Quick, What's the Annual Level of Legal Immigration?

By David North on June 20, 2014

My colleague, Mark Krikorian, recently made the point that few Americans have any idea of the actual level of immigration to this country — currently about a million a year.

With that in mind I decided to run a tiny test of that notion at what I thought was a collection of bright, well-educated, well-traveled people — we were all attending a cocktail party on Embassy Row.

This is not my usual habitat, but once a year the ambassador from New Zealand puts on a reception for alumni of the US-New Zealand Fulbright program, and I have persuaded his staff that I am the dean of the alumni, being a member of the U.S.-to-NZ class of 1954. So I always go. I did again earlier this month.

As I looked around the room, I figured that virtually all the Americans there had at least one graduate degree, that they were all probably based in the DC area, many in public policy positions, and, by definition, they had studied in at least one other country. Given all that, they were probably better informed about governmental matters than the average American. So I decided to try my question.

The first couple I talked to were agricultural engineers, an occupation I was not familiar with. Both of them had master's degrees and it turns out the work involves the rural environment, including water purification. She had won the Fulbright and he tagged along and was hired by her NZ host — Massey University, the nation's agricultural college — to be a technician, but more on that later.

They were both outgoing, articulate, and good company, perfect for such an event.

I asked each of them to tell me what the approximate annual total of immigration was to the United States, just permanent legal immigrants, not illegals and not nonimmigrants, as we all had been as foreign students. She said 20,000 annually, and he said 200,000 a year.

The next person I chatted up had also studied environmental matters in NZ, then secured a law degree here, and was now employed by our Justice Department. I did not tell him the earlier responses. He said about 100,000.

All three seemed to surprised to hear the million-a-year figure, and that there was a Senate-passed bill that would double it.

If these cosmopolitan folk were this unknowing, how about the rest of the country? Is there some way we can get that million-a-year number into more heads? Should we buy billboards saying that?

At this point in the party, the ambassador approached the microphone, and since I had heard him in previous years I decided to slip away, and did so.

On the drive home I played back what I had learned about the young American's task at Massey. It dealt with the software that one uses when distributing liquid nitrogen fertilizer on that nation's lovely pastures, where the sheep and cattle graze.

My first reaction was — they use computers to measure the fertilizer they put on the pasture?

I thought how I handled the nitrogen-rich scrapings from the chicken roosts on our little New Jersey farm in the forties; I shoveled them into the back of the Model A pickup truck, drove to the pasture, aimed the vehicle uphill in low gear, scrambled into the back of the truck, shoveled the stuff off as we went along, and then got back into the driver's seat before we ran into a fence. Pretty primitive — and a little exciting.

One of my new friend's tasks was to adjust the software in a nuanced way that had never occurred to me: How do you avoid spreading the commercial fertilizer on a spot that was already fertilized because a cow had just, shall we say, done so by natural methods? The term in the trade for such an area is a "hot spot" and you can teach a machine to recognize one.

I am sure he solved that earthy, but high-tech problem but I never learned exactly how he did it.

Maybe I will find out next year.