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 Post subject: Too *few* immigrants?
PostPosted: Wed Aug 01, 2007 2:34 pm 
There's a lot of loose talk about there being a large number of immigrants - especially illegal immigrants - in the US today. But There's a problem with this claim: it's totally at odds with the history of the country. There are currently 25 million documented immigrants in the US, plus another 5 million temporary residents; the number of undocumented immigrants and migrant workers is anywhere between 4 million and 10 million, a wide enough range to conclude that no accurate figures are really available. All in all, there are at most 40 million non-native residents in the US.

Given the US population of 295 million, this makes immigrants and resident aliens about 13 percent of the population. From what I've gathered, this is an all-time low, down from the high figure of 65% in 1916. Even in the 1930s, when there were rather tight restrictions on immigration, there were more foreign-born Americans than today, not just as a percentage of the population but in actual numbers as well.

As startling as it may seem, people are not flocking to the US in greater numbers. Quite the reverse.

Would you believe it if I told you that the maximum immigrant quotas from most countries are not reached most years? Including - and this is the part most people are surprised by - Mexico? Seriously. The majority of illegals in the US from Mexico are avoiding legal channels not because they couldn't come in legally, but because they are only going in temporarily, to return home in six months when the growing season is over. Undocumented workers are thought to outnumber actual immigrants by at leas tthree to one. Until recently, the rules for temprary workers were so difficult to get around that it was easier to sneak across the border than to wade through the paperwork to get in legitimately. Whether the new rules for temporary workers will change this isn't clear yet, but the fact that some recognition of this is being made is a good sign.

I should add that the majority of the Spanish speaking population in the US are not immigrants. They've been here all along, as remnant populations from before the Mexican War, and have retained their native language despite being in the middle of an English-speaking majority. Ther same goes for the Chinese-speaking populations in the Chinatowns of most major cities: there are native-born US citizens, of four or more generations, who don't speak a word of English (this is rarely though - most are bilingual). Similarly, there are even today parts of the Midwest where German, Polish, Swedish or Czech are the majority languages, even though there haven't been large immigrations from those countries since the 1940s. The languages simply have endured because that was what everyone in those communities have always spoken.

The point being? Simply that this to-do about illegal aliens is nothing more than a diversion. Anyone talking about illegal immigrants - on either side of the debate - is out to whip up emotion, rather than solve a real problem. Nativist sentiment has been a cyclic thing in the US since the 1820s, at least; ironically, many of those complaining about Mexican and Asian 'immigrants' are from families who have been in the US for less time than the people they are bitching about.

If anything, it is the decrease in immigration that we should find disturbing, not the reverse. It means that America is no longer seen as the Land Of Opportunity by most of the world. That's a very bad sign for our international image. Furthermore, one of the things that has always made the US so vibrant a society is the endless influx of new people - bring new languages, new ideas, new cultural richness, new enthusiam for the country - the loss of which can only lead to stagnation.

Do You Believe That?™

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