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The Rockefeller Report (1972) – a lost opportunity to reform immigration

author Published by Henry Barbaro

In the early 1970s, the Congress established the “Commission on Population Growth and the American Future,” chaired by philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, in order to evaluate U.S. population growth, and to make recommendations on how to best cope with its impact. The Commission’s final report, titled “Population and the American Future,” was submitted on March 27, 1972 (fifty-two years ago!).

A few years prior (1969), President Nixon made population growth a major concern, calling it “one of the most serious challenges to human destiny in the last third of this century.” The post-war baby boom had added 50 million Americans in just two decades.  

After two years of study – and with the United States then at about 206 million – the Commission concluded that “no substantial benefits will result from further growth of the Nation’s population,” and appealed to Americans to abandon their “ideological addiction to growth.”

Factsheet: Immigration recommendations of every blue-ribbon federal commission over the last half century

Even business representatives on the Commission supported the central, relatively radical finding: “the health of our country does not depend on [population growth], nor does the vitality of business, nor the welfare of the average person.” 

Among the Report’s 70 recommendations: Immigration – freeze legal immigration at 400,000 a year and stop illegal immigration.

Faced with adamant pushback from major churches and conservative groups who opposed the commission’s non-immigration recommendations regarding abortion, contraceptives, and sex education, and aware that America’s fertility was dropping, the once-supportive Nixon rejected the Report. Nonetheless, over the years, Americans wound up abiding by the Report’s controversial recommendations (cited above), except for immigration.  Back in 1972, the rate of legal immigration into the U.S. was around 400,000, as was illegal immigration.  Legal immigration now amounts to 1.2 million, which pales next to the rate of illegal immigration at 2.5 – 3.0 million per year.  This of course overwhelmingly negates the collective decision of American families to have smaller families on average.  In fact, even before the recent (past three years) surge at the southern border, the Census Bureau predicted that the U.S. population would soar to 404 million by the Year 2060, with more than 90% of that growth (70 million in 35 years) due to immigration.

Do you prefer the Rockefeller Commission’s recommended immigration level of 400,000 per year to today’s more than 3,000,000? Make your statement here.

Our more prescient leaders from decades ago foresaw the unsustainable population trajectory of our nation, with Americans suffering an irreversibly lower quality-of-life with fewer freedoms.  Indeed, many environmental problems have worsened since 1972, e.g., water shortages and falling aquifer levels, habitat loss and extirpated wildlife, urban sprawl and traffic congestion, loss of farmland, more recreational conflicts and less access to open space, loss of resiliency to floods, droughts, and wildfires.

Today’s leaders need to come to terms with America’s unsustainable future and work to slow down our immigration-driven population growth.  If Americans hope to one day achieve sustainability, then we must work toward population stabilization, yet with much more urgency now because immigration rates are so high.

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