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Census Reveals Huge Impact of Immigration

by Jan Ting

The 2010 census reports the U.S. population at nearly 309 million, up from 281 million in 2000, and from the official 2005 mid-decade estimate of 296 million. Of the total increase of more than 27 million since the 2000 census, more than 15 million, or about 56 percent of the increase, is due to growth in the Hispanic/Latino population, and an additional 4 million, or about 15 percent, is due to a rise in the smaller Asian population. Both these groups burgeoned by about 43 percent last decade, and together they have accounted for 71 percent of U.S. population gain since 2000.

What the rollout of 2010 census figures hasn't told us yet is how much of our population growth has been due to immigration, and specifically illegal immigration, and how that will affect future population increases.

According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the U.S. population is projected to swell to 438 million by 2050, a surge of 142 million over the baseline official estimate of 296 million in 2005, if all present trends continue.

Should we care about the implications of adding 142 million people to the country over 45 years? How do we provide good jobs, good educational opportunities, good health care, and good housing for that many more people given our track record? How many vehicles will be added to our highways? How many millions of barrels of oil must we import from the Middle East, or extract from deepwater wells on the ocean floor? How many million tons of coal will have to be burned, or nuclear power plants launched, to generate electricity for so many people?

But here's the punch line of the Pew Research Center population study: Fully 82 percent of this projected increase will be attributable to post-2005 immigration, including descendants. Only 18 percent of accumulation, according to Pew, will be due to a natural increase of the 2005 baseline population.

The official 2005 population projection included 36 million foreign-born. Accepting the conventional estimate of 12 million illegal aliens in the United States would mean that about one-third of the immigrant population of the nation is present illegally.

Given the enormous implications of immigration for our country, why are we paralyzed and unable to respond? Why are we locked into a national shouting match over immigration instead of trying to negotiate exactly how much and what kind of immigration we want?

We can't even answer the first and most basic question of immigration policy: Should we let everyone in who wants to come here, or should we enforce a numerical limit on immigration? It's a binary choice. You have to choose one of the two options.

Enforcing a numerical goal on immigration is hard because we have to deny admission to millions of aspiring residents, not because they're bad people, but simply because their admission would exceed our legal capacity. And if they come anyway, we have to deport them, again not because they're bad, but simply because they are present in violation of the terms we have set.

Too many of our politicians of both political parties don't really want to enforce an immigration cap, but they're equally unwilling to abolish one. The failure to enforce our existing immigration limit encourages more violators, aggravating the problem and generating high costs of services to illegal entrants for public health, education, and law enforcement. Our halfhearted attempt to ban the hiring of illegal aliens has simply given rise to a huge counterfeit-documents industry controlled by violent criminal gangs.

We have the most generous legal immigration system in the world. Through a complicated formulation of preferences, we issue about a million "green cards" every year for permanent legal residence in the United States with a clear path to full citizenship. That's more than are issued by all the rest of the nations of the world combined. Because demand greatly exceeds supply, qualified immigrants wait in long queues, some exceeding 20 years, for their chance to move here legally.

We have to decide whether we want to limit population growth through a limit on immigration. Or, alternatively, if we decide that's not worth the effort, or is bound to fail in any event, we should abolish the ceiling and stop all funding for enforcement, saving the taxpayers billions of dollars. Politicians engage in magical thinking when they imagine a "third way" of pretending we have numerical boundaries, but not really enforcing them, and instead promising amnesty to all who succeed in violating our immigration laws.

(c) Copyright 2011 by Jan Ting. Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Jan Ting is professor of law at Temple University's Beasley School of Law. He is a former assistant commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the U.S. Department of Justice.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.