingenuous with us, and that his overarching concerns are not the economic issues which he emphasizes (and which all of us share to some extent), but instead the environmental fears of overpopulation and ecological damage which he touches upon toward the end of his letter. Although he quotes a fiscal study by the Center for Immigration Studies to buttress his economic case, he nowhere reveals his affiliation with that organization which he himself serves as Executive Director). The most prominent researcher at that Center is Leon Bouvier, an individual whose writings have been enormously influential in anti-immigration circles, and a short examination of Bouvier’s views allows us to better comprehend High’s likely hidden agenda, and certainly reveals the underlying environmentalist perspective of much anti-immigration scholarship.
Bouvier’s most recent work on immigration How Many Americans? (co-authored with Lindsey Grant) reads virtually as a casebook of the radical environmentalist fringe, from its opening thanks to Vice President Al Gore for his deep environmental insights, to its endless tale of global warming, acid rain, ozone holes, tropical rain forests, and every other environmental issue of the last decade. The Reagan-Bush Administration is denounced for its lack of support for abortion rights and other means of global population control, while Bill Clinton and Joycelyn Elders are hailed as role models. Bouvier suggests reducing air pollution by more or less eliminating automobiles, and reducing ground pollution by restricting use of fertilizers and pesticides.
But since population is the greatest single threat to the environment, Bouvier’s central proposal is a concerted government effort to reduce America’s current population by over 100 million people, or nearly 50 percent (he also remains open to a reduction of 70 percent or more). Obviously, the task of eliminating 100 mlllion (or perhaps 200 million) Americans is a difficult one for our government, made harder if additional people are entering each year; hence, his opposition to immigration, regardless of race, creed, or color. Since Bouvier particularly thanks George High for his help in publishing the book, I assume High shares these views. I trust most readers of Policy Review do not.
I see little need to debunk Prof. Huddle’s absurd claim that recent immigrants generate over $40 billion per year in net costs to the American public. His study has already been adequately refuted by Prof. George Borjas, himself a leading anti-immigration economist (cited approvingly by Huddle). Huddles numbers assume immigrants pay virtually no taxes and that their presence drives enormous numbers of native-born Americans onto the welfare roles, views for which Borjas finds little support. During the 1980s, immigration rose and native unemployment fell; as mentioned above, regions of the country with large numbers of immigrants often have lower native unemployment rates than those with few immigrants. As one might predict, Huddle’s studies have been funded by the Carrying Capacity Network, yet another radical environmentalist group active in the anti-immigration movement, along with Zero Population Growth, Negative Population Growth, and a whole host of others. Since the great Global Warming Scare has now passed, its adherents have moved on to the Great Immigration Scare.
Fred Ikle’s fevered joy in the alleged anti-immigration message sent by Proposition 187’s victory in California is adequately refuted by the letter which immediately follows, from Alan Nelson, a principal author of 187 and a leading advocate. Pace , Ikle, Proposition 187 won because it was a referendum on illegalimmigration, which almost no one defends, and especially on providing social welfare benefits to illegal immigrants.
In fact, the most effective pro-187 television commercials (by Gov. Pete Wilson) opened with a scene of the Statue of Liberty, described America as a ‘Nation of Immigrants,’ and reverently showed new immigrants taking their oath of citizenship (coupled with a harsh denunciation of illegal immigrant lawbreakers). My own opposition to 187, and that of other, more prominent national conservatives, was on the grounds that it was (1) appallingly drafted and (2) admitted to be unconstitutional by its own leading supporters. Opposition to such a measure, however popular it might be, should be expected from principled conservatives.
Otherwise, I accept Ikle’s charge that I am an economic libertarian, in that I support free markets and free trade, and oppose government control over our economy and the disastrous giveaway programs of the liberal Welfare State. But I have never been a ‘utopian’ advocate of open borders, and in social matters, I am a strong traditionalist. At the time I joined the Republican Party, such a constellation of views was generally called ‘Reaganism.’
With regard to Alan Nelson, I am pleased that our strong disagreement on the merits of Prop. 187 is matched by equally strong agreement on the general benefits of legal immigration. However, if Nelson believes that I am exaggerating the extent to which (legal) immigrants are the target of hostility and blame, I suggest he consider the other critical letters replying to my article, none of which (with the exception of that of Prof. Fuchs) make any distinction whatsoever between legal and illegal immigration.
I have never defended illegal immigration, or any other form of law-breaking. Still, intellectual honesty forced me to point out that most (though not all) illegal immigrants are hardworking and economically productive, and that individual illegal immigrants have been among our nation’s most valuable recent additions.
Although I am not able to propose any obvious solution to the illegal immigration problem, I can suggest that certain measures be avoided at all costs. In 1986, I strongly opposed and Nelson strongly supported the Immigration Reform and Control Act of that year.
Among other things, that measure granted amnesty and the eventual right of citizenship to some three million illegal immigrants then in America, giving them priority over law-abiding foreigners who had patiently waited many years to gain legal entrance to our nation. When law-breakers are rewarded, law-breaking is encouraged, and it is not surprising that illegal immigration is in many respects a more serious problem today than is was in 1986.
Finally, I found Daniel Stein’s letter strangely vacuous, coming as it did from the principal spokesman of America’s leading anti-immigration organization, FAIR. His only clear points seem to be that immigration is becoming an important national issue (I agree) and that I should explain the positive aspects of immigration (I thought I had in my original article). Perhaps he and the radical environmentalists who established FAIR are simply unused to having their cherished beliefs challenged in open debate.
To close, I wish to point out that my pro-immigration views are rooted in personal experience as well as statistical data. I have lived and worked many years in the world of business and technology, in contrast to anti-immigration theorists, nearly all of whom appear to be Ivory Tower intellectuals, never forced to compete in the real world or meet a payroll. Wild talk of abolishing automobiles or immigration comes easier for such people.
Just a few weeks ago, I attended a reception at Intel, one of America’s two or three most important corporations and the world’s dominant supplier of computer microprocessors. Photographs were displayed of the design teams responsible for each generation of the microchips which have given America a virtual monopoly in computer technology. By name and by face, the overwhelming were foreign immigrants, as is Intel’s own CEO. If we wish to turn such individuals away or make their lives in America uncomfortable, any other nation on Earth will be only too glad to receive them.
At the other end of the scale, while starting my own company, I lived for a number of years in an urban, working-class neighborhood in Queens, New York, filled with the recent immigrant Asians and Hispanic arrivals, many quite impoverished, whose presence so alarms some theorists. The individuals I encountered were hard-working and assimilative, the families were strong and cohesive, and I saw fewer signs of social decay and urban pathology than I do today in Palo Alto, one of Silicon Valleys most prestigious suburbs. Those hankering for a return to the families and values of the 1940s and 1950s need only look to many immigrant neighborhoods.
Once again, I would suggest that my position on immigration represents the pragmatic, centrist view of mainstream conservatism, avoiding both the open borders utopianism of extreme libertarians and the closed borders hysteria of extreme environmentalists, while maintaining America’s traditional openness to those immigrants whose hard work, energy, or special skills are likely to benefit our nation.
I also believe that my strong opposition to multiculturalism, bilingualism, affirmative action, and failed social welfare programs is also fully mainstream, since these are a disaster for America, with or without immigration.
Fortunately, there is perhaps more common ground in the heated immigration debate than one might imagine. One of America’s leading anti-immigrationists has repeatedly told me that ‘of course’ multiculturalism, affirmative action, and welfare are the real source of most immigration problems, but that since these government policies are so entrenched as to be unassailable, immigration must be stopped in order to minimize the damage. I would suggest that policy changes which seemed impossible prior to November 8th of this year became quite possible by November 9th.
Reputable anti-immigrationists admit that recent immigrants may or may not be paying a few billion dollars more in taxes than they use in government services, while generating billions in additional economic growth; they believe the data is simply unclear. However, convincing studies suggest that affirmative action policies cost our economy $2 to $3 hundred billion annually, and are perhaps one of the main causes of our slow growth over the past 25 years.
In non-economic terms, they are a huge source of divisiveness and tension in our multi-ethnic society, are contrary to the American tradition, and are enormously unpopular among voters. Abolishing these policies rather than the Statue of Liberty seems a better high priority item for our new Republican Congress.