Immigration And America’s Future

Yesterday’s article on why I think America is not in decline prompted thoughtful replies from readers.

John wrote:

I found your article particularly interesting as I am British, and agree somewhat with your opinion, but remain skeptical about America’s future.

One topic you and many others constantly overlook is America’s appalling immigration blunder. This is not a minor problem, as it’s going to affect the US’s future. This nation is where it is thanks to immigrants from western Europe, primarily Germans. In the 18th and 19th centuries, 50 million Germans came to the USA. They were the most industrious, qualified immigrants any nation could have welcomed, and this country should be eternally grateful to that group. It’s also interesting to note that it was Wernher von Braun (a German) who was the brains behind the US space programme.

The current crop of immigrants does not come anywhere near the desirability of the people who came here during the period I mention. This is the ultimate reason the US will not compete in this century.

I understand you live in Japan. Have you been here recently to take a close look at the infrastructure? The shocking condition of the road-railway systems is straight out of the 1890s — worse, in fact. There’s no public transportation of any note, a failing school system, and political correctness has been taken to the point of absurdity.

The US enjoyed a power surge after World War II as it was the only industrialised nation standing. I am 73, and lived through the war in the UK, and will be eternally grateful to the US army and the USAF for their tremendous effort — that’s the America I remember and liked.

I felt compelled to write this letter because many Americans are still under a degree of denial about their country. As an ex airline guy who has traveled and lived extensively abroad, I was aware of the decline that was taking place several years ago.

You appear to be an interesting young man, Jason, and are no doubt living in Japan for your own reasons. Whatever they are you must be very aware of what is happening in that part of Asia — I think we are going to be very surprised at the events that occur in the next 10-20 years.

Discussions with my grandparents and others of their age have instilled in me the respect for the World War II generation that John conveys in his note. There was something almost magical about the greatest generation, and comparing their handling of WWII with nearly every U.S. conflict since then is a sure path to frustration. Who would you rather have in charge, Franklin D. Roosevelt or George W. Bush? It’s a rhetorical question.

On that score, I share John’s point of view. Ditto the poor quality of the U.S. transportation system, which I wrote about on May 22.

Regarding immigration, however, I don’t find the current situation quite as grim as John does. Every country would prefer that most of its immigrants be highly educated geniuses cut from the von Braun cloth. That’s not a reasonable preference, though. The current crop of immigrants to the U.S. may not bring the same contributions brought by the Germans and other European immigrants, but it does get America around the declining demographic problem faced by other developed nations.

By 2030, according to Nicholas Eberstadt at the American Enterprise Institute, the U.S. population will grow by 65 million people. Europe’s, however, will remain stagnant and end up with twice as many seniors over 65 than children under 15. Developed populations around the world have either already stopped replacing themselves or are near that point, leaving immigration as the primary way of keeping demographic trends healthy. Too few children today means too few workers tomorrow.

The UN reports that a native-born American woman bears 1.9 children, less than the 2.1 rate needed for replacement. Without immigration, the American population would not be growing today.

Also, we should keep in mind that at any point in history the most recent wave of immigrants is viewed with suspicion. The newest newcomers somehow never stack up to our retrospective view of the prior newcomers. Part of that is due to the prior newcomers now considering themselves natives and looking with disdain on the next wave of people doing precisely what they once did.

Recall the “No Irish Need Apply” signs of the 1850s and 1860s in England and America to realize that the impression of European immigrants as being high quality people wasn’t always dominant.

From the Opposing Viewpoints book on Immigration, edited by Mary E. Williams: “By high margins, Americans are telling pollsters it was a very good thing that Poles, Italians, and Jews emigrated to America. Once again, it’s the newcomers who are viewed with suspicion. This time, it’s the Mexicans, the Filipinos, and the people from the Caribbean who make Americans nervous.”

That said, I think it’s easy to support John if we restrict our dislike to illegal immigration. Nobody opposes immigration when we’re talking about Indian software developers, Japanese automotive designers, German rocket scientists, British journalists, French engineers, and Brazilian business leaders. Let’s be honest: the problem is illegal aliens who sneak into the country, produce a litter of children supported by social programs, and never generate enough economic value to offset their drain on the country.

John wondered if I’ve been back to America recently to see its current state. Yes, I get back two or three times a year. One of my most frustrating experiences has been accompanying a group of Japanese visitors to Los Angeles International Airport where they were eager to begin using the English they’d studied so hard, only to find that half of the “Americans” they met didn’t speak English. One of them asked me why she couldn’t catch any of the words the man on the street was saying to her.

“Is it an English dialect?” she asked.

“No, it’s Spanish,” I answered.

The image that Japanese people have of Hollywood is left over from the days of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, whose pictures still adorn brand new movie theater walls in Japan. That impression is gone by the time the sun sets on the first day in Los Angeles.

Is it so shocking, though? Look at the name of the city.

Even the hard line against illegal immigration can run up against second thoughts the first time you get to know a good person who came to the U.S. illegally. A friend of mine in Los Angeles owns an office equipment store, is married to a white American woman, has a son in the military, and would do anything in the world to help me. He came illegally to the United States from Honduras, with the help of a “coyote” (smuggler). He spoke no English. To learn, he joined a Toastmasters club. That’s where I met him, and I’ve enjoyed listening to his speeches in perfectly good English.

I know his story is anecdotal to the national discussion, but it’s not to me. Even as we form national policy, it wouldn’t hurt to keep compassion close at hand.

As a thought on whether the U.S. is in danger of being swamped by immigrants, keep in mind that the foreign-born share of the population in 1900 was 20%, twice as high as the 10% share it sits at today.

I agree with the spirit of John’s note. The U.S. needs to get smart about immigration, not to cut it off. The country needs to decide who’s going to improve the national situation and who’s going to make it worse.

Here in Japan, I have to periodically prove to the country that it’s worth letting me stick around a while
longer because I’m writing something of value about the culture. I didn’t sneak in, nor do I stay surreptitiously. The authorities know where to find me and I have every document required to be here.

Is it too much to ask that immigrants to America show the same respect?

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