Moderator: Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
Steven A. Camarota, Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies; author of "Immigrants in the United States -- 2002: A Snapshot of America's Foreign-Born Population"
Roberto Suro, Director, Pew Hispanic Center
Michael Lind, Senior Fellow, New America Foundation
MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I’m the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank here in Washington that examines and critiques the impact of immigration on the United States.
Perhaps even more than other policy issues, much of the debate over immigration seems to take place in a data vacuum based on anecdote and emotion and often not much else. One person may think immigration is bad because his immigrant neighbors pack too many people into the house next door. Another may think immigration is economically vital because he sees immigrants cleaning his offices. A third may see immigration as culturally enriching because he frequents ethnic restaurants. But what’s often missing in the discussion of this issue, one of the most important issues in public policy in our country today, not only at the popular level but even in Congress, the Executive Branch and think tanks, is a grounding in facts.
How many immigrants are there? What are their characteristics? Are they wealthy or are they poor? How many are educated? What levels of education do they have? What use of government programs do they make? And how do all those things compare to native-born Americans?
And what’s also important in using this kind of data is to have relatively current data, because immigration is a dynamic phenomenon. We admit well over a million immigrants a year and often old data has been used to somehow tell us something about what is happening today. Julian Simon, for instance, the quirky but charming late cheerleader for open borders, used data from the 1970s, decades after it had gone stale. And this was not a phenomenon unique to him.
So what the center does every couple of years is release the version of the report we’re releasing today, a snapshot of the immigrant population based on the most recent data from the Census Bureau. The report we’re releasing today, which Steve, the author, will go into more detail about, is based on data that the Census Bureau collected in the spring but has not yet been released or used in any kind of government report, and so it’s the most current information available. Unlike a lot of what think tanks do, there really isn’t necessarily a policy point, policy headline to be drawn from this data. The point of this report is to offer a context for the discussion so that it doesn’t take place in the data vacuum that I referred to.
And we have a distinguished panel to talk about this. The author of the report, Steven Camarota, has emerged as one of the premier analysts of the impact of immigration on the United States. He’s the research director at the Center for Immigration Studies and has authored reports on the impact of immigration in a variety of areas, entrepreneurship, poverty, health insurance, and also was author of a report that no one has -- no one in the government has replicated yet apparently, which traces the immigration history of the Al-Qaeda operatives who have committed crimes in the United States over the past decade.
The two respondents are equally distinguished. First, Roberto Suro is the director of The Pew Hispanic Center, which is a relatively new think tank here in town, has actually made quite a splash, has done a really effective job, I think, of publicizing its research and only last week released a report on immigrant remittances. Roberto most recently was a reporter and editor at the Washington Post and was a foreign correspondent before that for Time magazine and the New York Times, and is author of the 1998 book “Strangers Among Us: Latino Lives in a Changing America.”
Our other respondent is Michael Lind, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation and he’s been a writer and editor for the New Yorker, for Harper’s and The National Interest, author of several books including “The New American Nation,” “The New Nationalism and the Fourth American Revolution,” which contains a significant discussion of immigration, and author of the upcoming book, coming up in January from Basic Books, “Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics.”
So we’ll start with the presentation by Steve of his findings and then have comments from the two respondents, after which we’ll take questions from the audience.
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Thank you, Mark. When the history of the last 20 years or so is written, I think the most important story will not be the Clinton impeachment, the Republican takeover of Congress, or even perhaps the terrorist attacks of last year. No, I think the most important social phenomenon over the last two decades is the unprecedented level of immigration. It is a social phenomenon of enormous significance, affecting everything from the nation’s schools to the political balance between the two parties. In fact, there are few government policies that can have so profound an impact on a nation as its immigration policy.
Now, the entire report that we are releasing today, using the latest data, attempts to provide information about the wide ranging effects of immigration on American society. The entire report is available at the Center for Immigration Studies website, which is cis.org. You can download the whole report at the Center for Immigration Studies website. Now, the data for the report comes from the March 2002 current population survey collected by the Census Bureau. The survey is also referred to as the CPS.
An analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies of the March 2002 CPS indicates that 33.1 million legal and illegal immigrants live in the United States, an increase of two million just since the last Census. I should also point out that the Census Bureau normally uses the term foreign born, but we use the term immigrant and foreign born interchangeably in this report. Now, these are basically people who were born outside of the United States and it doesn’t include people who were born abroad of American parents.
Now, because the current population survey, or CPS, is primarily designed to gather data on people in the workforce, it does not include those living in institutions such as prisons and nursing homes. However, it is possible to arrive at a total immigrant population of 33.1 million simply by adding the 600,000 people found to be living in institutions by the 2000 Census to the 32.5 million in the CPS. In other words, the CPS you find 32.5 million and the Census had found 600,000 people living in group quarters. That is, you know, prisons, nursing homes. And so you just add them together and you get a total foreign born population in 2002 of 33.1 million.
Now, because all children born in the United States to immigrants are by definition natives, the sole reason for the dramatic increase in the immigrant population is new immigration. Now, the immigrant population in the CPS includes perhaps eight or nine million illegal aliens, based on work done by the Census Bureau and other outside researchers, and there are perhaps 900,000 or so persons on long term temporary visas, such as students and guest workers.
Now, one of the things that makes the current population survey so valuable, the reason the Census Bureau does such a great public service for us by collecting this data, is that it asks much more extensive questions than does the Census. And so it is possible to look at a host of social phenomena, everything from welfare use to health insurance coverage, for example, questions not included on the Census.
So what did we find when we analyzed the 2002 data? There are many findings in the report at both the national and local level, and again you can download the report at our website cis.org if you want more information about your particular state. But let me just touch on two of the most important findings. First, the new data indicates that there has been no slowdown in immigration. I think a lot of people are under the impression that with the economic downturn that began in 2000 and the terrorist attacks, there’s been a real tightening at the borders and that it’s really hard to get into the country.
And it may well be harder, but the survey asks people if they’re foreign born, legal or illegal, and it also asks them what year did they come to America to live? And responses to that question show that 3.3 million new immigrants arrived from abroad between January of 2000 and March of 2002. In other words, an annual rate of about 1.5 million people. In other words, about 1.5 million legal and illegal immigrants are arriving in the United States each year.
And why is that? Why would people keep coming? Well, we could have a very long discussion about that, but I think the basic reason is the fact is that even with the downturn, even if it is harder to get into the United States now, legally or illegally, life just remains a whole lot better here than there, and so lots of people still keep coming. There’s an enormous queue of people waiting for visas for legal immigration. And so even if a few people drop out of that queue, it doesn’t really have any big impact on the numbers. And the most recent numbers for legal immigration just from the INS show about a million people got permanent residency ‑‑ that is, they come and live in the United States for as long as they like and eventually get citizenship. That’s permanent residency.
So what the data clearly indicate, that at least through the first part of this year is immigration remains at record levels and it’s why the immigrant population continues to grow. Now, what we see over here to my left in figure 1 is the number of immigrants in millions living in the United States over the last century. And what it really shows is the enormous run off in recent years. There are now 33 million immigrants in the United States. This is more than double the number during the last great wave of immigration around 1910, when roughly 13 or 14 million immigrants lived in the United States.
So what we are experiencing is a level of immigration in many ways without precedent in American history. Though I should point out that the U.S. population was smaller in the past, so as a share of the U.S. population immigrants still represent a somewhat smaller share than they did 80 years ago. But the percentage of -- immigrants now account for almost 12 percent of the U.S. population and if things continue, will pass the all time high reached in 1890 and in 1910, about 15 percent. The immigrant population in the U.S. is growing so fast that probably by the end of this decade we’ll pass the all time percentage high. And as a numerical value, the number of immigrants is, of course, again without any precedent in American history.
Now, in addition to finding that immigration -- there’s been no slow down in legal and illegal immigration, the data shows also -- and this I think is the other take home point, the big finding of the study -- is that immigration has an enormous and direct bearing on a host of issues that seem vitally important to the American people. The effect of immigration on America’s public schools, the nation’s healthcare system, or the impact of immigrant induced population growth on congestion and overcrowding can only be described as huge.
Let me touch on some of these points real quickly. There has been a significant effort in recent years to improve the lives of the working poor. These have included expansion of something called the earned income tax credit, which the government pays to low income workers, and this has also included the adoption of higher minimum wages by many localities. This is often called -- they’re often called living wage laws.
Now, the new CPS data shows that since 1990 immigration has increased the supply of those without a high school education in the U.S. workforce by 21 percent. In other words, 21 percent of all the high school dropouts working in the United States were immigrants who came in the last 12 years. It has increased the supply of all other workers much more modestly, by 5 percent. Now, basic economics says what? You increase the supply of something, in this case unskilled workers, and you reduce the price. And what’s the price of workers or labor? Wages.
Yet, these are precisely the kinds of workers who are supposed to benefit from living wage laws and the earned income tax credit. In other words, those concerned about the working poor have been trying to raise the wages of low wage unskilled workers, but at the same time we have an immigration policy that holds down their wages by flooding the unskilled labor market. And, in fact, a few years back the National Academy of Sciences found that about 44 percent of the decline in the last two decades or so in the wages for high school dropouts actually was accounted for by increases in the supply of labor caused by immigration.
Now, let me touch on another issue where immigration has a very big impact based on this new data. Since 1989 the population, or number of people without health insurance in the United States, has grown by nearly eight million and stood at a little over 41 million in 2001. Now, the 2001 numbers, I should point out, come from 2002 data. In fact, the March 2002 current population survey that we use in this report. But what has generally not been acknowledged is that most of this growth has been driven by our immigration policies. Immigrants who arrived after 1989 -- and, again, we know who arrived after 1989 because they get asked that question -- account for almost seven million of the nearly eight million increase, or 77 percent, in the growth in the uninsured population.
Moreover, immigrants who have arrived in the last 12 years have about 600,000 children -- these are children born in the United States -- who lack health insurance. Thus, if you add the number of new immigrants who lack health insurance and the number of children who lack health insurance that these immigrants have given birth to in the United States in the last 12 years or so, you find that 95 percent of the growth in the uninsured population is because of immigration. It is not too much to say that the nation’s health insurance prices to a significant extent is being driven by our immigration policies.
Now, let me touch on another important topic, public schools. In the last few years a good deal of attention has been focused on the dramatic increase in enrolment experienced by many districts across the country. Now, all observers agree that this growth has strained the resources of many school districts. While it has been suggested by some that this increase is the result of children of baby boomers reaching school age, the so-called baby boom echo, it is clear from the current population survey that immigration accounts for the dramatic increase in school enrolment. There are now 10 million children in public -- of school age in the United States from immigrant families. Immigrant families account for such a large share of kids in school partly because immigrants have more children on average, and partly because a larger share of immigrants are in their childbearing years.
Now, of course, this kind of dramatic 10 million increase in enrolment may not be a problem for public education if tax revenue increased proportionately. But as our study reports, immigrants are significantly poorer, much more likely to live in poverty or near poverty, and their average income is about three-fourths that of native-born Americans. And since taxes paid are very much closely tied to how much income you have, it is very likely that -- or it seems almost certain that the taxes that immigrants pay are not sufficient to entirely offset the impact on public schools. That does not mean that immigrants do not pay taxes. Immigrants most certainly do pay taxes, even some illegal aliens. A very large share of them pay taxes. But the fact is that the poor, immigrant or native, pay very little in taxes, and a much larger share of immigrants are poor.
The impact on American education is clear. But, again, it has not been sufficiently acknowledged, or there’s been a lot of confused discussion about it. Now, of course, this isn’t true in every district, but in almost every state struggling to provide education to its students and its children, immigration has an enormous impact: Florida, Texas, California, New York.
Now, let me touch on another issue that this new data shows that immigration has tremendous implications for. The U.S. population is growing by 2.7 million people a year according to the Census Bureau. Now, as I already indicated, the new data shows that 1.5 million a year immigrants enter the country. And this same data actually shows that there are about 750,000 births a year to immigrant women in the United States. So the U.S. population grows by 2.7 million and more than two million of that increase is from immigration and births to immigrant women.
Now, even making optimistic assumptions about the success of what we call smart growth policies, it seems very likely that adding over two million people through immigration to the U.S. population in the United States, it must add to some extent to sprawl, to traffic, the congestion and loss of open spaces that have become such an issue, including an issue in the Washington metro area where immigration, where immigration probably accounts for more like 90 percent of population growth.
The fact that immigration plays such a central role in increasing the nation’s population is important because future legal and illegal immigration is something that could be significantly curtailed without infringing, of course, on the rights of Americans. In contrast, trying to regulate where or how American citizens, or legal immigrants for that matter already here, live is much more difficult. But reducing immigration is something we can do without infringing on the rights of Americans.
Just as an aside, I should point out that while immigration has a dramatic effect on the overall size of the U.S. population, it has had a relatively modest effect on the age structure. It is often suggested immigration makes the United States dramatically more youthful, and it is true that the United States is more youthful than, say, Western European countries but that’s primarily because native-born Americans have more children than they do in Western Europe. For example, you can use this data to get at this question.
The nearly 16 million immigrants who arrived in the United States since 1990 have lowered the average age in the United States by only four months. In other words, a very large number of immigrants, 16 million. If you pull all those immigrants out of the data and recalculate the average age in the United States, the effect is -- well, it would be fair to call it trivial. So what immigration does is it makes the United States a much more densely populated country, but it doesn’t really make the United States dramatically more youthful.
In conclusion, it seems to me that we have not had the kind of national debate over immigration policy that this country clearly needs. It is the hope of the Center for Immigration Studies that this report will at least provide some of the hard data necessary to have that intelligent discourse about what kind of immigration policy we want in the future. Immigration is not set in stone. We can change legal immigration policy and we can also devote a lot more resource to reducing illegal immigration. Or, conversely, we could have an even more lax system and allow even more illegals in. Thank you.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Steve.
ROBERTO SURO: Thank you. I think first of all I want to start with I think that Mark and Steve have been a bit too modest in the way they portray the purposes of this report in simply saying that it’s an attempt to provide facts to inform a debate. As any of you know who followed the work of the center or who listened closely to what Steve just said, the center espouses a very distinct point of view on what the outcomes of this debate ought to be.
Indeed, just looking at a piece that Steve wrote in the National Review this July that actually begins the same way he began his remarks today, “When the history of the 1990s is written,” et cetera, his view of the numbers of immigrants here is quite simple: it’s too many, which sums it up. The center espouses a very specific outcome for immigration policy, which is reducing levels of immigration to -- of legal immigration, about 300,000 I believe is the number you propose. Is that correct?
MARK KRIKORIAN: Well, we don’t have a formal number. But, yes, that’s the --
ROBERTO SURO: Okay. So, in any case, it’s important to look at this document in that context. It’s not simply a presentation of data. It’s a presentation of data to advance an argument, which has been articulated numerous times by the author and by the director of the center. It’s not my place on this occasion to argue the merits of that view of immigration policy. However, I was asked to respond to the document and it’s important to note the author’s perspective. This document is a very highly selective use of data, used to support a very specific argument about what the future of immigration policy ought to be.
In the National Review piece Steve develops many of the same themes he presents in this backgrounder, somewhat more rhetorically: impact on public schools, matters such as the percentages of immigration relative to absolute numbers, poverty rates, welfare use, et cetera. He comes to this conclusion: “What we should do is call a halt to the current heedless increase in annual immigration and reduce the numbers to something like their historical average,” that’s a debatable proposition, “of 300,000 a year. Only if we get the numbers down to this reasonable level can we begin the long process of assimilating the huge number of immigrants and their children who are already here.” It’s important just to keep that in the background in understanding where this study is coming from.
At times in this document, the data in fact are not only marshaled to advance an argument, but in fact are bent to suit the advocacy. I think that’s unfortunate because the basic picture of what’s happening in immigration really is beyond dispute. I would disagree with Mark that we’re in a data void. I think in the last couple of years we’ve been buried in data about immigrants, given the Census releases and in fact the ongoing releases that are now underway. It’s undoubtedly clear that immigration increased through the 1990s, has probably accelerated in the last part of the 1990s, that many of the people who come to this country now are poor and poorly educated. And so there’s really no dispute about the basic overall picture, and so it’s surprising that the center went to such lengths to make the data fit its argument.
Let’s look at one key point, the central point of the argument behind this paper which is that the -- what is the size of the increase to the population that comes from immigration. On this point, in fact, the report is a little confusing. If you look at the report’s broad conclusion, the first bullet point on the first page, “There is no evidence that the economic slowdown that began in 2000 or the terrorist attacks in 2001 have significantly slowed the rate of immigration. More than 3.3 million legal and illegal immigrants have entered the country since January of 2000.”
In fact -- I mean, that’s stated as a negative. There is no evidence, which is quite obvious because there is no conclusive evidence one way or another. We really don’t know exactly how the recession or the terrorist attacks have affected immigration flows. The March CPS really was taken six months after the terrorist attacks. It was probably too soon to really know what the impact is likely to be. And with the recession too there is a lot of anecdotal evidence. It’s really not very clear. The only hard evidence is there really is no evidence of a slowdown.
And so there is certainly a lot of evidence and a lot of agreement to support the basic idea that we’re experiencing large, ongoing immigration flows and that probably the basic underlying trend that we saw all through the 1990s, and through especially the late part of the 1990s, is still the dominant demographic fact in this country. That’s why it’s disappointing to see Steve manipulate some of the data to support his advocacy.
So let’s go back to this basic contention: no slowdown, more than 3.3 million legal and illegal immigrants have entered the country since January of 2000. It’s confusing if you look at this chart which is on the next page, which shows between 2000 and 2002 there’s an increase of two million. Well, we just said that 3.3 million new immigrants arrived in the country. That’s a difference of better than a third. Well, that’s because there are two different ways of really measuring population increase when it comes to the foreign born. One is entry, how many people arrive in the country in a given year. That’s where Steve gets to the number of 3.3 million over the last two years. As he says, that’s the number of people who have arrived.
But when you’re looking at its impact on the population, you have to account for the fact that although the United States is very generous to immigrants, we have not given them immortality. People die here and some leave. And so there are two different measures. There is entry and then there’s the net impact on the population. If you look here you can see that over the last two years the net impact has been two million, not 3.3 million. Three point three million people arrived, but when you compare the foreign born population in 2000 to 2002 using Steve’s numbers, you get a net increase of two million. That means about 1.3 million immigrants either went home or died here.
That’s important to consider. And if you look, for example, at -- it’s important when you look at -- compare the impact of immigration to the overall population increase, on table 2 where he looks at the national numbers, and again in table 6 where he looks at statewide figures, Steve uses the arrival numbers over -- for immigrants over the net numbers for the rest of the population. As a result, the impact -- the share of growth for immigrants is greatly exaggerated by about a third because if you’re taking all the immigrants who arrived and not assuming that anybody has died during this period or anybody has gone home, and you compare that to the rest of the population where the growth rates are in fact measured net, meaning the population increase minus the population decrease, you’ve got apples and oranges.
Let’s look at the -- again, another use of the entry numbers. In one of the major bullet points, again on the first page, he says, “Although immigration has had a very large effect on the overall size of the U.S. population, it has a much more modest effect on the age structure. The nearly 16 million immigrants who arrived in the United States since 1990 have lowered the average age in the United States by only four months.”
Well, in fact it’s not just -- that’s, again, the arrival number. If you look at how many immigrants -- the net growth of the immigrant population from the 1990s, again you see that it’s much smaller. It comes out to 11.3 million, not 16 million for the 1990s. It’s, again, the very important difference between measuring simple arrivals and the actual net effect on the population.
If you want to get literal about it, Steve’s calculation of the foreign born population in 2002 at 33.1 million, compared to 31.1 in 2000, actually shows a bit of a slowdown in the rate at which immigration is adding to the nation’s population. It’s a net increase of two million in two years, or about one million a year. That’s actually less than the average growth rate in the 1990s. If you just compare 19.8 in 1992, 2000 -- 31.1 in 2000. I would not suggest getting too literal about this, or pushing the significance of these numbers too far. One year of CPS is interesting. It’s an indicator, it gives you some idea of what’s going on. But I would not bank too much on too many specific numbers.
The 2002 CPS basically does tell us that there’s no evidence of any changes in trends, and not much more than that. We have to wait for another one or two CPSs or surveys to know for sure. But Steve has decided to take the numbers quite literally and make an argument out of them, so let’s look a little bit beyond what he has done. If you look at one of the other conclusions, that immigration is the determinant factor in population growth. That’s true. But, again, he uses the arrival numbers to give you a sense of what the impact is on that growth. The arrival of 1.5 million immigrants each year, when in fact the net increase is about a million. The difference between 1.5 million and a million is a significant factor, right?
He says that if present trends continue, we will -- where was that conclusion? “If present trends continue, by the end of this decade the immigrant share of the total population will surpass the all time high of 14.8 percent reached in 1890.” In fact, that again is based on the assumption that no immigrants will die here or leave. If you look at the actual current trends, native births, especially native births to immigrants, are becoming a larger factor -- projected to be a larger factor in population increase out through this decade than actual new arrivals. In which case there’s the possibility that this ratio, the percentage of the foreign born to the total population, may stabilize, may even decrease because the number of native births is increasing so rapidly due to the fertility of immigrants.
There’s similarly highly argumentative data when he looks at the second generation. He includes the second generation, the children of immigrants, when calculating the impact on schools and social programs, but not really when looking at its impact on the workforce or the age structure. It’s true that immigrants alone are not bringing youth to the age structure. What is keeping the United States is young is the children of immigrants. When you look at the projections for the workforce out through the next 25 years, what keeps the age pyramid in sync is not the arrival of new immigrants, but rather the aging into the workforce of the children of immigrants. So, as I said, he uses the second generation data in some places where it furthers his argument, and not in other places.
Briefly now on poverty and welfare use. There’s really no evidence of any change, no evidence of any increase in poverty or welfare use -- I’m sure he would have highlighted it if there were -- in 2002, which is somewhat surprising given the fact that we’ve had two years of a somewhat flat economy. He doesn’t look at earnings data, but if you look at earnings data over the last five or six years at a time of very rapid increase in the low skilled population, in fact earnings at the bottom of the economy rose faster than they did at the top of the economy during the last half of the 1990s. And the last poverty and income numbers show that poverty and income is fairly flat and there’s not been a great increase in either poverty, or a decline in earnings at the low end of the workforce at a time that immigration has continued.
On welfare use it’s important to point out that, as he finds, continues to be -- by far the largest use of any kind of public benefits is in Medicaid. That’s largely due to the children of immigrants. Eighty four percent of the children of legal immigrants are U.S. citizens. If you look at the numbers for TANIF use or food stamps, they’re really quite modest. From Steve’s numbers you’d figure that the number of immigrants taking TANIF is about less than half a million, food stamps probably less than a million. He doesn’t look at what is really the key measure of welfare or benefits used by immigrants, which is the propensity where you look at poor immigrants compared to poor natives. In fact, immigrants are less likely to use welfare than their similarly situated natives. The reason why there are a higher percentage of immigrants using welfare than there are a percentage of natives is because there are more poor immigrants.
There’s a very interesting nugget in the occupational data which I’d suggest somebody should look at. I wasn’t aware of this, that a very large percentage of the people working in the managerial and professional categories are made up of immigrants. Twenty three point four percent of all the people in those jobs are foreign born. I wasn’t aware of that.
It’s interesting -- what’s missing from this report, there’s no examination of income trends, there is no examinations of growth in the key sectors of the workforce, into-tech, medicine and scientific research where immigrants have made rather substantial contributions. And, finally, on this argument of -- you’ll see that there’s a longstanding proposition that Steven and the center have discussed about the relative size versus absolute numbers. He argues that absolute numbers -- if you have too many immigrants in one place, they reach a critical mass and they have a penchant for separatism and isolation. There’s certainly no evidence of that in the CPS numbers, and there’s really not much evidence of it out in the world.
Let me just conclude by -- with one thought. If you -- there’s a lot -- Steve often raises the question of whether we’re comparable -- at a state comparable to where we were at the turn of the century, whether the absolute numbers or the relative size of the population will overwhelm the country’s ability to assimilate immigrants. I’d remind you if we were sitting in this building, say, in 1900 or 1910, you’re very likely to have heard a report like this one that said, you know, they’ll never be able to practice democracy, they’ll never assimilate to an industrial economy, their patriotism is questionable, crime rates are over the top, our tenements are full of immigrants, and there were a great many negative indicators that were discussed at the time.
No one at the turn of the century, or in 1910 when we were in the midst of a large immigrant influx, would have predicted that the children of immigrants at the time or their grandchildren would have fought two successful wars in Europe against sending countries, that the 20th century would have become the American century, that the children and the grandchildren of immigrants would have created the greatest industrial democracy the world has seen. So it’s dangerous to use history as a guide either for optimistic or pessimistic conclusions. Thank you.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Roberto.
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Can I just make one response? The report says nothing about crime or the patriotic assimilation of immigrants. I’m not sure why Roberto brought that subject up. There’s nothing. So if anyone is looking for that, it’s not there, it’s just the demographic data.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Michael.
MICHAEL LIND: Thank you. I came to this from the perspective of a political historian. Like most Americans who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s and ‘80s, I was taught that anyone who questioned our immigration policy was a racist or a nativist with malignant motivations. Probably a segregationist as well. And it was interesting to me -- I just always took this for granted because everything I read in Time and Newsweek, you know, all of the academic studies, said that all Americans benefit in every way from immigration and anyone who questions -- who says there’s any dark side to this is a racist and a nativist. And frequently people said -- you know, just as in 1900 the WASPs said that the European immigrants could never assimilate and so on. So anyone who questions any of the down sides of immigration today is simply an evil bigot like these WASPs of 1900 who opposed the immigration of the ancestors of many of us or European descent, including mine.
It was therefore interesting as I studied the history, particularly of race relations in the United States -- and let me begin by saying that there’s an obvious reason why we tend to discuss immigration in terms of race and ethnicity, because this was a white supremacist society. I was born into a segregated state in 1962. This society was like South Africa, it was like most of the English speaking countries. The entire legal civil rights immigration structure was built on white supremacy. From the Immigration Acts of the 1790s, all the way up until the 1965 immigration reforms, there was more or less explicit racial discrimination in favor of white Europeans in our immigration policy. This was reinforced by so-called Oriental Exclusion Acts in the late 19th century, and by naturalization laws which prevented Japanese immigrants, for example, no matter how long they lived here from ever becoming citizens. Whereas, if you came from Germany or Ireland or France, after seven years you could become a naturalized citizen.
So it’s quite obvious why we tend to think of this in terms of civil rights and race. Unfortunately, there are genuine nativists in the United States, so there are people on the far right who talk about the European ethnic core of the United States of America, many of them descendants of the wave of non-British European immigration of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sort of ironically they’re using the language of the old Anglo-Saxon nativists. But now suddenly it turns out at the end of the 20th century that the ethnic core of the United States is not Anglo-Saxon, it’s European Christian or something like that.
So I should just say in advance, I think this is nonsense. There are some legitimate concerns about the size of particular Diaspora groups impeding the acquisition of English cultural assimilation, maybe forming distinct political factions. But the overall history of the United States and certainly recent history, if you look at post-1965 immigration I think gives us grounds to be fairly optimistic about the assimilation of immigrants culturally, as measured by intermarriage rates, which is the ultimate symbol of assimilation. I try to refer on facts not anecdotes, but my own family includes black Americans, Latino Americans, Americans of different European descent groups, and I think this is the wave of the future. It varies in different parts of the country. This is more the case in states with diverse populations than with states with very homogenous populations.
But I think the emergence of a multi-racial, mixed race majority with the common minimal culture including the American variant of English, I think is inevitable. So I think there’s grounds certainly to reject the nativist argument about the racial and ethnic composition of the United States. But nevertheless, there are grounds to be concerned about the effects on class. We don’t like talking about class in the United States, we like to talk about race. You know, race is everything, class is nothing. But if you study the history of American immigration debates you find that not all of the people who opposed large-scale immigration in the past, including large-scale European immigration, were WASP blue bloods from Beacon Hill in Boston who just look down their noses at the Irish and the Germans.
In the polls, Frederick Douglass, perhaps the greatest African-American, one of the greatest Americans of all time, the escaped slave who became a leading abolitionist, complained frequently and bitterly after the Civil War, even before the Civil War, that European immigrants were taking jobs away from African-Americans in the North and the Midwest. In the 1950s and 1960s, Cesar Chavez, trying to organize farm workers in the Southwest, wanted the Border Patrol to enforce laws against the employment of illegal immigrants. And in fact in the 1970s, Cesar Chavez complained that the Carter administration in the interest of appeasing Southwestern agribusiness was being too lax in enforcement of borders. You never here this nowadays, you know, that Cesar Chavez wanted the border to be sealed, but that’s sort of interesting, don’t you think.
And two acquaintances of mine, the late Richard Estrada, a Mexican‑American columnist for the Dallas Morning News, campaigned for many years for some kind of restriction of immigration because he saw in his working class neighborhood on the Texas-Mexican border how wages were being depressed and how employers were using this abundant labor market of unskilled labor, not simply from Mexico but from other countries, to exploit not only the native workers but the naturalized workers and the foreign workers as well.
And finally there was Barbara Jordan, whom I think very few people would mistake for a sinister nativist blue blood racist who’s a commission in this report published after her death. The report that was published in 1997 called for various reforms including a 35 percent reduction of legal admissions to pre-1990s levels. Now, Dr. Jordan was hounded in her final months by some activists, Latino activists, who would show up where she was speaking and have signs saying, you know, “Black lady, why do you hate Latinos?” You know, accusing her of racism.
But I think this is a canard. The Jordan Commission really did come to a bipartisan consensus on many of these issues. And I have no particular policy agenda to promote but I am inclined to think that the Jordan Commission’s conclusions were worth looking at and taken seriously instead of being buried, as they were by the Clinton administration.
Now, I want to conclude by talking about this economic aspect of immigration reform as distinct from the racial immigration reform in the way we think about history and also in the way we think about public policy. First of all, the way that we are taught the history of race and immigration in the United States is extremely misleading. It’s a melodrama, it’s not a tragedy. That is it’s portrayed as good people, immigrants and the Americans who favor the immigrants in a particular era, and evil people, who are just racist and nativists and have some sort of prejudice that animates their irrational opposition to immigration, be it in 1850 or 1900 or 1950 or 2000, 2002.
Now, the curious thing about this -- the reason I’m being skeptical about this, the working class in the United States, including significant sections of the immigrant working class has usually been in the forefront of efforts to limit immigration to the United States. The business class and the wealthy have usually opposed it. Now, there are two possibilities here. The first possibility which I think is plausible is that different economic classes derive different benefits from different injuries from immigration, and this explains why, for example, throughout most of American history the white working class, including the white European immigrant working class tended to oppose immigration much more than the white business class, the white social elite.
That’s one possibility that this is kind of -- the immigration policy is, among other things, class war within the Native American population, or at least before 1960s within the fully enfranchised native white American population.
The other possibility is that there’s just some sort of random factor that makes, for example, miners and shipyard workers in the 19th century suddenly hate Poles or Czechs or hate Chinese. And it’s just this weird malady that happens to strike working class Americans but doesn’t affect the rich and the business class, and I think this is sort of -- it’s hard to make this case.
Our domestic history of racial relations is also essentially false to the extent that it’s a melodrama in which there are just evil racists and good anti-racists and minorities. Between the Civil War and World War II most race riots in the United States were instigated by white working class Americans against black Americans, against Chinese immigrants on the West Coast and so on. Most of the black-white riots that took place in the industrial belt, and there were a number of these from the Civil War up until World War I, World War II, occurred when employers in an attempt to defeat white workers or to smash humanization would fire the native workers or sometimes the European immigrant workers and bring black Americans from the South, bring in European immigrants and so on to replace them as scabs on the assembly line.
And so unable to attack the employers directly, because the employers had Pinkertons and they had the state police and they had the federal army on their side. They would then attack the immigrant workers or the Southern black or in some cases Southern white workers to vent their wrath on them so that most of the race riots in American history were actually three-way conflicts between the white business class, the white working class, both native and immigrant, and the competitors of the white working class.
Something else you don’t learn in the history books, Samuel Gompers, who was a Jewish-American immigrant, he was born in Britain, the president of the AFL-CIO, led the campaign for oriental exclusion, for the restriction of Asian immigrants. He then led the national campaign along with many other members of the unions to reduce European immigration. Well, Gompers was a racist when it came to Asians, notwithstanding that there were legitimate reasons quite apart from race to be opposed to coolie labor. That’s actually a technical term, it’s not a degrading, pejorative term. It means contract workers without any rights, somewhat similar to the braceros in the 1950s being brought in to replace American working citizens.
But surely Samuel Gompers, a Jewish immigrant from Europe was not an anti‑Semitic, anti-European nativist. He saw how employers would use the most recent European immigrants to undercut unionized workers, particularly the skilled trades, not so much the unskilled trades. So it’s simply not the case that the economic concern about the effects of immigration on working class Americans is simply a fig leaf for racism. It may very well be. I mean, for all I know, I can’t examine people’s motives.
It may be the case that some people who are essentially motivated by racial bias or ethnic bias use this argument the way they can use other arguments about sprawl (ph) or something like that just as an excuse while disguising their true motives. That was not the case with Frederick Douglass, with Cesar Chavez, Samuel Gompers or Barbara Jordan.
So there’s another aspect of the history that the official history of immigration gets wrong. There’s actually a great period of immigration in this country between the end of European immigration in the 1920s -- it was cut off first by World War I and then by these institutionalized national quotas in the 1920s, which limited it to countries -- gave a bias to countries like Germany and Ireland, that had already -- where immigration was drying up.
There was an enormous internal migration in the United States from the South. There’s what’s known as the great migration of African-Americans from the South to the industrial cities of the Northeast and the Midwest. Less well known is an equally numerous migration of poor white southerners from the South. Well, it turns out that the greatest advances made in the incomes of black Americans took place between the cutoff of European immigration in the 1920s and the resumption of large-scale immigration in the 1960s, for an obvious reason.
As long as racist employers -- or even if they weren’t racist, you know, their working class factory workers were racist. As long as they could bring in European immigrants they did so, they did not hire black southerners and they also sometimes didn’t hire white southerners. It was only when they were forced by necessity, by the cutoff of immigration in World War I and then institutionalized by the immigration restrictions that black Americans suddenly had this opportunity. Black Americans could have moved north out of the South in the 1870s, 1980s to take these jobs and to move up and become homeowners and so on. The reason they didn’t was because those places were being filled by immigrants.
So I think the history of immigration has to include this very interesting precedent of internal immigration. The South has this enormous pool of very poor people. In 1900 the per capita income difference between the North United States and the South was as great as that between Britain and Russia. We do have the experience of the 20th century, from the 1920s and to the 1960s of proving that in the absence of large-scale foreign immigration, one way you can improve your most destitute population is to let them move up, occupying jobs and in some places homes, neighborhoods, roles which they had been frozen out of before by immigrant competition.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Michael. I’ll give Steve a minute or two to respond and then we’ll take questions from the audience.
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Yeah. Let me very briefly say it is certainly true that like all the think tanks in Washington, the center has a point of view, and that is that the level of immigration is too high and too unskilled. If anyone didn’t know that I want to make that clear.
I would say our point of view is sort of the flipside of the Pew Hispanic Center, which is generally part of the high immigration coalition in Washington. It doesn’t mean that what they put out is wrong, just as it doesn’t mean that we put out -- we just have a different point of view. I’d like to think that we’re both serious policy oriented institutions but with points of view, as everything think tank. No one could tell me that they have no idea what AEI or Cato or the Economic Policy Institute think.
Let’s go through real quickly some of his substantive observations. What the report says is there’s little evidence or no evidence of a slowdown. And I don’t think I overstated that. I say in the quote in the press release, at least so far we don’t see any evidence of it. I don’t think I say that it’s set in stone so I don’t know why Roberto feels that that’s such an important contention, but the fact is that over three million people said that they entered United States in a little over two years. That’s 1.5 million a year.
A couple of quick points of correction. Roberto says that well, the immigrant population looks like it’s growing by a million a year and it was growing more than that in the ‘90s. Actually, as you probably know, the Census Bureau thinks it undercounted immigrants in 1990. So we think that the actual growth in the ‘90s was about a million a year and this looks to be a continuation of that. In other words, the immigrant population was a little bigger in the ‘90s.
Let’s go through a couple of other things. He doesn’t like the way I calculate welfare use. Well, that’s how the Census Bureau does it. In their recent report, I have it right here, by household head -- now, again I -- you know, you could calculate it some other way but if a family is living in public housing usually you regard that as a function of the parents’ income, and if the parents are immigrants and they’re in public housing, then that’s a means tested or welfare program. So there’s not really much controversy there. I don’t know why that particular question bothered him.
On the question of whether poor immigrants or poor natives are more or less likely to use welfare, interesting question but of course entirely irrelevant to the question of immigration, because the fact is immigrants are much more likely to be poor. The fact that if they’re poor they’re no more likely or maybe even less likely to use welfare than natives is of course irrelevant when you’re trying to figure out about who you might want to let into your country.
And let’s look at the final point, there’s so many things to say. But on the question of the growth in the immigrant population, again I told you that the U.S. population is growing by about 2.7 million a year, that’s from the Census Bureau, and the growth in the foreign-born. Now, I used the flow figure because that’s what we have control over, so that at least in the short term that gives us a much better sense. Roberto seems to like the growth in the foreign-born. I could explain to you why I think that’s problematic but let’s take him at his word.
The report has that information in it. The second table goes right through and explains to you that if you look at growth in the foreign-born and births to immigrant women, it’s 70 percent of U.S. population growth. So it’s in the report, I don’t know why he missed it. And I guess I do have to point out something else. There is a lot of earnings data in the report. I look at earnings not only at one point in time, but over time, and the report clearly states that immigrant earnings clearly rise over time. I even have figures for poverty over time and the report clearly states that immigrant poverty falls over time.
So I don’t know why he missed that. I think that’s an important part of the report, it’s in there. And on the question of again whether immigration makes us a more youthful society, I think the Census Bureau has kind of answered this question for us, and this isn’t me. The Census Bureau stated in a recent report that immigration is, quote, “A highly inefficient means,” that’s their terminology, “for increasing the share of the population that is of working age.” In fact, if immigration were to continue at well over one million a year for the next 50 years, according to the Census Bureau, 60 percent of the population would be of working age.
If we had no immigration or zero net -- actually they say no immigration, zero in, zero out, over the next 50 years, 58 percent of the population would be of working age. In fact, 50 years of mass immigration has only a tiny impact on the dependency ratio. This is partly because immigrants age like everyone else, this is also partly because immigrants are not that much younger than everyone else and so it’s not a way of sort of fixing the Social Security problem.
Anyway, I just thought I -- one last point again. The study doesn’t deal with crime, it doesn’t deal with the assimilation of immigrants. And my own view, as I say in the report, again Roberto seems to have missed it, is that both the overall size of the immigrant population and its percentage of the population should probably clearly matter in thinking about the incorporation, assimilation of immigrants. I do not argue that all that matters is numbers, and I don’t argue, as some do, that all that matters is percentages.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Steve. We’ll take some --
ROBERTO SURO: Just one point of privilege.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Very, very quick.
ROBERTO SURO: Very briefly. I would challenge you to find anything that was published by the Pew Hispanic Center which advocates a policy outcome, excuse me, on any issue. The only document we published on immigration was calculation of the numbers of the illegal population in this country, which in fact I believe you cited at times. So it -- we do not advocate policy positions and immigration has not been one of our major focal points up until now.
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Well, I guess --
MARK KRIKORIAN: Steve -- no, let’s not do that.
STEVEN CAMAROTA: All right.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Let’s get questions from the audience. And identify yourself, please, if you could.
QUESTION: Al Norton (ph), Washington Independent Writers. Do you see the general public, the government and those like you who study immigration reacting very differently to the recent revelations about terrorist immigrants, whether the easy legal entry for the Saudi Arabian 9/11 terrorists or the illegal document tampering and trafficking by the alleged sniper terrorist, John Muhammad and Lee Malvo?
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Well, obviously terrorism is part of the immigration debate since Al‑Qaeda, in particular, is a foreign-based organized made up mostly, but certainly not exclusively, of foreign-born individuals. So obviously your immigration system has important implications and it’s probably politically the case that we have now after 9/11 understand that a lax immigration system does have important consequences. The center’s done a lot of work on this.
It looks like if you look at the visa applications of 15 of the hijackers, none of them should have had visas. They didn’t fill the forms out, they had non sequitur responses, lots of blanks in there, so that’s important. Again, the lax systems clearly helped the terrorists. The center also did a study on the 48 Al-Qaeda terrorists over the last 10 years, people involved in the first Trade Center bombing and so forth. And again, that shows that there was a lot of mistakes made. Some people have crossed the border illegally, some have engaged in fraudulent marriages, so clearly a more tightly controlled immigration system would be helpful, and I think the public senses that.
But on immigration you have this enormous divide, elite opinion versus common man opinion. And I think that still remains. I think the public is more dissatisfied, but elite opinion remains in favor, I think, of very high immigration and a lax system.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Yes.
QUESTION: Sergio Bustos with Gannet News Service. Mr. Camarota, Mr. Suro brings up the fact that it’s -- the more accurate number would be two million over the last two years versus your number of 3.3. And I guess you can get into an argument about numbers, but if it were in fact just two million, is that still too many? Is that still too much of an impact on all those demographics?
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Well, it’s a huge number either way, right? I mean, if one-third of all the people in the United States who are uninsured are immigrants or their young children, that’s a big impact on the healthcare system. On the question of how many immigrants, here’s the story again. One point five million people seem to come legally and illegally. Some internal work, I guess -- or some research people have done shows that there are about 250,000 deaths a year among the foreign born population, it’s a big population, and out migration is something like 250,000 a year. And so the immigrant population grows by a million.
But it seems to me that if you want to know the immediate impact it’s how man people came in. And so if you want to know the impact, say, on health insurance coverage, you can then calculate what the number of people, say, with or without insurance would be if you just exclude the recent immigrants. Again, we asked them when they came so why not use that data. But either way it doesn’t really matter. The immigrant population between 1900 and 1910 grew by a little over three million. The immigrant population in the last two years has grown by two million.
It does seem to be the case that fewer people are going home than used to be the case in decades passed, but the bottom line is the numbers coming in are enormous, they’re huge, and that’s legal and illegal.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: I have a couple of questions with regard to that 2 million number. So, I mean in you’re report -- I’m confused kind of because you say in the first part of your paper you say that there’s two million -- an increase of 2 million just in the last -- according to the Census and on the chart, and then you say it’s 3.3 million. So do you think that -- so it looks like it’s actually -- I mean, there’s actually two million people, a net increase of two million immigrants legal and illegal. So, is that a significant impact? I mean, so you have an impact, I see what you’re saying any number or any increase is an impact. But it’s really not that much of a change from like between 1990 to 2000, there were just about a million each year there. So, it seems like -
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Absolutely, that’s --
QUESTION: It seems like things are not -- the trend has just remained the same, like things have not changed.
STEVEN CAMAROTA: It does look like if you look at the more recent cohorts and look at more -- it looks like -- as Roberto correctly pointed out, the trend is accelerating at the end of the ‘90s and I agree with you. The proper interpretation of the data is that there’s no evidence of a slowdown. I do not find any evidence of some significant acceleration or something in the last years. It’s just that economic downturn and the terrorist attacks at least so far do not seem to have significantly reduced the number of people coming in. It looks to be about at the same level, whether you look at the growth in the foreign-born or whether you look at year of entry.
You know, again, the census showed that about a little over 1.4 million people were entering the country, again based on year of entry, at the end of the ‘90s, and this data shows a little less than 1.5 million, which are basically the same number. So again, it doesn’t -- what it doesn’t show is any slowdown. It doesn’t show an increase though, it’s just that the numbers are so huge it’s causing the overall population to increase and obviously its impact on American society would increase for good or bad, depending on your point of view. The truth is it has both positive and negative effects but the bottom line is there’s no slowdown, no evidence of a slowdown.
QUESTION: And can I ask one more question, I’m sorry, for Roberto about the same topic. I mean, do you agree -- I mean it seems even though about a million a year more immigrants in the U.S. since 1990 to 2002, it’s kind of remained stable. Is that significant. And also, do you agree with Steve when he says there is no slowdown? I mean, I guess there’s no evidence of that but --
ROBERTO SURO: Yeah. I don’t think there’s really conclusive evidence either way. I mean, I don’t think that taking one current population survey, especially in March of 2002 really is a basis that I would use to draw a conclusion about the impact of the recession or of the 9/11 attacks or of the increased scrutiny of the foreign-born that’s come about because of after 9/11 or increased border patrols and border controls since 9/11. I mean, there are a lot of factors.
I don’t think we really know what the impact is and whether it will affect what is ‑‑ it is a very big demographic trend, the growth of the foreign-born population that has ‑- you know, there are many, many different factors feeding it. And, you know, what we can tell from the data we have so far is that the basic underlying trend seems to be continuing about the way it was. I mean, if anything -- I mean, it -- I think that’s as far as I would go. And, you know, it --
MARK KRIKORIAN: Yes, sir.
MR. CAMAROTA: Yeah, I’m a little bit confused. My name’s Marlit (ph), but I’m with Cox Newspapers. Is there any evidence that between September of 2001 and March 2002 that there was a continuation of immigration at the former rate, the data is from 2000 to March of 2002, but between the time of the attacks and the data is there any indication that immigration did or did not slow down?
STEVEN CAMAROTA: No. I mean, we don’t have any indication -- what do we know is --
QUESTION: But it has slowed down, right?
STEVEN CAMAROTA: It is probably the case that temporary admissions, tourists, some student categories and so forth have probably slowed down. In terms of interest in coming to America or desire, we have some indication. The State Department ran the visa lottery in October of 2001 and even after the terrorist attacks they got eight million people mailed in a postcard so that their names can be drawn out of a hat. It’s eight million, I believe, Mark, doesn’t that sound right? So we know that interest in coming to America right after the terrorist attacks remained very high. We even got 1.5 million visa lottery entrances from the Middle East, so even in the Middle East interest in coming to America remains very high.
On this point of whether there’s a slowdown or not, I don’t think Roberto and I really disagree, I think that what we’re -- what I’m saying is there’s no evidence of it and I do think that this data could provide evidence for it, it just doesn’t because it isn’t there. The level of immigration appears to be a continuation of what we saw in the late ‘90s, and what we saw in the late ‘90s was record levels of immigration. That appears to be still the case. Now, even if there was a fall off, obviously the numbers would still be enormous. So if 1.5, if that were to go to 1.3 million a year, we’re still looking at a very high level of immigration.
ROBERTO SURO: Steve, can I ask you something --
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Yeah.
ROBERTO SURO: -- here just out of curiosity? I mean, if you look at what was happening in the late 1990s, it appeared that the trend was towards increased arrivals, right? In the last half of the 1990s.
STEVEN CAMAROTA: ’98, ’99, that’s right.
ROBERTO SURO: Yeah, right. So in new entries up at a million and a half, maybe people were assuming that it might even go higher, right?
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Yeah.
ROBERTO SURO: If that trend had continued -- I mean, if you just drew a line from 1998 to 2000 and then kept going, we would now be at, I don’t know, a million seven, something like that. I mean, if the growth rate had continued the way it was going, wouldn’t you have expected to see a bigger pop in these numbers? I mean, is it possible -- I don’t know the answer to this, but is it possible that in fact the growth grate that we saw --
STEVEN CAMAROTA: The increase slowed, in other words.
ROBERTO SURO: That the rate of increase actually has slowed.
STEVEN CAMAROTA: It’s certainly a possibility. Here’s the thing, the 2002 -- we don’t have the Census micro-data so we can’t say for sure, but we have the American Community Survey, which has been weighted to those controls, and that showed a little over 1.4 million a year and this shows a little over 1.5. So if anything, if you just took that as sort of roughly -- so it does look like it’s continuing. In like ’96 and ’97 it might have been 1.3
So I guess if there is any evidence it looks like maybe it went up a little bit, but I’m not even -- I’m prepared to just say there’s no evidence of a slowdown and this is the best data that we have. Another year from now we’ll know more and five years from now we’ll know a lot more. But nonetheless, it’s still very interesting to me that we have these kinds of numbers of people apparently entering the country, even though the economy obviously started to slow back in 2000. And you would have thought that we should have seen a very significant fall if immigration is primarily driven by economics. It obviously is not, it’s a very complex process driven by networks of family and friends and economics.
But nonetheless -- and let me just make one other point. On illegal immigration the interesting story there is that it looks like about a million people from Mexico entered the country between January of 2000 and March of 2002. Now, as you most know, we give out something like 150,000 green cards a year to Mexicans, so that’s permanent legal residence. So that very large number of people who came in the last two years, since a very large share of Mexicans are illegal and a very large share of illegals are Mexican, you would have expected that if illegal immigration was down, that those numbers would have been down.
Again, it’s not -- I would not describe this as conclusive evidence but I would say that it’s pretty interesting. It certainly does not show the slowdown that you would think that you would find in this evidence -- in this data.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Okay, Steve. Let me ask you -- sort of pose a question so we can bring it back to policy, so it doesn’t sound like a statistics class. What I want to ask, and I’d like everybody to respond, is: what, if anything, does this data imply for the plans that are floating about for an amnesty for either Mexican illegal immigrants or for all nine million plus illegal immigrants in the United States?
Mike, do you want to take a whack?
MICHAEL LIND: Well, as I suggested in my remarks, I think if you look at this from the point of view of social classes in the United States, of socioeconomic groups, there are people who benefit and people who suffer from unskilled immigration in particular. I don’t want to talk about physicists, scientists in Silicon Valley. I’m just talking about unskilled janitors, maids, gardeners and so on. I am a beneficiary by virtue of my social and economic class of large-scale unskilled immigration. I’m not rich but I’m a moderately affluent professional. Someone of my income probably in the 1960s could not have afforded maids, gardeners and so on. I don’t have a maid. I could -- if -- most of my friends have maids who make my income.
When I was growing up only really rich people had maids. But now you’re sort of middle class, upper middle class you have maids. If the Wall Street Journal succeeds in allowing -- in the conservative movement in blocking the raising of the minimum wage so inflation continues to eat away at it, before long, in another decade or two, I should be able to afford my own butler, my own chauffeur. (Laughter.) And it’s not an ethnic thing because there are lots of poor Eastern Europeans now who could come. So this is not -- has nothing to do with the composition of the immigration from Latin America or from East Asia, because I could have an East German butler or a Polish maid.
And so I think ultimately that’s what it comes down to. It’s in my interest, it’s in my narrow economic interest to favor our present immigration policy because people like me are the great beneficiaries of this. You know, there’s a buyer’s market in inexpensive unskilled labor of a kind that there hasn’t been since before World War I in the United States.
As a citizen I think this is bad, because I want to live in a country in which we don’t have enormous Third World type extremes between not just the rich and the poor, but even the upper middle class and the middle class and the desperately poor. So people at the upper end of the income stratum benefit from the present level of unskilled immigration. The middle class -- and what we call the middle class in the United States, Europeans and East Asians call the working class, that is high school educated people.
And as far as I can tell, correct me if I’m mistaken, it’s pretty much a wash with the middle class. They tend not to be heavy consumers of goods and services produced by unskilled immigration. That is, they don’t dine out that much, they don’t have nannies, they don’t have maids, they don’t have gardeners and so on. At the same time, they probably benefit to a certain extent from low skilled restaurant workers. You know, it might be cheaper for them to dine out. But it’s pretty much a wash. Much of the working class in the country of all races lives away from high immigrant centers, so it’s just not a factor with them.
The National Academy of Science’s report that was already cited, 1997, said that almost half of the decline in real wages for native-born high school dropouts between 1980 and 1994 was a result of the competitive impact of unskilled immigration. However, they then concluded -- and this was the conclusion that was put up on the New York Times front page: “Immigration benefits U.S.” Well, to begin with they said there is a one to one -- $10 billion benefit of immigration, which is minuscule, you know, spread out over time. But what they really meant was that people like me benefit from having unskilled -- this huge and growing pool of unskilled labor that I can hire.
Now, if the native-born but also the naturalized workers are then displaced and find their wages going down, or find themselves being fired to be replaced by somebody else, they suffer. But the benefit to me, the maid’s employer -- the immigrant maid’s employer, outweighs the harm done to the native-born or the naturalized immigrant maid whom I fire because he or she wants higher wages than I can pay in this saturated labor market.
So I think, well, that’s kind of interesting, you know. It tells you something about the class bias of our media because what they’re basically saying is if you have Scarlett O’Hara, and this is after emancipation but Mammy is working for her as a maid, and then she -- Ingrid the Swedish au pair girl come to Tara and says, “I’ll work for less than Mammy,” so Scarlett fires Mammy. According to our economists the United States is a net gainer from this transaction. Scarlett is better off because she’s paying less for Ingrid than she paid for Mammy. Ingrid is better off because she’s making more money than she would have made in Sweden. You know, Mammy is out of work and unemployed but, you know, that’s her sacrifice as a citizen, I suppose, to the net well being of the United States.
So I think is -- fundamentally it’s a class issue. And the reason why -- I’ve been in journalism for most of the past two decades, most journalists, most editors, most TV producers are employers of immigrant labor. If they’re married they have a nanny who comes part of the time, they have gardeners, they have maids and so on. So they belong to the top 5 or 10 percent of the United States whose entire lifestyle depends on the supply of cheap labor, which is not entirely the result of immigration, it’s a result of a lower minimum wage eroded by inflation, things like that. So I think this is something we need to discuss in this country. This is not simply a matter of race or ethnicity. Among other things, it’s a class conflict among native-born Americans.
MARK KRIKORIAN: Thanks, Michael.
Roberto and then Steve, a brief response on what the implications of the kind of data that Steve has uncovered have for proposals for an amnesty or guest worker programs.
ROBERTO SURO: Well, I mean, I think if you take this data at face value and if the 2002 CPS numbers on -- we look further at employment data and income, compared to what it’s been over the last couple of years, I think what you’re seeing is that this economy, even when it’s flat, even when it’s gone through a couple of months of a downturn, as Michael was pointing out and for some of the reasons he was pointing out, has a tremendous appetite for low wage, low skilled immigrant workers. That’s really what’s driving these numbers, not immigration policy.
Immigration policy doesn’t stimulate the arrival of people here. It’s demand for labor that stimulates the arrival of people here. And it appears, not just from this but also from the month-to-month employment data, that over the last couple of years as the economy has been wobbling along there has been continued growth at the bottom of the economy, in terms of the number of people employed in the low wage workforce. That’s one of the driving factors in this debate. It’s certainly one of the factors that the promoters of a change in policy of the sort you mention are driven by.
One thing that I would just -- just a small corrective, and it’s -- I believe it’s -- I can’t remember if you do the occupational data completely here, but -- I think you do. It may be a matter of sort of popular impression that a huge number of immigrants are household servants. It’s actually quite small. I mean, it’s a tiny, tiny part of the immigrant workforce and an even more infinitesimal part of the U.S. workforce overall. The low wage immigrants we’re talking about are primarily involved in manufacturing, construction, they’re producing real goods, real consumables. They’re building houses and producing garments, building furniture, all kinds of quite tangible goods. They’re not basically cleaning up after us.
STEVEN CAMAROTA: Well, I think that we really face two choices with regard to an amnesty for illegals. One, we could simply say if you can’t beat them, join them, hand out green cards. Or we could enforce the law. And the problem I see with an amnesty is what you’d be doing is permanently anchoring an enormous number of people in the United States with very little education.
Now, what that does is dramatically continue to increase the supply of unskilled labor in the United States. Roberto was partly correct. In ’98 and ’99 it looked like wages for high school dropouts went up a little. But now it looks like it’s back down, and it had declined pretty significantly for almost 20 years. But even if it goes up a little, they’re still the poorest paid workers. They account for only a tiny fraction of economic output. But in terms of illegal immigration, that’s where it all is. We think that anywhere from 70 to 90 percent of illegals are high school dropouts, and so that’s where illegal immigration increases the supply of labor.
And as Michael pointed out, there are about eight million people who are native-born and several million more legal immigrants who do that kind of work, and it’s mostly construction labor and it’s some light manufacturing, it’s hotel and restaurant work. Now, if we were to reduce immigration by enforcing the law, I think that what we would see is some moderate increases in wages and benefits for low wage workers. But we’d also see the substitution of capital for labor. That is, if you’re a landscaper, instead of hiring five guys with shovels, you buy a little backhoe. If you’re in construction, instead of five guys with hammers, you just buy the prefabricated material. In the hotels you would see the purchase of what’s called continuous batch washing machines, which save a lot of labor. You don’t need such a big laundry room.
And so this is what we would see. And we don’t have to worry that with less unskilled illegal labor that we would ever spark inflation. Here’s why. My research, as well as worked on at Harvard, shows that unskilled labor -- that is, people without a high school education -- account for less than 4 percent of total economic output. We don’t pay them anything to begin with, that’s why. So even if their wages rose a lot as a result of less immigration, the impact on prices in the United States would be minimal, and low wage workers would benefit. And here’s the best part: taxpayers would save money because people with very little education, legal or illegal, tend to pay very little in taxes, but they tend to use a lot in services. So if we enforced the law and reduced unskilled illegal immigration we could save taxpayers money, we could also improve the lives of the working poor and not permanently anchor a large underclass.
With that, I would like to conclude and I’d like to thank everyone for coming, including Roberto and Michael. Again, the center -- this report is available at the center’s website, cis.org. Thank you.