The current debate over illegal immigration has become very emotional and heated, I suspect in part because nobody has coherently addressed the issue. In my view, there are three main strands on the opposition, three arguments against following the free flow of immigrants into our country: the national security argument, and the economic argument.
The security argument seems to me to have merit. We are a target for Islamo-fascist terrorism. Allowing
any illegal immigration in the face of that aggression is foolish, so to the degree that more border agents
and even a wall can mitigate the problem, well and good. That seems to me a bare minimum to
protect ourselves, and no threat to our liberties. But this argument can extend only to stopping illegal immigration, not copious legal immigration, while allowing those who are here illegally now to apply for green cards.
The cultural argument, driven by the fact that the current wave of immigration is predominantly Latino (and to a lesser degree, Asian), seems to me without merit. It is quite frankly neo-nativism. Now, I will confess my bias here: I am the son and grandson of Central European immigrants, and the same arguments were used in the 1920s to end immigration by people like my forebears. The nativists halted immigration by Central and Southern Europeans and Jews, arguing that they were not of the right religion, didn’t speak English, formed gangs, etc. Well, all those immigrants assimilated just fine, and contributed to this country enormously. I think the Latinos and Asians are assimilating as well.
The trickiest argument is the economic one. The classical liberal position is that there should be free flow of people, as there should be of capital and trade. But the wrinkle is that immigrants have access to our welfare state programs, so with them the country incurs costs it didn’t with earlier immigrants. This is a tricky issue, with economists coming down on both sides, and with protectionism always lurking in the shadows. But let me point out a wrinkle not much noticed: the coming Boomer demographic disaster.
Our current population is about 300 million, of which 79 million or so are baby boomers. Boomers, something like 270/0 of our population, will be retiring en masse over the next decade, and croaking en masse not long after. Boomers bore fewer children than earlier generations. This raises a number of questions: Who will be replacing that huge drop in the workforce? Who will take care of all those geezers who didn’t have children? And – given that geriatrics make crummy soldiers – who will serve in the armed forces?
Those who feel that we don’t really need a large, continuing flow of immigrants ought to think through those questions.