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:
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:
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.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.