Blueprints for an Ideal Legal Immigration Policy

By CIS on March 1, 2001

U.S. immigration policy has not received a grounds-up re-examination on Capitol Hill since the landmark change in immigration law in 1965. This has led to a policy of accumulated exceptions, entirely devoid of any coherent vision or principle.

In an effort to address this problem, the Center for Immigration Studies has released a first-of-its kind publication drawing together a diverse range of concise, integral policy outlines from 15 immigration experts. Blueprints for an Ideal Immigration Policy, edited by former Democratic Governor of Colorado Richard Lamm and former Wyoming Republican Senator Alan Simpson, seeks to provide a road map of immigration policy alternatives for Congress and the Bush administration to consider. The essays comprising the book outline the parameters of the debate over legal immigration numbers and categories by having key observers articulate their positions and principles in a format that allows for comparative analysis.

The contrasts in policy offered among the essays are as stark as they are diverse: “In a country where nearly half the lakes and rivers do not meet clean water standards and where 40 percent of the citizens live in cities that can’t meet clean air standards, anything that adds to the total number of Americans . . . is anti-environment,” writes Roy Beck of But John Isbister of the University of California at Santa Cruz claims that U.S. immigration policy could make a contribution to global equal opportunity: “Americans live a privileged life, not because we deserve it on account of our merits, but because we have been born to it. By erecting border controls, with armed guards, we protect our privilege and prevent others from sharing in it.”

Among the other authors submitting essays are George Borjas of Harvard University; Susan Martin, former Director of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform; Stephen Moore, president of the Club for Growth; and T. Alexander Aleinikoff, former chief counsel of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

“Too much discussion of immigration policy suffers from overheated rhetoric or treacly nostalgia having little to do with the reality of modern immigration,” said Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center and a contributor to the book. “Our hope with this project is to make the debate more coherent and concrete, focusing on real numbers and real categories in today’s circumstances.”

Table of Contents

By Richard D. Lamm and Alan Simpson

Legal Immigration Reform: Toward Rationality and Equity
By T. Alexander Aleinikoff

Roy Beck’s Numbers
By Roy Beck

Immigration Policy: A Proposal
By George J. Borjas

A Legal Immigration Policy for the 21st Century
By Vernon M. Briggs, Jr.

A Prescription for Immigration
By Peter Brimelow

Give Higher Priority to Refugees
By John Isbister

Legal Immigration in the 21st Century
By Kevin R. Johnson

My Ideal Immigration Policy
By Father Brian Jordan

Legal Immigration: What Is to Be Done
By Mark Krikorian

It’s Time to Look at Who We Are Admitting, Not Just How Many
By Richard D. Lamm

Setting Priorities in Immigration Policy
By Susan F. Martin

Beyond the Numbers: What Kind of Immigrants Should We Accept?
By Norm Matloff

A Strategic U.S. Immigration Policy for the New Economy
By Stephen Moore

Immigration Policy as Random Rationing
By Alan Reynolds

An Immigration Policy Needs Objectives
By Dan Stein

Excerpts from Blueprints for an Ideal Legal Immigration Policy:

Foreword by Richard Lamm and Alan Simpson: “With the arrival of a new administration, the time is ripe for a bottom-up reconsideration of policies which so deeply and broadly affect the shape of the country we will bequeath to our children and grandchildren.”

T. Alexander Aleinikoff: “It is time to think seriously about a future when travel within North America is largely unrestricted ... the free flow of workers, tourists, and family is in the continent’s best interests. Mexico [should not] have to reach [economic] parity with the United States before freer travel in instituted. A fuller welfare state in Canada has not caused Americans to move north.”

Roy Beck: “Clearly, the overall numerical level of immigration makes all the difference in the world as to what kind of country is being created and as to what governmental entities need to do to prepare ... The most important question for Washington is whether a continuing stream of foreign workers and dependents into the country over the next few years will make it more or less difficult to achieve the economic, social or environmental goals of the American people.”

George Borjas: “Evidence suggests that the national interest ... would best be served by admitting immigrants who are relatively skilled [and] the twin economic goals of a larger economic pie and a more equitable splitting of the pie are attained by the same policy action: admitting skilled immigrants ... Skill-based point systems perform a useful function: they select those immigrants who best serve the national interest.”

Vernon Briggs: “Using immigration to completely fill all shortages can only discourage the creation of a responsive human resource development system ... It makes no sense to continue the process of legislating numbers that are the result of dubious political compromises at one time but which subsequently remain in effect for a generation or more.”

Peter Brimelow: “Much current policy is apparently driven by concepts of immigrant entitlement (‘family reunification’), Olympian responsibility for world problems (the refugee programs) or a vague feeling of that everyone should have a chance (the diversity programs) ... A moratorium would give Americans time to answer the question that has not been put to them: do they actually want to see their country transformed and, if so, how?”

John Isbister: “Justice does not require each person in the world to have an equal income, but it surely requires each person to have roughly equal opportunities ... American immigration policy could make a contribution to equal opportunity in the world ... The welfare of the disadvantaged at home is the only grounds, I think, on which the American government is justified in controlling the overall flow of immigration.”

Kevin R. Johnson: “A legal immigration scheme should not include a ‘temporary’ worker program. Past programs ... provided cheap labor to agricultural growers while minimum wage and fair working provisions proved unenforceable.”

Fr. Brian Jordan: “There is a Vatican document that states that those who flee economic conditions that threaten their lives and physical safety must be treated differently from those who emigrate simply to improve their position.”

Mark Krikorian: “Even by the standards of lawmaking in a democracy, immigration policy has developed in a remarkably haphazard, politicized, and aimless fashion ...The purpose of immigration is to create Americans.”

Richard Lamm: “Anyone who has been involved in formulating policies learns very quickly that there are no ideal policies, only better and worse ones ... Defining who comprises a nation will become more important as commerce becomes more global and less accountable to any one nation or community.”

Susan Martin: “Immigrants do affect the employment and earnings of those U.S. residents who most closely resemble immigrants in their educational attainment. Of most concern is the negative impact of new immigrants on those with less than a high school education; the most adversely affected population is the immigrant community already resident in the United States, particularly those who compete with new arrivals willing to work at lower wages.”

Norm Matloff: “Whatever utilitarian value is of our current policy, its centerpiece – family reunification – is not morally defensible ... this romantic notion of reuniting separated members of families who long to see each other simply does not jibe with reality. Those who immigrate under family reunification laws typically are motivated by economic advancement, not family ties.”

Stephen Moore: “As America’s workforce ages, we need the infusion of young workers — yes, even unskilled workers fill vital niches in our workforce — to keep our economy prosperous and to avoid the kind of serious demographic crisis that may soon beset most other advanced nations.”

Alan Reynolds: “The overwhelming majority of permanent immigrants are not admitted on the basis of any evidence of employability, savings, or even minimal English language skills ... The compounding strains inherent in family unification are the main reason why legal immigration had already exceeded 900,000 by 1996, despite the 1990 statutory cap of 650,000, and why Census projections pretending that combined legal and illegal immigration will never exceed 850,000 are quite unbelievable.”

Dan Stein: “It is highly doubtful that anyone in Congress, the body charged with setting immigration rules, can clearly define what the policy is meant to achieve ... As best as anyone can tell, we have immigration today because we are a ‘nation of immigrants.’”