Under the current immigration law and enforcement regime, the United States is experiencing a higher rate of immigration, legal plus illegal, than ever before in our history, and it is driving a destructive population increase. In 2005 our population was 296 million. Last year, Passel and Cohn of the Pew Research Center forecast an increase to 438 million in 2050 (the Census Bureau predicts 439 million). Of the 48% increase from 2005 to 2050, 82% will be due to immigrants who arrive during that period and the descendants of those immigrants. And, our increasingly crowded nation is already the third most populous on Earth.
Even though people sense that current immigration rates are high, we naturally assume that they must be much smaller as a fraction of total population than in the other major immigration wave in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. However, even on a fractional basis, current immigration rates are approaching the earlier figures, and the results are the same. Census figures show that in 1890, 14.8% of the U.S. population was foreign born, the largest percentage in our history. In 1970 it was only 4.7%, but by 2007 it had risen to 12.6%, the highest in 80 years. Passel and Cohn (2008) project that under current trends the previous high percentage of foreign born will be exceeded in 2023, and it will be 19% in 2050.
Most of us are disappointed to see a rapidly swelling population paving over our fields and forests and to realize that we are passing on a rapidly degrading quality of life to our children. However, many people see our population increase as an inevitable result of world population growth. That too is a misconception. The Population Reference Bureau reports that from 2009 to 2050 the U.S. population will grow by 43%. Canada, which accepts many immigrants, albeit more selectively, will grow by 24%. Latin America and the Caribbean, with generally higher birth rates than ours, will grow by 25%. The population of Mexico will grow only 18%, by virtue of continuing immigration to the United States. The population of Europe will actually decrease by 5% and Japan by 25%. The populations of China and Russia, our only credible potential military adversaries, will change by +8% and -18%, respectively. The world is not driving our population increase, nor are security concerns.
Immigration rates and enforcement of immigration law are entirely at the discretion of Congress and the President, and significant and repeated changes have been made since 1965. In the early 1960s, and for many decades before, we received 300,000 or fewer immigrants per year, almost all legal (Camarota, 2007). Now we receive about 1.1 million legal and an average of 500,000 illegal immigrants per year.
What lunacy has overtaken us? Since the change in immigration law in 1965, most immigrants have come from Third World countries, and thus have minority status on arrival. Through some very convoluted logic this has made it politically incorrect to discuss reduction of immigration rates or even to suggest that they should not be increased. Some politicians now relentlessly demand increased immigration and non-enforcement of immigration laws, placing the interests of foreign nationals above the concerns of Americans about our jobs and quality of life. Business-first politicians side with these morally perverse individuals in order to drive down our wages. The environmental movement, which had long advocated population stabilization, has found it politically expedient to abandon the issue.
Politicians carefully avoid rational analysis by discussing immigration as a purely emotional issue, but we must force them to address the population numbers and the demographic disaster their decades of irresponsibility have forced on us. The legislative remedies are cheap, easy, and have been introduced repeatedly by responsible members of Congress. We must act, because our population is already 307 million, and as Charles Breiterman warns us, with our mindless immigration policy we risk a population of 1 billion by the end of the century, rivaling the current populations of China and India, and destroying forever the America of wild places and open spaces that we cherish.
TOM THARP is an Associate Professor of Geology at Purdue University. His identification with Purdue does not imply University endorsement of his views.
Updated: Tue, Dec 29th 2009 @ 8:18pm EST