Guzzardi column: Is the U.S. full? No, it’s overfull
The latest pro-immigration talking point is that since the U.S. has an abundance of wide-open spaces, record legal immigration levels should continue, and perhaps even increase. While there may be some remote pockets across America where people have enough room to breathe, those open spaces are filling up fast. More immigration, already at more than 1 million annually, with no reduction in sight, would add to the overcrowding. If the objective is to cram as many inhabitants as possible into every square mile, then more immigration is the solution.
The argument immigration activists make – “there’s plenty of room” – ignores the more important point. The debate shouldn’t be about how many more people the U.S. can physically accommodate, but how many people the nation can sustain, and be certain that their quality of life will be consistent with the American way.
A quick look across the nation shows that a decent lifestyle is already far beyond reach for too many people. Homelessness exists in each of the 50 states, and is found in both urban and suburban areas. The U.S. poverty rate is 13.4 percent (43 million people), while the uninsured rate is 13.7 percent. More immigration creates more competition for jobs and requires costly social services. While the U.S. can respond to many needs at one time, we’re failing on addressing homelessness, so adding more immigrants to the mix is the last thing that homeless, poor and uninsured people need.
Proponents for lower immigration levels have more persuasive, fact-based arguments for reducing the U.S. legal immigrant flow. With a population of 329 million and the world’s largest economy, the U.S. ecological footprint exceeds its biocapacity, meaning that the country has an ecological deficit – by definition, an unsustainable living pattern. Instead, the U.S. is in a continuous overshoot status, which means residents use up more natural resources in about seven months than can be replaced in a single year.
Immigration and births to immigrants represent, according to the Census Bureau, population growth’s primary driver. Like all Americans, new immigrants need housing, transportation, jobs and education. But immigration has been so high for so long that the U.S. has undergone a major land development transformation. From 1982 to 2010, sprawl paved over 65 million square miles, including 14 percent of America’s cropland. The total square miles lost to development represents an area equivalent to Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Delaware, New York and Pennsylvania combined.
Sprawl continues to contribute to major land loss and ruin. The historically devastating Houston floods that Hurricane Harvey created two years ago were facilitated by the urbanization of about 25,000 swampland acres that a 42 percent population growth between 1995 and 2015 necessitated. Between 2017 and 2018, greater Houston’s population grew by 91,689, the nation’s third largest increase, to nearly 7 million. And there’s no sign of a slowdown.
The U.S. has moved far away from its traditional immigration totals. Between 1776 and 1965, annual immigration averaged 250,000 people per year. But ill-advised and shortsighted congressionally approved changes to immigration laws in the 1950s, 1960s and 1990s sent totals into orbit. To call for higher immigration intake is irresponsible and uninformed.
A single annual immigrant intake doesn’t represent the whole picture. Chain migration allows naturalized anchor immigrants to sponsor for permanent residence their adult children, adult siblings who in turn can then bring in their adult children who in turn do the same, and thereby continue the chain literally forever. Southeast Asian war refugees in the chain are still sponsoring relatives today even though the conflict ended 45 years ago.
Calling for less immigration isn’t anti-immigrant, but rather a reality check that sustainability is at stake for future generations. Americans, weary of sprawl and aware of the growth that surrounds them, want immigration reduced. They have actively, but unsuccessfully, pressed Congress to pass legislation that would reduce immigration.
Neither Congress nor the immigration lobby disputes the population growth projections. Yet, to the inevitable detriment of all, nothing changes.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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