Notes on Immigration
Many of you heard my recent conversation about immigration policy, and a few of the comments afterward made me realize that I should have provided more context for the discussion. It started with an argument over a post I made on Twitter, and I know not all of you guys are on Twitter, so let’s do that now. There will be more to say about this in the future.
One of the difficulties of discussing immigration policy has to do with the question of scale. Imagine that you’re sitting in a room. The room is empty except for a desk with a chair, which you’re sitting in, facing the only door. Across from your desk is a family that wants to come to your country, and it’s your job to decide whether to let them in. They seem to be good, hard working people, with well-behaved children. Perhaps they’re refugees, or economic migrants, or just fleeing a corrupt and dangerous part of the world. They are not criminals, they are not carrying infectious diseases, they’re regular people looking to improve their lot and the lives of the children. What possible morally-satisfactory reason could there be for turning them down? Most people, I think, if they were sitting at the desk making the decision, would have trouble finding any justification that wouldn’t haunt them. I certainly would.
And so you pull out your big green APPROVED stamp, hand them their papers, and send them on their way. They thank you profusely, call down the blessings of their god onto you, and head for the door. When they open the door to leave, another family pushes in past them and is now standing before you on the other side of the desk. They, too, would like to immigrate. They, too, seem to be good, hard working people with well-behaved children, and are, for all intents and purposes, a carbon copy of the nice family that just left. But as the first family left the room and the new one shuffled in, you caught a glimpse of something outside the door and so you go to take a look. Outside the door is a line of people, stretching off to the horizon. You go up to the roof of the building and look out, but still can’t see the end of the line. An assistant gives you a note saying that each person has been given a number, and that so far they were up to 100 million. That’s the number of people estimated by the UN to have been forced out of their homes as refugees in the last decade. It doesn’t include people looking for work, escaping a corrupt government, or who simply want their children to live in the land of opportunity. Those people are showing up, too, and while you’re still trying to wrap your head around things another assistant comes with another note informing you that the line is now 120 million persons deep, and it’s growing all the time as people stream in from all over the world. At various places in the line, fights have broken out over rivalries of which you’ve never heard. Some of the fights have escalated into scaled battles between large groups whose tribes, ethnicities, or sects were at war in the place they came from. Another assistant comes, and it’s up to 150 million, with no end in sight. You go back into the room and sit at your desk, look up at the hopeful family and their glowing children, and let out a sigh. Now what? It will be just as hard to send that family away as it was before you knew what was outside the door. Maybe your heart can’t take it and you let them in. But a third family follows, and families keep following families into the room, and no matter how many you let in, your assistants keep coming with notes telling you that the line outside is only growing. No matter when you choose to cut them off, it’s going to be just as hard as it would’ve been to send the first family away - but you have to cut them off somewhere.
Since we changed our laws in 1965 to permit mass migrations from the Third World, we have added, by immigration alone, approximately the entire population of France to the United States. Every three months since Joe Biden has been in office, a number of people equal to the population of Seattle have entered the country illegally. This rate was briefly reduced in the last couple years of the Trump presidency, but otherwise it has continued that way, with ebbs and flows, at least since the early 1990s. The foreign-born percentage of the American population has reached levels not seen since the two great migrations of the 19th century, and almost certainly exceeds those examples when illegal immigrants are included in the number. Those mass migrations led to dangerous surges in nativism that not only pitted Americans against new immigrants, but Americans against Americans, just as the mass migrations of the last several decades have done today.