A Prescription For Immigration

Blueprints for an Ideal Legal Immigration Policy

By Peter Brimelow on March 1, 2002

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…the tradition of British medical science is entirely opposed to any emphasis on this part of the subject [treatment]. British medical specialists are usually quite content to trace the symptoms and define the cause. It is the French, by contrast, who begin by describing the treatment and discuss the diagnosis later, if at all. We feel bound to adhere in this to the British method, which may not help the patient but which is unquestionably more scientific.

- C. Northcote Parkinson, "Injelititis, or Palsied Paralysis," Parkinson’s Law (1958)

Future historians will no doubt decide that the Second Great American Immigration Debate really began sometime between 1990, when legislation further increasing immigration passed with little controversy, and 1994, when Californians overwhelmingly approved Proposition 187, seeking to cut off illegal immigrants from tax monies, despite massive resistance from the political and media elite.

Like the First Great Debate, which culminated in a decision to end the First Great Wave of immigration, this debate seems likely to be long and tortuous. The First Great Wave was finally ended by legislation in 1921 and 1924, but President Cleveland had vetoed a serious effort at restriction – by imposing a literacy test – as early as 1894. However, this Second Great Debate will continue and ultimately dominate American politics because it is driven by an ineluctable objective reality: the transformation of the U.S., in a way that is unprecedented in the history of the world, by the Second Great Wave of immigration accidentally unleashed by the paradoxical workings of the 1965 Immigration Act.

Currently, the immigration debate is stuck in what C. Northcote Parkinson would have recognized, in the terms of the epigraph above, as a "French" stage. The prescription, immigration, is seen as an end in itself. The details of its effects, and even of the inflow itself, are immaterial.

But from a "British" medical perspective, the cause and the symptoms of the post-1965 immigration disaster are now undeniable.

The numbers are too large. Notoriously, the inflow has been far larger than the sponsors of the 1965 legislation promised at the time. Less appreciated: the inflow is unprecedentedly large relative to the growth rate of the native-born population, which is otherwise settling at replacement. Public policy is in effect second-guessing the American people on population size, with the result that there could be 500 million people in the U.S. by 2050, maybe 200 million of whom will be post-1965 immigrants and their descendants. This is as at least as big a pig as the American python has ever had to swallow. Virtually every contemporary American problem – urban sprawl, overcrowded and ineffective schools, the environment, the presence of a troubling minority without health care insurance – has an immigration dimension, albeit typically unreported.

The benefits are too meager. Argument over the economic consequences of the current inflow was effectively ended by the National Academy of Science’s 1997 report "The New Americans," which was designed to establish the consensus among labor economists. The report found that the post-1965 inflow had in aggregate brought essentially no net benefit to Americans (perhaps $1-$10 billion in a $7 trillion economy). In fact the inflow was imposing a significant fiscal cost (perhaps $20 billion annually – amounting to nearly $1200 per native-born family in California). The basic reason for this shocking result: the paradoxical bias towards less skilled immigrants in the 1965 Act.

The racial balance is too skewed. The 1965 Act effectively choked off immigration from Americans’ traditional European homelands. Now up to three-quarters of legal immigrants are the results of "family reunification" chain migration from an arbitrarily-selected handful of Third World countries. As a result, the U.S. racial balance is shifting rapidly. President Clinton, to his considerable credit, is virtually the only public figure to note the inevitable result, for example in his 2000 State of the Union Address: sometime after 2050, there will no longer be a majority race in the U.S. The government is quite literally abolishing the people and electing another.

The American public class finds this policy-induced transformation impossible to discuss. Yet it has profound consequences. President Clinton, for example, believes it requires more pervasive government, in the form of "hate" legislation and quotas. Those who dislike pervasive government must face this new rationale for its necessity.

Another consequence of the policy-induced shift in the racial balance is political. Because voting is highly correlated with race, it is a matter of simple arithmetic to compute the point at which current immigration will bury the Republican Party, for which most whites vote. (See Peter Brimelow and Ed Rubenstein, "Electing A New People," National Review, June 17, 1997 - we estimated three more Presidential Election cycles.) This might be a good or a bad thing. But it is undeniably a thing, brought about by public policy. Curiously, the Republican Party itself has not yet commented publicly on its impending murder by migration. Yet no political party would allow a new state into the Union without the most minute calculation of the partisan consequences.

Why is the Second Great Immigration Debate so tortuous? Several factors became painfully obvious to me during my own checkered career in it (I wrote a 14,000-word immigration cover story for National Review magazine in 1992, inaugurating a brief but glorious period when the magazine took a stand on the issue, and followed up with a book, Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster, in 1995.) At least one of these factors directly influences my policy recommendations here.

Briefly, the most important of these factors: (1) intellectual inertia — modern mass immigration only began in the late 1960s, when many contemporary pundits and politicians were already adults, with their ideas fixed; (2) stupidity — immigration is a complex and demanding subject; (3) cowardice — the hysterical fear of being called racist that dates back to the civil rights movement and ultimately to World War II, which is why current policy can fairly be termed "Hitler’s Revenge" upon the U.S.; (4) moral corruption — a disingenuous determination to suppress any debate on immigration, in order to protect various special deals that have been smuggled into current law, and which could never withstand serious scrutiny.

Of these four factors, I believe that the last — moral corruption — is the least appreciated, and yet probably the most important.

An example: some time ago, I took the negative side in a fairly heated public debate on immigration. My opponent was a former Democratic congressman with long experience in immigration legislation. Afterwards, we fell to discussing Spencer Abraham, the Republican Senator from Michigan who played a key role in undercutting his own party’s immigration reform bill in 1995-96, and who subsequently, as Chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee, made very sure the party stays far away from the issue.

The former Congressman, a good liberal, disliked Abraham intensely because of his relatively "conservative" stand on budget and welfare issues. I asked about immigration — on which, after all, the two in effect agree. My opponent replied dismissively:

Oh, that’s just because of the extended family preferences. He just wants to keep bringing Arabs in. [Abraham is the grandson of Lebanese immigrants and Detroit has the largest Arab communities in the U.S.] Everyone knows that if the law is opened up, the extended family preferences will go.

I have never seen this allegation appear in print (not for want of trying to put it there — another case of the paralysis wrought on American editors by Hitler’s Revenge.) But it is certainly a reasonable conclusion given the facts, and the very perfunctory justifications Senator Abraham has given for his extraordinary behavior.

What this means: in immigration policy, the wages of virtue is life. It is
precisely those aspects of current law defended by special interests that must be attacked. Only as and when these special interests are excised from the immigration debate will it be conducted in a rational fashion.

What would an "American" medical approach (regardless of insurance coverage) be to immigration policy? I begin by stipulating one goal: the purpose of immigration policy is to benefit America. This is a significant innovation. 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). Yet it is also a moral goal. How not? We applaud the mother who puts the welfare of her family ahead of any presumed obligation to trust total strangers.

I also enter a caveat: we can’t get there from here. The structure of immigration policy is fundamentally flawed. It cannot be corrected by minor tinkering.

Ideally, immigration policy should be modeled after the Canadian system: a points system, with credit given for desired attributes, such as needed skills and fluency in English. The overall inflow should be set by executive action each year, according to labor market conditions. Administration should be in the hands of the Department of Labor, rather than the Department of Justice with its irrepressible tendency to view immigration in a civil rights framework. The objection that this would somehow mean an un-American rule by bureaucrats is obviously absurd. For better or worse, large areas of American life are now controlled by bureaucracies (the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration). Moreover, consider the awful alternative: rule by lawyers.

It is because such a major overhaul of immigration policy will take years that a temporary moratorium — no net immigration — is unavoidable. 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?

However, "No Net Immigration" may well prove to be Americans’ long-term answer too. Virtually all problems caused by immigration go away if the numbers are brought down low enough. In particular, lower numbers would mean that the policy-induced shift in the U.S. racial balance would effectively stop. The only alternative approach is some sort of racial quota system — the mere broaching of which might get you lynched in the current climate.

Some 200,000 to 300,000 people are thought to leave the U.S. every year. So, analyzing the 1999 inflow:

Immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouses, parents, children): 284,270. Arguably, this is the only category of immigrants who must be admitted. Of course, much of this inflow is the direct result of recent immigration – for example relatively few adult native-born citizens can have foreign parents. So it would tail off quickly, allowing room for skilled immigration. Moreover, many "spouses" are actually the result of marriages contracted by immigrants after they become citizens — perhaps as many as half, judging from the number of parents being imported. This is not family "reunification" since these families have never been united. It should not be an untrammeled right.

Unmarried sons/daughters, married sons/daughters, siblings of U.S. citizens; spouses and children of resident aliens: 191,480. "U.S. citizens" in this case are in fact recent immigrants. These are the "extended family preferences" that comprise most chain-migration. The chain must be broken. Extended family preferences must be abolished.

Note: this does not mean that siblings etc. will be unable to immigrate to the U.S. at all. But, to the extent that future U.S. immigration policy favors skills, the siblings will have to show they have skills, rather than entering by right of family connections.

Employment-based preferences: 77, 517. This (pitifully small) number can be left intact – if family-reunification immigration is below the 250,000-300,000 No-Net-Immigration threshold.

Diversity Program: 45,499. Out, obviously — the idea of selecting future members of the national community by a lottery is decisive proof of current policy’s moral bankruptcy.

Refugees and Asylees: 54,709. The U.S. should not be some sort of international Kleenex, mopping up world problems. And in fact it is not even trying – the current "refugee" program is actually an expedited, subsidized immigration program for groups powerful in domestic politics. Out.

Harsh? Two generations of bad policy will leave many victims. Some palliatives, such as guest worker programs, might help.

But the point of prescription must be borne in mind: that among these victims should not be numbered the American nation itself.