Monday morning I choked on my coffee as I read the following comment by my esteemed Politics Daily colleague Donna Trussell:
"America likes to think of itself as a civilized and generous nation. If that's what we are, we should give Mexicans a legal way to immigrate quickly in massive numbers
-- with federal help to border states so they can cope with the influx -- and then use our army to lock down the borders."
Ms. Trussell made this statement in reaction to Arizona's draconian anti-immigration law, and in the context of Mexico's horrid drug war, which has resulted in the massacre of the innocent and not-so-innocent.
Nonetheless, I choked on my coffee because letting in a slew of immigrants from any nation, no matter how awful its conditions, is precisely not
what the United States should be doing.
I say that as the proud granddaughter of Polish, Russian and Cuban immigrants. My grandparents came to the United States during the first Great Wave of immigration that took place in the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th.
It is mass immigration I oppose, not individual immigrants, no matter their country of origin. Individual immigrants are mainly good, hard-working people. They want what we have: peace and prosperity. But by opening the borders, as Ms. Trussell suggests, we not only increase overpopulation pressures in the United States but imperil our own environment and that of the planet as a whole. We are dangerously close to the day where we will run out of inhabitable open space, clean water and clean air -- and push climate change to the point of no return.
Overpopulation creates a variety of environmental demons. The first is pollution. The United States is second only to China, a country with four times as many inhabitants, in greenhouse gas emissions, which form a large part of a country's carbon footprint
This means we are the second-highest producer of pollutants in the world and the highest per capita. Each time we admit an immigrant from a developing nation into the United States, we take a person with a low carbon footprint and turn her or him into a high producer of pollutants, due to our profligate lifestyle. As the Encyclopedia of Earth points out, "the average North American generates about 20 tons of CO2
-eq each year. The global average carbon footprint
is about 4 tons of CO2
-eq per year."
One could respond: "Well, that's not the fault of immigrants, it's our own fault. Why don't we change our own lifestyle instead of barring immigrants?" Much, much easier said than done. There has been talk since the 1960s of "smart growth." Ever since Malvina Reynolds wrote the song "Little Boxes"
in 1962, Americans have registered discomfort with subdivisions and destruction of farmland and open space. Guess what? Since the 1960s, development has continued at an even faster rate than before!
Remember when President Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency in the early 1970s? He was the first president to try to reduce air and water pollution. But our population has almost doubled since that time (due almost exclusively to growth from immigrants and their children) and our pollution and development rates have ballooned right along with it. So it would be much easier to cut off the source of these increases (immigration) than to persuade all Americans to move into small, efficient urban apartments and drive hybrids.
My main objection to Ms. Trussell's statement stems from this environmental perspective. But she and other advocates for mass immigration are not considering the huge economic burden such an influx of uneducated people creates for taxpayers, other immigrants included.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), a nonpartisan organization that lobbies for lower immigration levels (but is often maligned by liberals as being "anti-immigrant"), estimates that between 2000 and 2007, 57 percent of adult illegal immigrants
(25 to 64 years of age) had not completed high school, 24 percent had only a high school diploma, and just 19 percent had any education beyond high school.
Uneducated Americans, whether immigrants or not, strain government budgets. That's a fact of life. They are more difficult to educate, raising the cost of public schooling, and add huge costs to the health care system. As CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian asserts
, most immigrants undermine "the life-chances of low-skilled Americans and even earlier immigrants. . . . no matter how hard they work, low-skilled people in a modern economy just can't earn enough to support themselves and their families at the level we think appropriate without subsidies from the taxpayer. It's not their fault. It's not our fault. There is no 'fault.' It's a mismatch that we need to end."
So if we, as Ms. Trussell suggests, allow the entry of millions of (mainly uneducated) Mexicans quickly, we should also figure on adding many billions or trillions of dollars to the federal deficit.
Finally, I would like to point out that I covered the U.S. House during passage of the 1986 Simpson-Mazzoli immigration reform bill, now known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act
. The law, signed by President Ronald Reagan, made it illegal for employers to hire illegal immigrants and granted amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants already in the nation at that time.
Sound familiar? Amnesty? Penalizing employers? We did it 24 years ago and it was a complete failure, although Congress and the White House expect to have another go at it.
So despite all of the good intentions of Ms. Trussell and those who share her opinion, I believe our efforts would be much better spent helping Mexico (and other countries whose economies cannot support the population) bring down their birth rates, strengthen their education systems and build their economies, than continuing to absorb the nonstop overflow of citizens they cannot support. The fact is, neither can we.