In the wake of Arizona’s SB 1070, illegal immigration is at the forefront of national discussion for the first time since the defeat of amnesty in 2007. Arizona’s law, which makes illegal presence a state crime, has rallied supporters of immigration enforcement. The open borders lobby is pretending that the sky is falling and using the law to demand that the federal government grant an amnesty.
Lost in this debate is any discussion of lowering legal immigration levels. In fact, many opponents of amnesty argue that while we need to stop illegal immigration, we should increase legal immigration.
Amnesty backers cannot deny that the 1986 amnesty failed to stop illegal immigration, so they now blame the problem on the fact that we did not increase legal immigration enough after the Act. They argue we can prevent future illegal immigration by simply increasing legal immigration alongside an amnesty. Luis Gutierrez’s amnesty bill includes a special visa to “prevent unauthorized migration” by simply increasing legal immigration from the country where illegal immigrants come from.
Most Americans do not know just how many legal immigrants we let in each year. The Department of Homeland Security just issued their statistics for new legal permanent immigrants in 2009. Last year, we issued 1,130,818 green cards, the fourth highest year since 1914. From 2000-2009, we issued over 10 million green cards, the highest decade of American history. Currently, there are 38 million immigrants, 24 million of whom are in the workforce. This does not include temporary workers. DHS did not release the 2009 figures yet, but they issued 912,735 temporary employment authorizations in 2008.
Most of these immigrants are low skilled and from the Third World. Less than 10% of new green card holders are from Europe. People of extraordinary ability, investors, and immigrants with advanced degrees made up less than 8% of the new immigrants.
Faced with these numbers, how can anyone argue with a straight face that we don’t admit enough immigrants?
Illegal immigration is a huge problem, and we need to step up enforcement and reject amnesty. However, all the problems caused by illegal immigration are exacerbated by massive legal immigration.
Massive legal immigration undercuts the wages of American workers and causes unemployment. Of the 1.1 million new green cards we issued last year, 808,478 were to working age immigrants. During this same time period, over five million Americans lost their jobs. With these numbers, there are no jobs Americans won’t do. Harvard economist George Borjas estimates that American citizens’ wages go down 3-4% for every 10% increase of foreign workers—legal or illegal.
Massive legal immigration strains social services. Illegal aliens are barred from most needs based welfare programs. After being in this country for five years, legal immigrants are eligible for almost all government services. Although there are loopholes and weak enforcement mechanisms, illegal aliens are still banned from receiving benefits in Obamacare. However, the bill specifically eliminated the five year wait period in the public charge doctrine, which will allow legal immigrants access to government healthcare the moment they set foot on American soil.
Massive legal immigration endangers national security. The vast majority Muslim legal immigrants do not support terrorism, but their large numbers allow terrorists to blend into the immigrant community. The Center for Immigration Studies analyzed every Islamic extremist known to be involved in terrorist plots from 1993 through the September 11 attacks. Of the 48 terrorists, 36% were naturalized citizens or had permanent green cards, 33% had temporary visas, 6% were asylum applicants, and only 25% were illegal aliens.
Finally, massive legal immigration causes massive illegal immigration. As legal immigration has increased since Ted Kennedy’s 1965 Immigration Act, illegal immigration has risen alongside it. The top sending countries for legal immigration are also the top sending countries for illegal immigration. In another report by the Center for Immigration Studies, “Two Sides of the Same Coin: The Connection Between Legal and Illegal Immigration,” Jim Edwards explains that “The incentive to immigrate to the United States arises from opportunity, the experiences of relatives or peers, and other forces. Liberal family-based immigration preferences, along with myriad nonimmigrant visa classes from tourist to student to business investor, provide ample immigration opportunity to many more people. Whereas one might not otherwise have contemplated uprooting and moving halfway around the globe before, the existence of opportunity affects one’s decisions.”
When told the facts, the American people almost unanimously support cutting back on immigration. In February, a Zogby poll asked, “putting aside the question of legal status for a moment and focusing only on the totals, is the number of immigrants entering the country each year too high, too low, or just right.” 67% said the number was too high, 14% said it was just right, and only 4% said it was too low.
Individual legal immigrants are not to blame for these problems. They came here in search of a better life and played by the rules. The real culprits are the politicians who put cheap labor ahead of the interests of the American people. With 25 million out of work, it’s time to put the American citizens first by issuing a moratorium on legal immigration.
Virgil Goode served as a Republican member of the United States House of Representatives from 1997-2009, representing the 5th congressional district of Virginia.