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June 16, 2005

Facts of the Day

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

  • According to a new study by the Pew Hispanic Center, illegal immigrants are arriving in the U.S. at a rate of about 500,000 per year.
  • Since the 1990s, the number of new illegals in this country has exceeded the number of new legal immigrants.
  • There are now about 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.
  • Illegals are showing up in large numbers in areas of the country where they've seldom been seen before: North Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee now have considerable illegal populations.
  • New York City's illegal population -- the fourth-largest in the country -- is overwhelmingly made up of Mexicans who arrived in the last decade.
  • The last time American lawmakers attempted to fix the illegal-immigration problem was in 1986. Since then, the number of illegals in the country has nearly tripled. While in 1986 about a quarter of Mexican immigrants entered the U.S. illegally, these days around 85% do. Expert work, lawmakers!
  • Although many Americans seem to think that massive illegal immigration has always been with us -- that it's inevitable and unavoidable -- the fact is that right up through the 1970s the U.S. experienced virtually no large-scale illegal Mexican immigration. It didn't really become a problem until the 1980s.


UDPATE: Vdare's Randall Burns links to a surprisingly frank Christian Science Monitor piece. Alexandra Burns reports that even residents of the Northeast are growing alarmed at the numbers of illegals showing up in their towns and cities. The small city of Danbury, CT, for example, may have as many as 15,000 illegal immigrants living there. Sample passage:

"What we see is a general failure of the federal government to control undocumented migration into the United States," says Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, co-director of Immigration Studies at New York University. "At the same time, there's a growing momentum at the state level, county level, and in local communities to attempt to manage, in however faulty or problematic way, this elephant in the room in today's migration."

UPDATE 2: Shannon Love proposes a clever way to make the Feds pay attention.

posted by Michael at June 16, 2005


Law makers and law enforcers are two separate and distinct schools of fish.
I wouldn't be surprised if half of the existing body of laws isn't enforced; our numerous agencies are too preoccupied with intra-departmental wars to do the job they are paid to perform.

Frequent cliche on "Law & Order" (yes, Michael, I'm one of those hooked women) - one of investigators' tool in drawing information out of a witness is to threaten him/her with alerting Immigration Dept; it's quietly assumed 1)the person is here illegally and 2)Immigration Dept wouldn't do their filtering job without additional push from outside the agency.

When things like that become unquestioned cliche on TV show, something's definitely rotten in this kingdom...

Posted by: Tatyana on June 16, 2005 12:42 PM

Part of me thinks that a great deal of the illegal immigration problem has more to do with the "illegal" than the "immigration." No doubt more people are coming into the country than ever before, but how easy was it to be a legal immigrant before? I'm fairly confident that virtually none of the great migrations of the 1800's were considered illegal. How many potato famine immigrants entered the country "illegally"?

Posted by: Kyle on June 16, 2005 12:55 PM

Man, you guys can just keep hammering the illegal immigration thing, and the rest of us can just keep not caring. Health care, yada yada yada, I'm a citizen and the benefits I've received have been a net negative. Free health care, reduced-cost housing, super-cheap postsecondary education, below-cost student loans, and so on. Why don't you just bitch about us poor, lazy people more generally and stop picking on the Mexicans?

Tangentially I feel compelled to mention that Mexicans are frequently very nice people. And most of them are more productive than I am! One of my drug dealers, back before I saw the light and quit my self-destructive ways (&c.), was Mexican. Why should Americans get paid $20/hr to pick oranges? And are you rich, productive people going to pay $15 for an orange? Psht.

Ok, I'm done rambling, I need to go take my state-subsidized anti-depressants now.

Posted by: Michael non-Blowhard on June 16, 2005 3:00 PM

The Mexican population has got to be growing at a really healthy rate. According to, the Mexican population (in Mexico) has grown from roughly 80 million in 1980 to an estimated 104 million in 2004. Assuming another 500,000 per year migration to the U.S., in those 14 years another 7 million left. Otherwise, we would have seen an almost 40% increase in the Mexican population in a mere quarter of a century.

Question: How long will the U.S. be able to serve as Mexico's escape hatch from failed developmental and population policies?

I know lots and lots of Mexican immigrants, legal and otherwise, and by-and-large they're nice folks. But this transcends personalities, guys...

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on June 16, 2005 3:31 PM

Tatyana's back! And that's a good distinction, between lawmaking and law-enforcement. I chuckle over the fact that one of the sponsors of one of the current contending "let's deal with it" immigration reforms is none other than ... Ted Kennedy! One of the co-sponsors of the disastrous 1965 Immigration Reform Act that set us down this path. We owe you so much, Teddy ...

Kyle -- One of the striking things about the history of immigration into America is that it has gone through phases. For a while (often decades) no one will be let in. Then there'll be a stretch when a lot of people are allowed to enter. Then it'll tighten up again, in order to digest the influx. A couple of things are different about the post-1965 wave. One is that it shows no sign of ending. The other is that a wall of PC-ness has been erected around it. Express reservations about current arrangements and you're instantly labeled "anti-immigrant" at the least, and more likely "racist." Yet in previous eras people discussed immigration and immigration policy openly. It was widely recognized as one of the most important jobs government did. And it was also recognized that such processes as assimilation to the mainstream didn't happen automatically. That's really why I come back to the topic over and over. It's an important issue and it needs to enter the public discussion.

MnonB -- The illegal-immigration rap is entirely mine. I don't really know how the other Blowhards feel about the issue. I think we all make the assumption, though, that we all (posters and commenters alike) wish everyone well, but that there might very well be disagreements about how to get there.

FvB -- The Mexican elite evidently considers siphoning-off-part-of-their-poor-to-the-U.S. to be, essentially, offical policy these days. They're amazingly upfront and explicit about this. I'll try to find some examples.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 16, 2005 3:55 PM

We obviously couldn't have had "large-scale illegal Mexican immigration" during the time that immigration from Mexico wasn't illegal. Which was most of the last century. Until quite recently, immigrants from Mexico weren't perceived as a social problem, so they weren't illegal.

I believe there wasn't a restriction that applied specifically to Mexico until 1976. (there was a loose "western hemisphere" restriction as of 1965, and prior to that it was entirely uncontrolled.)

Relegalize immigration today, and the social problems associated with "illegals" will be drastically reduced.

Posted by: Glen Raphael on June 16, 2005 4:09 PM

Some thoughts about immigration (legal and illegal):

1) My understanding (essentially from long ago high school social studies classes) is that there was no such thing as illegal immigration until some point in the early 20th Century when laws (which, by the way, favored immigrants from western Europe, I think) were passed to restrict immigration. Until then anyone who wanted to come to the U.S. could do so "legally."

2) Then sometime in the 1960s (1965?), I think the restrictive immigration laws were replaced with less restrictive ones (which pointedly no longer favored western European immigrants).

3) It seems to me that there have been a number of changes in American society that have made people who normally support LEGAL immigration (like myself) at least a bit more leery about it.

a) The movement away from the goal of assimilation ("melting pot") towards the goal of multi-culturalism (including, for instance, the "right" to bi-lingual education, bi-lingual government documents, etc.).

Additionally, there are two other similar, but more recent, developments along these lines that also seem to change the nature and meaning of immigration and citizenship: (i) the American gov't's granting of dual citizenships and (ii) the "movement" towards allowing non-citizens to vote in local elections.

b) The growth of a sense of entitlement across the entire spectrum of the US population, but most notably among the poor.

(It seems to me that one of the greatest uncommented upon ironies in American history is the fact the American population really began to develop its sense of entitlement in the Kennedy years. Yet the phrase that people most associate with JFK is "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." So while the American people admired JFK for articulating this idea, they then went in entirely the opposite direction!)

The end result: immigration and citizenship are not what they used to be, and people are re-evaluating their attitudes and beliefs about immigrants accordingly.

4) The growth in illegal immigration seems to me to be a slap in the face to those would-be immigrants who are willing to play by the rules. Why create a system of immigration that seems to reward (and thereby encourages) law-breaking while it penalizes (and thereby discourages) lawfulness?

5) It seems to me that, post 9/11, effectively controlling our borders is SUPREMELY important. Therefore I find it dismaying that so many people in postions of power seem to feel that protecting illegal immigrants trumps this issue.

6) I am inclined to be very much in favor of LEGAL immigration. I think, for instance, that NYC would be in big trouble were it not for all of our recent immigrants.

7) So my basic feelings (at least at the moment) about the issues of immigration and citizenship are something like the following:

a) I don't care so much what numbers are set for LEGAL immigration (they could be higher or they could be lower, I'm not knowledgeable enough to judge), I just want our country to develop a system whereby only LEGAL immigrants (whatever their numbers be) are allowed into the country and given the opportunity to become citizens.

b) I am very much against bi-lingualism. I think the only thing that will hold a diverse and very large country like ours together in the future will be a common (non-divisive) language. (I would enthusastically support the amendment that Hyakawa (sp?) was promoting years ago to make English the official language of the U.S.)

c) I am very much against the idea of dual citizenship (although I realize that this is already a fact and would be difficult to change). Like bi- or multi-lingualism, I think the granting of dual citizenships creates a divide which is likely to be especially problematic in a country as diverse and large as the U.S.

d) I am very much against (and aghast at the idea) of allowing non-citizens to vote. Similarly, I also think it is a terrible idea for resort communities to allow non-residents to vote in local elections -- which is another idea that is being promoted (although this time by rich "immigrants").

8) I think it is very important, for both moral and practical reasons, to disassociate an opposition to ILLEGAL immigration (something I agree with) from an opposition to LEGAL immigration (something I disagree with).

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on June 16, 2005 7:21 PM

P.S. -- I hadn't noticed Glen Raphael's more knowledgeable post when I began writing mine. My summary of my understanding of the "history" of immigration was only to lay out what my sketchy understanding of the history of immigration was.

Also, to clarify a bit, of course even in the heyday of immigration there were, apparently, some rules about who was, and who was not, allowed into the country -- thus those heartbreaking stories about people who failed those Ellis Island physicals, etc. So I guess, even then, our country did control its borders, and one could have had (at least theoretically) illegal immigrants (people who, for instance, failed the physicals, etc., but somehow came in anyway).

Posted by: Benjamin Hemric on June 16, 2005 7:40 PM

MB -- Oh, there've been anti-illegal immigration discussions here and at ChicagoBoyz before, not to mention other economically liberal blogs. I'm pretty sure there's been at least one at Asymmetrical Information as well, although I'm too lazy to go checking. The correlation between pro-free market attitudes and anti-illegal immigration ones seems quite high, at least within the narrow realm of the relatively conservative side of the blogosphere.

I usually start by making the point that immigration should be generally relegalized, as someone else here just wrote. The counterpoint that poor, uneducated immigrants are detracting from an American monoculture and acting as a net drain on social benefit resources is usually made. I was just trying to get past that by saying, "Well, I'm a fucked-up freak, and I'm also a drain on total social welfare. I'm a leech that sucks up more than he contributes, and yet I'm also a citizen."

One needn't be an illegal immigrant to be a net drain on the system, in other words, so why not focus on the problems specific to the welfare state, and correcting the incentives that lead to its abuse, rather than on the illegal immigrants who keep Florida/California orange juice relatively cheap.

Posted by: Michael non-Blowhard on June 16, 2005 7:51 PM

Anyway, if you're really interested in reading more about Mexican immigration, here's a nice long post on the subject complete with graphs from one of my favorite econblogs.

Posted by: Michael non-Blowhard on June 16, 2005 7:59 PM

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