American Common Sense and Legal Immigration

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on April 21, 2010

An item on the political website RealClearPolitics argues that Americans are just fine with high legal immigration – rather, it's just illegal immigration they have a problem with and are exercised about. But that argument doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

"Americans support legal immigration and oppose illegal immigration," writes RCP's chief political correspondent David Paul Kuhn. "But another picture often emerges from the chattering class. Americans' opposition to illegal immigration is wrongly described as opposition to immigration itself."

Kuhn crafts a plausible-sounding argument about illegal aliens possessing fewer skills and less education than legal immigrants. However, though legal immigrants aren't quite as bad off socioeconomically as are illegal aliens, they lag behind native-born Americans. That goes for poverty, health coverage, welfare usage, and similar indicators. This fact shows up in Kuhn's own examples of poverty level and high school graduation rates; illegal aliens are the worst off, legal immigrants are next, and the native-born are the best off. The American public gets that most legal immigrants aren't doctors, corporate executives, and job-creating brainiacs.

And in fact you get more illegal immigration with higher legal immigration; the two move in tandem. The main source countries of legal immigrants are the same sources of illegal aliens. Low-sending nations of legal immigrants don't cause us much of an illegal immigration problem.

Since Congress expanded legal immigration drastically in 1965 and again in 1990, "chain migration" visas have fed the steady importation of an underclass. There, you get a visa merely for being related to someone a couple of branches over on the family tree who got a visa himself.

That's a main cause of the falling quality of legal immigrants. The change in greater immigration volume accompanied by lower human capital is what caused the internal politics of immigration within the Congress to shift since the '60s. Prof. James Gimpel and I wrote a little book all about that phenomenon and its consequences.

Over time, opinion polls have pretty consistently shown the American people, by at least a plurality, want legal immigration levels reduced. For instance, in August Gallup found 50 percent of Americans think immigration should be cut. And the CBS/New York Times poll asks the same question, specifically about legal immigration, over time. The public generally consistently favors decreasing, rather than increasing or maintaining present levels, our legal immigration.