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Obama: Open borders are “unsustainable”

author Published by Jeremy Beck

Source: Gallup World Poll, 2015-2017
Former President Obama says “We’re a nation-state. We have borders. The idea that we can just have open borders is something that … as a practical matter, is unsustainable.”
As it happens, 2021 marks the 25th anniversary of President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development, whose recommendations after more than two years of study were aimed at ensuring “that all Americans are afforded justice and have the opportunity to achieve economic, environmental, and social well-being.”
The recommendations specifically called for a sustainable immigration policy.
“We believe that reducing current immigration levels is a necessary part of working toward sustainability in the United States,” they wrote.
Immigration levels increased sharply after the 1990 Immigration Act, and have averaged out at over one million per year since. The 1990 Act called for a bi-partisan commission to study the impact of the immigration increase and that commission also recommended reducing immigration, citing specific concern for “the most vulnerable in our society.”
Source: Census Bureau, 2020
As Obama indicated in his interview, there is a tension between Americans’ openness to the world and America’s ability to absorb the world. The benefits of moderate immigration levels include tight labor markets, better wages, more economic opportunities for women and the less-skilled, less demand on resources and infrastructure, greater access to the outdoors, and greater hope for protecting wildlife and wildlands, and open space.
I don’t know if Obama had any of this in mind during his interview. He has always been aware of the political salience of border optics, particularly after the 2016 election. Nor do I know what the White House meant when they said President Biden agrees with Obama, but it is clear that when it comes to immigration policy, we’re moving further away from a sustainable system than at any previous time in our nation’s history.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Sustainability Initiative for NumbersUSA

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