If you didn’t know anything about our immigration system — an accurate description of our political class — you’d think that we take in few immigrants from the Third World or from anywhere outside Europe and that our “racist president” wants to stamp out the last vestiges of the few brave and unique immigrants coming from subpar conditions, yearning for freedom and American values. This distortion could not be farther from the truth.
Here is a list of the top 30 countries of origin among the immigrants who received green cards in 2016. These 30 countries supplied 76 percent of our immigration pool:
A couple of immediate observations are in order:
- Notice how Mexico dominates our legal immigration system in addition to sending us most of our illegal immigrants. Mexican nationals were the recipient of twice as many green cards as the second country on the list. And this has been the case pretty much for every year over the past few decades. Indeed, since 1965, 50 percent of all immigrants came from Mexico and Latin America, 29 percent from Mexico alone. Is that fair? Is that diverse? Who voted for this? Obviously, as neighbors, we are bound to have a flow of immigrants from Mexico, but does it make sense that we should admit 15 times as many from Mexico as from our other neighbor, Canada, and do so year after year for decades?
- Not a single European or western country is among the top 20. Canada is #25, and the U.K. is #26. No other western country even registers.
- Seven Islamic countries, several of which are on Trump’s moratorium list, are on this list, and they’ve been moving higher every year.
- From watching the trends over the years and having some background on this issue rather than solely from the chart numbers, it’s clear that the top source countries of our immigration are not dictated by merit, but primarily by chain migration, diversity lottery, refugees, asylum, and quasi-amnesty policies that allow certain illegal immigrants to obtain green cards. This is not the immigration system America voted for; nor is it the one that was promised to us in 1965, 1980, and 1990.
Most of the top sending countries score the worst on important factors
In a purely merit-based immigration system, country of origin wouldn’t matter much. However, since it is not merit driving our immigration system, the welfare usage, poverty rates, and English language proficiency among the immigrants from differing countries matter a great deal.
Let’s take a look at some of these factors broken down by the sending countries. Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies did a comprehensive analysis of the demographic details of immigrants by top sending countries. He culled the data from Census statistics based on the countries that had the highest population of immigrants currently living here as of 2014. Because that is a different measure from the top green card recipients in 2016, some of the countries are not part of his data set. I put together his data on welfare usage, poverty rates, and English language proficiency by top sending countries. The numbers for welfare usage and those at or near the poverty level (defined by 200 percent or less of the poverty level) are juxtaposed with the average poverty level and welfare usage among native-born Americans.
Some striking observations result:
- Poverty: Among the top 20 sending countries, only immigrants from India and Far East Asian countries are at or near the average poverty rate of the native population (30.8 percent). Immigrants from Canada and the U.K. are also below the native rate, but they are way down on the list in terms of immigration numbers. Iran is the exception, as its immigrant poverty rate tracks closely with the native rate, but we have other security-related problems from some of the immigration from the Islamic Republic.
- Welfare: Once again, immigrants from India, Canada, and the U.K., on average, had much lower usages of welfare among heads of households than native families, while immigrants from most other countries, on average, had higher or much higher rates of welfare usage. If we presume Nigerian immigrants are less impoverished than the average based on their generally known high levels of education, we can likely conclude that immigrants from only five of the top 30 sending countries have lower welfare usage than natives.
- English proficiency: Notice how Mexico ranks near the top on welfare and poverty and near the bottom on language proficiency. Same goes for Central American countries. To be fair, much of this has to do with the fact that many of the immigrants from these countries are illegal immigrants, who are included in the Census data used as the basis for Camarota’s report. Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that, in general, more people from Canada, Europe, and East Asia would score much higher than Mexico and Central America on all of the measures we value in a merit-based system. Yet, with the exception of the Philippines and India, we have little immigration from countries that produce wealthier immigrants than Mexico and Central America. Obviously, immigrants from countries that use English as an official language, such as Canada and Jamaica, will have no issues with English. But once again, we see the difference in English proficiency from countries like India vs. Mexico.
As Milton Friedman once observed, you can’t have open borders and a welfare state. Theoretically, without a welfare state, it wouldn’t matter so much that we are admitting immigrants from poor countries, because they will come here to live the American dream. However, given that we do have a robust welfare state, many of the immigrants from the Third World, much more so than from wealthier countries, continue to struggle. This doesn’t mean that many of them don’t work hard, but it does mean it’s a net fiscal cost to Americans, violating a clear principle that immigration should be a net benefit for America.
It also doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t admit immigrants from certain places, but one can’t deny that, on average, immigrants from Europe have lower poverty rates and less welfare usage and are more proficient in the English language than most other immigrants. According to Pew Research, as of 2013, the median family income for immigrant families from Europe was $66,600; from Mexico $31,100; from the Caribbean $31,100; from Africa $34,800; from Asia $46,000; and from central/South America $37,400.
The facts speak for themselves: Not all sending countries are created equal when it comes to admitting a large number of immigrants.
The extreme and imbalanced shift in immigration, one that even Schumer decried in 1990, is very evident in the macro data on income. While median adjusted family income of native-born Americans has risen from $46,611 in 1970 to $60,872 in 2013, immigrant families have seen a slight dip in income overall, from $40, 935 to $39,567, according to Pew. This is despite the fact that immigrants have not been as negatively affected by the past decade of wage stagnation as native-born Americans and have been the recipients of many of the new jobs.
The need for merit-based immigration
Thomas Sowell once wrote a brilliant article poking fun of the way the elites discuss immigration in such broad and “abstract” terms. Details and amounts matter. Pepper tastes very good in many foods in the right measure, but if you swallow a bottle of it, you will be in a world of hurt. As Sowell observed, many of our current discussions of immigration issues talk about immigrants in general, as if they were abstract people in an abstract world. But the concrete differences between immigrants from different countries affect whether their coming here is good or bad for the American people.
Under the current indiscriminate system of chain migration, on average, when we bring in immigrants from India or Europe, they will speak English and are less likely to be on welfare. The opposite is true for other countries whose people we admit in large numbers. And this doesn’t even scratch the surface of cultural assimilation and security concerns, such as in the case of Islamic countries.
Why Trump is wrong to keep the current visa waiting list
If nothing is changed, our country will be flooded with millions of chain migrants that are coming here solely based on family ties, doubling down on the existing backward system. As of November 2017, there were 4.367 million people on the visa waiting list, 97.5 percent of whom are applying based on family ties to existing immigrants, who themselves largely came here based on family ties. Mexico, by far, dominates the waiting list, accounting for 1.25 million of the slots, almost four times as many as the second country on the list.
While I’m sure there are some people on that list who would fit into a merit-based system, based on the current trajectory it’s safe to say the overwhelming majority will be much more likely to be on welfare than immigrants from many other countries. Yet, even under Trump’s plan of terminating chain migration down the road, he plans to bring in everyone on the existing list and even accelerate their paths to green cards.
The solution to all of this is to immediately move to a merit-based system in which we bring in only people who love America, won’t be a security problem, speak English, and will not be on welfare – irrespective of country of origin. However, we must be prepared for liberals to dishonestly call it racist because it would naturally end the monopoly from some of their preferred countries. But so be it. It is a simple fact that 61 percent of Honduran immigratnts use welfare, while just 14 percent of Canadian and 16 percent of Indian immigrants do. That leaves 39 percent of Honduran immigrants who are not on welfare. It all depends on the individual, and a merit-based system would vet out the ones we want from all corners of the world.
This used to be part of the commonsense, mature discussion we could have as a nation. Sadly, demagoguery and ignorance are preventing us from having a much-needed discussion about one of the most important, if not the most important, policy issue of our time. Americans of all types – immigrants and natives alike – will lose out because of the small-mindedness of the political elites.
Author: Daniel Horowitz
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.