Thoughts on Immigration

Most modern Conservatives agree that our borders need to be secured, including against illegal immigration.  This need is based on national security imperatives, recognition of the need to preserve the integrity of our being a nation of laws, and not a nation of personal convenience, and our need to foster an environment of respect for law.  This also is based on the right of any nation—the right of any society in their social compact—to determine for themselves who they will allow into their nation: no foreign entity has an inherent right to enter another nation without that nation’s permission.  I won’t pursue the matter of secure borders further.  However, this is only part of the immigration problem that any nation faces.

There are two additional aspects to immigration, and if these are not also solved, the immigration matter will continue to be a serious risk to our national security.  These two aspects are what to do about the population of illegal aliens currently present in the United States, and what to do about legal entry for immigrants into our country.  On the matter of the illegal aliens present, I frankly don’t have any good answers to offer.  We tried a general, one-time amnesty in the ’80s, and that was a dismal failure.  Rep Luis Gutierriz (Dem, IL) has suggested something along the lines of requiring current illegal aliens to register, pass a background check, and pay a fine, as well as undergo certain education training.  This seems inadequate by itself, but combined with a requirement to leave the United States and then come back (paying the fine on the way out or as a condition of being allowed back in) this might form the seed of a proper, effective treatment of our illegal aliens—the very great majority of whom are decent and honorable people who have committed the single crime of entering our country illegally—their only crime, but a serious crime, nonetheless.

But a successful solution for our present population of illegal aliens, together with a successful solution to our border control problem, still are a complete failure to successfully address our immigration problem until we also (mind that: also, not in isolation from the other two) solve the problem of entry into our exceptional country.  For the fact is, the United States needs immigration to survive as a free and prosperous nation that fosters individual liberties and individual responsibilities.

We benefit from immigration from a national security perspective.  We get significant numbers of immigrants who have left nations who are our enemies and nations who would like to see harm come to us even if they aren’t overt enemies.  These immigrants aren’t the dregs of those nations’ societies; they are as brain- and talent- and work ethic-laden as any of the other immigrants we receive.  And our gain from these men and women is our enemies’ direct loss.

We need immigration because immigrants bring with them dedication and work ethic.  They’re here because they want to be, sometimes at great personal cost and risk.  None of them is forced to be here, and no one has been for nearly 150 years.  Immigrants bring with them new ways of looking at old problems, including the seemingly intractable ones that we face.  Immigrants bring with them good ideas and a great deal of individual talent.  Even when their ideas are bad, the discussions and debates over ideas only serve to sharpen our thinking concerning our own ideas and solutions.

Finally, we need immigration for our survival as a nation.  Like most national populations of the world, ours is an aging population, and we would face a dramatic implosion from this simple demographic fact were it not for immigration.  (If you doubt the power of demography consider Social Security: a program conceived in the 1930s when post-retirement life expectancy was about 6 years, and there were roughly 7 workers paying for each retiree, now must cover the retirement costs of a population whose post-retirement life expectancy is some 16 years and do so with only 3 workers per retiree, and with that number falling to 2 over the next couple of decades.)  Immigration is, literally, our country’s life’s blood; it keeps our population younger and refreshed.

Against a replacement birthrate of, roughly, 2.1 babies per woman to maintain a stable population that is neither growing nor shrinking, the United States’ birthrate is around 1.8.  We’re not alone in this.  China is an aging population, with a birthrate of around 1.5 children per woman (1.8 if you believe Chinese government figures), and the Chinese failing demographic situation is exacerbated by its one-child policy and its cultural preference for boy babies to the extent that girl fetuses are routinely aborted, and girl babies all too frequently are simply abandoned soon after birth.  France (birthrate of around 1.9 in 2009) and Germany (birthrate of 1.37 in 2007, perhaps rising some since then) are aging populations.  They have significant immigration, but they’ve also made, to their current chagrin, the deliberate decision not to assimilate those immigrants—these live apart from the “native” French and Germans.  Russia’s birthrate is around 1.3, and its population already is demonstrating the effects of this: its 1990s population of 148 million has fallen to 143 million today, and it’s projected to be in the neighborhood of 110 million by 2050—just two generations from now, in our grandchildren’s time.  Iran is an aging population, with birthrates collapsing from 6.6 babies per woman as recently as the ’80s to its present 1.9.  These nations are not producing babies from “native” families at a replacement rate, and with the apparent exception of France and Germany, they’re not gaining from immigration (arguably, France and Germany are not gaining in any meaningful way); their populations will continue to shrink and to age.

We don’t need this implosion, or even “mere” shrinkage or aging; we need immigration.  This means we need to remove the impediments to legal immigration, we need to eliminate the quotas that put an upper bound on the number of talented who want to work here, on the number of foreign-born who are educated in our Universities and want to stay past their college days.  As I wrote earlier, it can take a couple of months to get a non-immigrant visa; B-1 visas can take a month, H-1B visas as long as six months, and the H-1Bs have very low annual quotas. It simply shouldn’t be that hard to enter the United States legally.  There should be border crossing stations every mile along our border—yes, a practical exaggeration, but my point is clear, and just incidentally, easier to reach and more frequent border crossing stations would put the human traffickers—the mules, and worse—immediately out of business (and could serve as staging locations for more effective border patrols).  Visa approval should occur in days, not months (in today’s computerized world, it shouldn’t take months to run a background check), and there should be no quotas.