If Donald Trump
were to win the presidency and carry out his strident promise to build
an impregnable wall along the border with Mexico, both advocates and foes
agree, it would turn the United States into a nation quite different from
the one they live in.
They don’t know the half of it: Under Mr. Trump’s anti-immigrant
proposals, the American population would probably shrink to 323 million
by 2024, about one million fewer people than today and 22 million fewer
people than the Census Bureau’s projections for eight years from now.
There is another side to the story, too: With
Hillary Clinton as the next president, the population of the United States is more likely
to increase to 360 million in 2024, from 324 million today.
Of course, these disparate futures, estimated by Joseph Chamie, a demographer
who once headed the United Nations Population Division, rely on a few
assumptions. Mr. Trump would expel 11 million immigrants who are illegally
in the country; Mrs. Clinton would legalize them. Future migration in
a Trumpian America would fall to zero but would rise if Mrs. Clinton were
president, as many newly legalized residents brought their families along.
The gap — 37 million people, more than a tenth of the population
— underscores how powerfully immigration policy will shape the future
of the United States. And it highlights the shortcoming of a decades-old
political debate over overhauling the nation’s immigration system
that has failed to take into account the disconnect between policy makers
and the American public.
“One of the main demographic effects would likely be on overall population
size,” said Michael S. Teitelbaum, who in the 1990s was vice chairman
and acting chairman of the United States Commission on International Migration.
“Another major effect would be on demographic composition in terms
of national origin, language, education, religion, race/ethnicity, etc.”
Nobody disputes that America’s immigration system is broken. The
law governing immigration is pretty much irrelevant to the reality of
immigration on the ground. But we can’t just patch the system.
Attempts at reform have focused on cobbling together constituencies that
would stand to gain from specific changes: businesses eager to acquire
cheap workers; labor unions interested in organizing newly legalized foreigners;
advocacy groups out to protect the rights of immigrants who are toiling
with little recourse to law.
One problem with this approach is that it has bypassed American voters.
Most Americans would rather not allow more immigrants into the United States.
prefer fewer. In 2010, three out of four said they
favored tighter restrictions on immigration.
This doesn’t mean the United States should pull up the drawbridge,
as Mr. Trump proposes. But it does suggest that any effort to change immigration
laws and practices faces a big democratic challenge.
Mr. Trump’s immigration strategy has little contact with reality.
Even under the most favorable circumstances its costs would
exceed its potential benefits. According to some immigration experts, his vaunted border wall could even
increase the number of immigrants living and working illegally in the United States. Unless Mr. Trump were
also prepared to impose a police state that would hunt down and deport
every foreigner, immigrants facing a higher cost of entry — higher
smugglers’ fees, greater odds of dying on the way — would
be more likely to stay once they got in.
“What the U.S. government is doing in terms of border enforcement,
mass deportations and other restrictive policies just isn’t relevant
to the decision to stay home,” noted the Mexican Migration Field
Research and Training Program of the University of California, San Diego,
which has interviewed thousands of immigrants and potential immigrants
in communities across Mexico.
Wayne A. Cornelius, who heads the effort, concluded that “border
enforcement, in whatever form and at whatever level, has never been a
If Mr. Trump were able to cut immigration to zero, it would have other
consequences. The United States would have not just a smaller population
in the future but also an older one. The work force, which powers economic
growth, would be smaller. Each worker would have to maintain more retirees.
But Mr. Trump is not the only politician misleading the public about immigration.
For decades, the political debate over immigration has been mired in implausible
possibilities. Notably, even reformers on the pro-immigration side still
peddle the notion that illegal immigration could be stopped after the
latest batch of unauthorized immigrants obtained legal residence.
This proposition doesn’t mesh with an ineffectual enforcement policy
and a border that, to most voters, looks like Swiss cheese. What it does
is squander voters’ trust. “What trips this up is that politicians
are continuously making claims which turn out not to be true,” Mr.
Chamie, the demographer, told me.
The runaway popularity of Mr. Trump’s extreme anti-immigrant stance
among a large bloc of the electorate tells you just how mistrustful voters
have become over the prevarications of the political class.
In 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law an immigration
bill that abolished national quotas favoring migrants from Western European
countries, he told Americans that it would “not affect the lives of millions,” nor “reshape
the structure of our daily lives.”
Two decades later, President Ronald Reagan signed the Immigration Reform
and Control Act, which offered amnesty to several million unauthorized
immigrants but promised to slam the door on future illegal immigrants
by holding their employers accountable.
Lots of things happened over the last few decades. What’s certain
is that immigration did not follow the pattern envisaged by President
Reagan. Nor did its impact on the makeup of the United States fit the
modesty of President Johnson’s prognostication.
Immigrants, their children and grandchildren have accounted for 55 percent
of the country’s population growth since 1965,
according to the Pew Research Center. Then, the country was 84 percent white, 4 percent Hispanic and less than
1 percent Asian. Today it is 62 percent white, 18 percent Hispanic and
6 percent Asian. Unauthorized immigrants, brought close to zero after
the legalization wave of the 1980s, are back at an estimated 11 million.
Immigration brings many positive things, including diversity of experience
and talent, new ideas, customs and skills. The National Academy of Sciences
this week will release a report that the immigration surge to the United
States from 1990 to 2010 produced net benefits for the native-born, beyond
those accruing to the immigrants themselves, of $50 billion a year, a
small but nontrivial amount. It is bigger than the economic gains expected
from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the trade agreement among 12 Pacific
Rim nations now stalled in Congress.
But admitting new immigrants carries costs, too, like pressure on land,
housing and natural resources, and lower wages for workers with scant
education who compete directly with immigrants in the labor market. It
might be a bad idea to craft policy around Americans’ misgivings
about ethnic and cultural change. Still, they should be brought into the
Any effort at durable immigration reform must acknowledge that expelling
11 million people and having them wait in some nonexistent line to return
legally would not just be inhumane but also impossible. The effort must
come to terms with the fact that the United States economy benefits from
workers of many different backgrounds. It must accept that stopping illegal
immigration from the poorer regions of the world will require offering
a legal avenue for entry.
Reform cannot simply deal with things like border controls and requiring
employers to verify legal status. Education — both of immigrants
and the American-born — will be critical to nurture bonds of identity.
Reformers must engage with Americans’ fears, while offering those
who suffer economic losses the means to overcome their loss. Reform efforts
will not succeed if they fail to bring Americans along.
REVILLA LAW FIRM, P.A.
Miami immigration lawyers who represent clients in all areas of immigration
law, including deportation defense, employment-based cases, family-based
residency, and much more.
We offer a free in-office consultation with Antonio G. Revilla III. Mr.
Revilla is a Former U.S. Immigration Prosecutor and a Miami immigration
attorney with 25 years of legal experience. He is known throughout the
legal community for representing clients in even the most difficult and
seemingly hopeless cases. With his invaluable experience as a former prosecutor,
Mr. Revilla understands the intricacies of the immigration court system
and how to effectively navigate the complicated process.
Mr. Revilla will fight for your right to remain in the United States with
an aggressive but diplomatic approach to your case. During your free in-office
consultation, Mr. Revilla will take the time to thoroughly review your
case and provide his honest and professional guidance on the best way
Contact Revilla Law Firm, P.A., today to schedule your free in-office consultation.
Call (305) 858-2323 or toll free (877) 854-2323