The problem isn't the border fence, it's the job hole in the United States and corrupt leaders worldwide supported by Western money. Immigration complicates both these challenges and diminishes national well being. Of course, it was not always so. The Statue of Liberty proclaims, "Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" And indeed, we are a nation of immigrants; immigration has made us great. It seems thankless that we who have benefited so greatly would refuse help to those behind us. But there have been dramatic changes and we can now better help those behind us and ourselves in other ways.
And what are these dramatic changes, how do they affect us?
- Globalization is the foremost. It has radically altered the status of the US economy, changing it from an independent engine leading the world economy to a integral part of a much larger global economy. Manufacturing, formerly the bedrock of the US economy, is now spread internationally. High paying service jobs, once concentrated in the industrialized world, are also spread internationally. The new jobs of the future are not in the United States. This shift has had a traumatic impact on the US economy. Unemployment is suddenly a national crisis and has directly affected immigrant populations is two crucial ways. Spending on nonessential services, many provided by immigrants, has plummeted. Even more troubling, middle class jobs have evaporated, competition for unskilled jobs has risen significantly, and the historical pattern of new immigrants working their way up into the middle class has broken down. The Land of Opportunity has faded away.
- Demographic trends are raising a whole new set of challenges. Already the birth rate among US citizens has dropped to roughly a base replacement level and the average age of the population is steadily rising. Population growth can be maintained only by immigration, but the job situation makes this increasingly unattractive. On the other hand, concerns that an aging population will depend on a smaller and smaller corps of workers is less critical than it appears - already essential goods and services are provided by a relatively small fraction of total workers. A leveling of the population in particular means that the national stock of commercial and residential buildings can basically cover our needs; future efforts will be much more in upgrading and refurbishing that in new construction.
- There is a fundamental economic shift that is largely unrecognized: growth has driven the US economy since its very inception, but with the levelling of population, not just nationally, but globally, continued growth will be untenable. The new challenge is how to maintain prosperity without growth. There will be no place for a continuing stream of new workers.
- Ethnic enclaves have been a prominent facet of American life since the first colonies. Many immigrants came not because of any deep identification with American ideals, but to trade oppression for the opportunity America offered. Their enclaves made America more of a stew than a melting pot, but as generations grew, individuals did indeed gradually dissolve into a dynamic and richly varied society. This assimilation was greatly facilitated by two social characteristics. The first was the upward mobility that allowed them to move into increasingly better lives. The second was generally a common European cultural background which resonated with American ideals. The Chinese were the only major non-European immigrant population; their enclaves were much more persistent, but did not challenge basic American beliefs. Now upward mobility is grinding to a halt and there are more immigrant populations from very different cultural backgrounds. Ethnic enclaves are in danger of becoming an alienated underclass, disillusioned with American ideals, frustrated by growing economic inequality, and susceptible to becoming an angry domestic opposition.
Against this background, the core strategic challenge of the XXI Century is helping to construct a stable and prosperous world. Without determined global leadership, by mid-century there will be some two billion poor and desperate people contributing to a world of turmoil. The United States cannot remain prosperous in such a world, nor can it accept more than a minuscule fraction of such a homeless, tempest-tossed crowd. Moreover, the typical immigrants to the United States -- young, dynamic, ambitious, hard working people -- are exactly the type of people need in their home countries to create the prosperous world that is so critical. Skilled immigrants - doctors, engineers, seasoned managers -- are even more needed in their native countries. In the 1970's there was a major concern in the United States about the "brain drain" that immigration imposed on the rest of the world. While this concern seems to have largely evaporated, the problem has not gone away. Immigration benefits the United States but detracts from the rest of the world. In the past, this could be ignored because the US economy could function well even with large numbers of backward, Third World countries. In the globalized economy, this is no longer so and will be even less so in the future. The United States will no longer be able to be an island of prosperity in a world of poverty and turmoil. It has reached the point that we are all in this together.
An underlying cause of global poverty is poor governance. There is a new recognition that decades and billions of dollars of foreign aid have failed to make significant improvements in many of the poorest countries. Helping often hurts; two trillion dollars have failed to make any significant difference in Africa, while at least indirectly supporting a range of repressive and incompetent governments. Mexico for years has used the United States as its safety valve; its oil wealth benefiting the upper classes and leaving poverty below. Today millions of dissatisfied workers seek improvement not within their own countries but by desperately trying to break into the industrialized world, which now has no place for them. There needs to be a new approach to economic development. Both China and India have demonstrated impressive growth with minimal foreign assistance. Good governance is more important than money.
In this situation, immigration to the United States undermines the core strategic task of promoting global development by draining the hands and brains needed in other countries while providing both income and a safety valve to entrenched and corrupt leaders.