by Roy Beck
Mr. Beck is Washington editor of the quarterly The Social Contract.
RIGHT OF SILENCE?
Of ten leading Republicans, two favor keeping our current immigration
policy, two favor changing it more or less radically, and six are
agnostic. What future for America would each position lead to?
LAST FALL, a Republican National Committee survey discovered a remarkable
unity among 134,000 grassroots activists about the potentially
contentious issue of immigration. By a 5 to 1 margin, the party leaders
and elected officials affirmed: Immigration levels are too high.
But who at the top of the party will champion such mass sentiment for
change? The field is not crowded, at least not this summer, according to
an informal canvassing of the RNC and of ten national-profile leaders who
are considered possible presidential contenders.
-- Only two of the Republicans (Bob Dole and Pat Buchanan) were prepared
even to say they agreed with the grassroots GOP majority. Besides taking
strong stands against illegal immigration, both favor the reversal of
federal policies that have more than tripled legal immigration since
1965, the year a major overhaul of U.S. immigration law was enacted.
"While America remains the land of opportunity, it is not the land of
unlimited opportunity for unlimited numbers of immigrants, both legal and
illegal," says Dole.
-- Two other leaders (Jack Kemp and Phil Gramm) said they believe the
apparent grassroots majority is misled on immigration. They said they
wanted to use their leadership to resist cutting legal immigration while
educating the voters about the advantages of recent higher levels. "I
just don't agree with some of my colleagues that immigration is a threat
to America," Kemp said.
Gramm said he feels required by principle to defend immigration: "We
have room in America for people who are willing to work. I am not ready,
nor will I ever be ready, to tear down the Statute of Liberty or close
the door to America. . . . We have found genius in ordinary people
through immigration and have brought in new blood, new vision, and new
-- Six GOP leaders (Bill Bennett, Dick Cheney, Dan Quayle, Pat Robertson,
Bill Weld, Pete Wilson) declined to endorse either the grassroots desire
for change or current high-immigration policies. They (or their
spokesmen) indicated that they hadn't given the three-decade phenomenon
of renewed mass immigration enough thought to comment on it. A
spokeswoman for Bennett was as straightforward as any: "This is not his
issue. He's not up to speed on it. He hasn't looked at this issue at
all. It's not one he's studied and not one he ever speaks on. He has no
expertise on it." The Republican National Committee also places itself
with these six leaders, offering no analysis of legal immigration because
the 1992 Platform didn't address it.
It is important to note that the lack of leadership is on legal
immigration. Many Republicans have been forceful in tackling illegal
immigration. But illegal aliens amount to only about one-fourth of
permanently settling foreigners each year. Leaders who work only to halt
illegal entries would, if successful, ensure merely that future
immigration will take four years to create the burdens on America (in
terms of congestion, welfare, and so on) that today occur in three years.
THE FACE OF AMERICA, 2050
THERE are essentially two versions of America's demographic future,
deriving from the two major approaches to immigration.
The Challengers' Version. Those who challenge the current immigration
policy want to cut immigration back to near its traditional U.S. average
of about 297,000 per year (the average annual rate from the beginning of
immigration recordkeeping in 1820 to the 1965 Act). If successful, the
traditionalists would create a country with a slow-growing population
that shortly after 2050 would stabilize for the first time in our
history. Foreign workers would play a proportionately decreasing role in
the economy (which traditionalists argue would lead to improving
standards of living for all Americans). America's ethnic minorities would
gradually become a larger percentage of the population, because of
continuing, though lower, immigration and relatively high fertility. But
the country would retain its European-descended majority and its
traditional cultural identity in which an American nationhood --
encompassing different ethnicities but based upon a British/European
culture -- would continue to evolve.
Public-opinion polling since 1976 has found the majority of Americans
endorsing something similar to this vision of the future. Most have
opposed the social changes thrust on their communities by federal
immigration policies. Many have been concerned that it will be more
difficult to maintain what they consider to be an American lifestyle of
personal freedoms in an ever more densely populated country. A 1992 Roper
poll found Americans, by a ratio 7 to 1, felt the country was already
suffering from too high a population, an opinion that placed the public
at direct odds with the government's immigration policy.
Pat Buchanan aggressively advocates the immigration traditionalists'
version of the American future. Bob Dole has indicated some sympathy for
this America, although his current legislative stance would reduce
immigration by such a small amount that the results would not differ
significantly from those brought about by the government's current
The Government Version. Those who are enthusiastic about the immigration
status quo would create anything but a status-quo country. Their America
would be one of rapid demographic change. By 2050, they would have added
foreigners and their descendants in numbers equivalent to the entire U.S.
population at the time of World War II. Most parts of the economy would
be constantly infused with fresh supplies of foreign workers and
consumers. Gross economic production should expand, but not necessarily
per-capita production. African-Americans -- the country's traditional
ethnic minority since the earliest days -- would be surpassed in numbers
by populations from other continents. The United States would become, in
the words of Ben Wattenberg, a "universal nation," a country made up
primarily of minority groups, with no majority ethnic/cultural group.
Although many commentators today believe the unfolding of this new
America to be inevitable, it would not occur except for congressional
policies. Its most vocal advocates are immigration-rights groups,
national religious advocacy offices, economic libertarians, and
representatives of some industries. They say high immigration and
population growth is necessary to ensure economic vitality and to be true
to America's moral obligations.
Gramm's and Kemp's immigration stances would continue Washington's
creation of this future of rapid demographic change. But so would the
non-stances of Bennett, Cheney, Quayle, Robertson, Weld, and Wilson.
Whether or not they prefer this second future, their non-involvement in
the debate leaves unhindered the immigration policy that would lead to
AT LAST, A DEBATE
ONLY RECENTLY have these two radically disparate versions of America's
future begun to be raised to the level of a national debate, with
attendant media coverage. Until Buchanan's 1992 presidential bid,
Americans who opposed Washington's version had few or no leaders to voice
their concerns. Last fall Senator Harry Reid, a moderate Democrat from
Nevada, broke the legislative barrier and introduced the first bill to
provide what the majority of Americans have been telling pollsters they
wanted for the last 18 years: a reduction (by two-thirds) in legal
Reid has been followed by several rank-and-file House members of both
parties who have introduced their own bills. They have tapped into a
heretofore unseen reservoir of congressional discontent with both
parties' leadership support for rapid demographic change. Collectively,
the bills have garnered more than a hundred co-sponsors thus far.
The House immigration traditionalists question the country's ability to
keep up with infrastructure, education, environment, law-enforcement, and
social-services needs if the government stays its course in boosting the
population another 130 million by 2050. And they doubt that the
government can expand to provide for all the extra people without raising
"I don't think Americans want to live in a country with 130 million more
people than we already have; I know my constituents don't," said
Representative Bob Stump, the little-known Arizona Republican who last
February showed up with legislation that would cut current legal
immigration by at least 75 per cent. With no forewarning or coordination
with party leadership, Stump walked onto the floor of the House with his
bill and began asking for endorsements. In a matter of weeks he had
surprised everyone by garnering more than five dozen co-sponsors, a third
of them Democrats. "Very few people have turned me down after I educate
them," Stump said. "I don't know what the rationale of the leadership
is, but they just won't sign on."
SENATOR KENNEDY'S ACCIDENT
THE government's demographic future actually was born by accident,
according to former Senator Eugene McCarthy, who was one of the co-
sponsors of the 1965 legislation. Supporters of the bill such as Senator
Edward Kennedy said it would remove unjust barriers to immigrants from
non-European countries but promised that it would not substantially
change the country's ethnic mix or increase immigration numbers by more
than a few thousand over the 1965 level of 297,000. (That number
coincidentally is the same as the 1820 - 1965 average.) But the bill's
provisions for admitting relatives of immigrants -- and its lack of an
overall ceiling -- led to a snowballing effect that supporters neither
anticipated nor desired.
Through the 1965 Act, Congress unthinkingly put in place policies that
would serve as a blueprint for a much-changed future. As the unexpected
results began to appear over the next three decades, however, Congress
modified the policy only in ways that accelerated immigration and
population growth. The stated motivation almost never had anything to do
with a vision of America's future, but rather with satisfying short-term
The challengers' blueprint -- the vision of an America with a population
that would grow more slowly at first and eventually stabilize -- arose
from a conscious examination of America's demographic future. President
Nixon believed that many of the domestic problems of his time were due to
the nation's inability to deal with having grown from 100 million to 200
million in only fifty years. He feared the consequences of the nation's
growing to 300 million, and so he persuaded Congress to create a
commission of 24 leaders from corporations, unions, the two major
parties, and environmental, ethnic, and women's organizations. In 1972,
after two years of work under the leadership of John D. Rockefeller III,
the commission concluded that it could find no benefit from the United
States' growing beyond its then population of just above 200 million.
"Population growth forces upon us slow but irreversible changes in
lifestyle," the report stated. "Imbedded in our traditions as to what
constitutes the American way of life is freedom from public regulation --
virtually free use of water; access to uncongested unregulated roadways;
freedom to do as we please with what we own. . . . Clearly, we do not
live this way now. Maybe we never did. But everything is relative. The
population of 2020 may look back with envy on what, from their vantage
point, appears to be our relatively unfettered way of life."
In order to achieve its ultimate goal of a less congested, less
regulated, less environmentally destructive and less socially strained
style of living, the commission put particular emphasis on family
planning. As it happens, however, by the time the commission's report was
released, American women already were on the verge of voluntarily
lowering their fertility to the two-child average, which they now have
maintained for more than two decades.
If the nation's demographic future had rested solely on the fertility
decisions of American women since 1970, according to demographer Leon
Bouvier, the population today would be around 230 million and headed very
slowly to a peak of 247 million in 2030. Instead, it already stands at
260 million, headed rapidly to around 400 million in 2050, with no peak
in sight. Hence the importance of another recommendation of the
commission: that the government place an annual cap on immigration
related to its contribution to demographic change. Through the years,
immigration traditionalists have seen that cap as one that should allow a
steady but small flow of immigrants -- a level that can be easily
assimilated into the American population without threatening its cohesion
and sense of identity. At their roots, advocates of traditional levels of
immigration have assumed that the American lifestyle, by and large, is a
good one that should not be forcibly changed by federal immigration
But the commission's vision of America's future was unveiled amidst the
turmoil of Watergate, and Congress ignored the request for an immigration
So America adopted a policy of almost open borders in a fit of
absentmindedness. With what result? According to Leon Bouvier, post-1970
immigrants and their descendants are responsible for the majority of the
growth since 1970 and will account for 90 per cent of the growth
projected between now and 2050 if the policies aren't changed and the
fertility rate stays constant.
But opposition has increased as immigration has risen. When legal
immigration stood at 297,000 in 1965, Gallup found only 33 per cent of
Americans wanting it reduced. By 1976, 52 per cent favored reductions.
Last year, with legal immigration nearing a million, a Newsweek poll
found 60 per cent of Americans thought immigration is a bad thing for
their country. A CNN/ USA Today poll found 65 per cent wanted immigration
decreased generally, and 76 per cent said immigration should be stopped
or reduced until the economy improves.
This hand-wringing about population changes seems a bit overwrought to
defenders of immigration such as Phil Gramm and Jack Kemp. They see the
traditionalists' America as a duller land, with a flat economy less able
to compete globally. They favor the social and economic dynamism found in
the midst of rapid population growth.
"Immigration helps America," Kemp said. "You don't come all the way
from Africa or Asia if you aren't willing to take risks. They are
entrepreneurial. Immigrants bring a lot of skills and a work ethic that
in many places has become passe. There is just a lot of work that would
not get done were it not for immigrant Americans taking jobs that a lot
of people wouldn't take." Concern about a growing population is
misplaced, Kemp says: "I find it unseemly of those on the Left and the
Right who view America as a zero-sum game and that there's only so much
to go around. When you take that to its conclusion, you end up with Bill
Clinton and his world-population-control policies."
Gramm is likewise unimpressed with arguments that larger and more dense
populations require more government intrusions: "I've never found a
necessity to have a correlation between population and government." He
said a continual review of immigration levels is advisable, but he
believes the level of immigration and population growth in the last three
decades has been good for America. "Not only is America a nation of
immigrants, but new immigrants continue to build America and to expand
its prosperity and freedom," he said. "We don't have room for people
who want to live off the work of others. But I don't believe for a moment
that new legal immigrants have been a burden to the economy. They have
been a great boon."
A GAMUT OF SCENARIOS
IN PREPARATION for telephone interviews for this article, national
Republican leaders were given questionnaires outlining various scenarios.
Based on their responses, each was connected to one of six scenarios of
America's future toward which his current stance would lead.* This is a
snapshot of where they stand this summer only. As the debate progresses,
their roles of leadership might shift.
SCENARIO 1: STATUS QUO IMMIGRATION
Total estimated immigration: 1.272 million per year (972,000 legal and
300,000 illegal) and rising
Additions to population by 2050: 145 to 160 million
This is the America that the Federal Government will in effect create if
Congress does not lower legal limits or improve enforcement against
Few Republican leaders at any level endorse a continuation of the present
lax law enforcement and border control. (New York City Mayor Rudolph
Giuliani is a rare exception. Facing television cameras in June, the
mayor said: "If you come here and you work hard and you happen to be in
an undocumented status, you're one of the people who we want in this
city.") But the fact that the media and the liberal establishment
generally favor the immigration status quo may in part explain the
failure of some Republicans to speak out against it.
SCENARIO 2: STATUS QUO, MINUS ILLEGALS
Total estimated legal immigration: 972,000 per year and rising
Backers: Gramm, Republican National Committee, Wilson
Related legislation: HR-3860 (Lamar Smith, R., Tex.), Illegal Immigration
Control Act of 1994. Co-sponsors: 45 Republicans, 1 Democrat
Additions to population by 2050: 115 to 125 million
Pete Wilson is the most visible Republican backer of this scenario. In
the words of the National Journal, the California governor has "almost
single-handedly elevated immigration to the national stage" through his
aggressive battle against the flow of illegal aliens. But he often
praises the million immigrants a year who play by the rules and come
legally. His aides say they never have heard him criticize legal-
immigration levels. And, as we have seen, halting illegal immigration
would do no more than impose the same hardships in four years rather than
Projections for this scenario -- and the next three -- assume that the
long list of enforcement provisions in the various pieces of legislation
would eliminate all illegal immigration. Most analysts consider the most
wildly optimistic hope for such laws is that they would actually scale
illegal numbers back to 50,000 to 100,000 a year. Thus, these scenarios
probably underestimate the level of population growth.
Gramm and the Republican National Committee also have endorsed specific,
tough anti-illegal measures similar to those contained in Smith's House
On the other hand, Bennett, Cheney, Kemp, Quayle, Robertson, and Weld are
only tacit backers of this scenario. They have said they oppose current
numbers of illegal aliens but have not advocated a system of specific and
bold actions that would significantly alter the numbers or that would
take the chance of provoking the ire of civil-liberties and
immigrant/ethnic organizations. All but Kemp of this group have abstained
from endorsing the current level of legal immigration, but neither does
any of them publicly oppose it. In effect, their absence from the debate
is helping to move the nation toward Scenario 1.
Avoiding the issue offers some political benefits. "I don't think you're
going to find Republican leaders wanting to be pinned down on
immigration," one Republican congressional staffer said. "To stand
against immigration is to confirm the worst things people think about
Republicans" -- that they are hard-hearted, narrow, and exclusive. But
supporting high immigration might reinforce another charge often thrown
at the party: that it ignores the public interest in favor of helping
satisfy the appetites of businesses for low-wage labor. Thus far, doing
nothing has had few drawbacks. Although the majority of Americans have
told pollsters for 18 years that they want immigration reduced, they have
not retaliated against their members of Congress when they have failed to
SCENARIO 3: TEMPORARY REDUCTION
Total estimated legal immigration: 580,000 for each of five years,
972,000 and rising thereafter
Related legislation: S-1884 (Simpson, R., Wyo.), Comprehensive Immigration and Asylum Reform Act of 1994. Co-sponsors: 13 Republicans, 1 Democrat
Additions to population by 2050: 110 to 120 million
Senator Alan Simpson carried the torch of leadership in tackling illegal
immigration throughout the 1980s. He has never been comfortable, however,
challenging the official demographic blueprint by reducing legal numbers.
This year he made a modest proposal for reduction of legal immigration
with a bill that is similar to Smith's in the House. Proponents of high
levels of immigration have little to fear from his proposal, however,
which would leave legal admissions above the annual average of the turn-
of-the-century Great Wave of Immigration (and double the 1965 level). And
the cutback would last only five years. The America that would be created
under this scenario would be very similar to the one under Scenario 2.
Dole, however, in co-sponsoring the bill, may be signifying potential
leadership toward more significant reductions in immigration and
population growth. Dole signed onto it as a step in the right direction
toward dealing with a lot of social changes confronting the nation. He
also took the initiative last year of assembling Republican senators in a
meeting with a broad spectrum of experts to begin to put the two general
blueprints for America's future on the table.
SCENARIO 4: MAJOR REDUCTION
Total estimated legal immigration: 350,000 ceiling
Related legislation: HR-332 (Bilbray, D., Nev., and Hunter, R., Calif.),
Immigration Stabilization Act of 1993; and S-1923 (Reid, D., Nev.), same
title. Co-sponsors: 16 Republicans, 12 Democrats
Additions to population by 2050: 80 to 90 million
No national Republican leaders mentioned as presidential possibilities
have supported this scenario. Interestingly, this bill has the support
not only of conservative Republicans like Duncan Hunter of California and
James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, but also of liberal Democrats like
Tony Beilenson of California and Jim Moran of Virginia. Backers tout the
fact that annual admissions would be near the traditional average before
the accidental opening of the gates in 1965.
SCENARIO 5: STABILIZING POPULATION BY 2050
Total estimated legal immigration: 235,000 per year and declining
Related legislation: HR-3862 (Stump, R., Ariz.), Immigration Moratorium
Act of 1994. Co-sponsors: 54 Republicans, 19 Democrats
Additions to population by 2050: 45 to 60 million; after which growth
soon would cease
This would be an America with time to provide the infrastructure for its
slowly growing population and perhaps even to improve the quality of life
for all its residents. Our experience with a similar level of immigration
between 1924 and 1965 suggests that, other things being equal, this also
would be an America in which the sense of common American nationhood
would be advanced by the assimilation of earlier and new immigrants, by
the evolution of an enriched common culture, and by ethnic, racial, and
Although not ready to endorse every detail of Stump's bill -- the most
popular one in Congress at this time -- Buchanan likes the numbers:
"This country is ready to do it. If Republican leaders are frightened by
political correctness from doing this, then it is a sign of what is
endemic in the Republican Party; it won't touch an issue that somebody
may say is evil and hard-hearted. If we don't start talking about it,
somebody else will do it (such as a third-party movement like Ross
Perot's) and the GOP will become irrelevant."
Supporters of this version of America say it hardly turns its back on
America's immigration tradition since it would allow as many newcomers
each year as came annually between 1820 and 1890, when the country had an
open Western frontier to fill during its continental expansion.
Stump's bill specifies ceilings on various categories of entrants and
would allow unlimited admissions of the minor children and spouses of
immigrants once they became citizens. With drastically reduced numbers of
new "seed" immigrants coming in, family admissions would decrease and
total admissions would decline to perhaps below 100,000 by 2050.
"I've worked on the ground in some urban election campaigns," a
Republican House staffer said. "There's a lot of passion about this
issue. A Republican can pick up a lot of Reagan Democrats with this
But others look at the potential for stirring up negatives, especially
among critics who suggest that immigration reduction is motivated by a
white majority's racial fears about having to turn over power to a
"majority of minorities."
Stump, a plainspoken rancher, is unfazed by such charges. If cutting
immigration were racist, he asks, why do polls show the majority of
blacks and Hispanics favor reductions too? He admits, though, that many
members of Congress fear the wrath of ethnic organizations that purport
to represent minorites on the issues. He says, "My hometown is in my
district. It is probably 80 per cent Mexican-American. They aren't mad at
me. They want legal immigration reduced. I've gotten a lot of mail from
across the nation. Only a couple have been negative."
SCENARIO 6: ZERO NET IMMIGRATION
Total estimated legal immigration: Same number coming in as leave each
year (currently around 160,000)
Additions to population by 2050: 40 million
Stump's number-cutting is not restrictive enough for many Americans. Some
environmental advocates and organizations have urged limiting the number
of immigrants each year to the number of permanent residents and citizens
who permanently move from the United States to another country. At
present, zero net immigration is estimated to allow around 100,000
newcomers annually. Nearly all of the 40-million population growth would
be caused by births to the unprecedented numbers of immigrants who have
arrived since 1970 and to their descendants.
Zero net immigration would not be low enough for a significant segment of
Americans, though. Of the two-thirds of Americans who want legal
immigration reduced, half of them want all immigration halted, according
to a CBS News poll this year. It also found that more than 20 per cent of
Americans want to send all immigrants who arrived during the last five
years back to their home countries!
As popular sentiment hardens against Washington's blueprint for vast
increases and changes in our population, national party leaders may find
it increasingly difficult to stay on the sidelines. There will be strong
pressure either to join Gramm and Kemp in trying to help the public
understand the benefits of Washington's blueprint, or to join the
immigration traditionalists in the House in trying to give the public the
American future it says it wants.
*Immigration numbers in these scenarios come from a recent report by the
Center for Immigration Studies, written by Jack Martin. Estimates of
additional population under each scenario are extrapolated from 1993
projections by the Census Bureau and recent projections by Leon Bouvier.
Estimates are made in ranges because exact projections do not exist for
every level of immigration.
from the National Review, July 11, 1994
copyright 1994 National Review
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