Questions and Answers
Immigrant admissions have steadily risen since the period of moderate immigration adopted in the early 1920s was ended in 1965. That may be seen in the data for the last fifteen years. During the 1995-99 period, an average of 746,315 immigrants were admitted per year. Average admissions rose by 24 percent to 924,137 for 2000-04, and over the last five years (through 2009) average annual admissions rose an additional 23 percent to 1,135,749.1 The foreign-born population, which includes illegal immigrants and long-term guest workers, increased from 19.8 million in 1990 to 28.4 million in 2000 and was estimated to be 37.3 million in 2008, an average growth rate of 1.1 million per year.2
The unprecedentedly large influx of immigrants has become the primary driver of population growth in the U.S. The Census Bureau projects that over the next forty years, the population will rise from 310 million in 2010 to 439 million in 2050 and still be rapidly rising. By contrast, the Bureau projected in 2000 that with zero net international migration the number of immigrants equal to the number of emigrants, i.e., persons moving out of the United States the population would be 297 million in 2010, stabilizing at 323 million by 2040.3 The Pew Hispanic Center estimated that 82 percent of the projected population growth between 2010 and 2050 would come from new immigrants and their children born after their arrival. 4
Who is immigrating?
In the past, most immigrants came as workers with similar skill levels and from European countries. Since the 1965 changes in immigration law, most immigrants come as relatives and from Third World nations. As a result, increasing numbers of immigrants encounter difficulty assimilating into our society.
Data published in the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics from 2001 through 2009 identify Latin America (including Mexico and the Caribbean) as the source of 40 percent of immigrant admissions. The second largest source is Asia with nearly 35 percent of admissions. Europe and Canada accounted for 14 percent. Africa accounted for 8 percent and Oceania 0.6 percent.
Most immigrants are sponsored by family members in this country who immigrated themselves and are legal permanent residents or have become U.S. citizens. Small shares of admissions go to workers (and their families) on the basis of sponsorship by employers or because of their professional qualifications, and to refugees and asylees. In addition, 55,000 immigrant visas are set aside for issuance by a "diversity lottery."
Of those immigrants legally admitted between 2000 and 2007, 60.1% had a high school education or less compared to 38.4% of natives, and were nearly five times as likely to be a high school dropout. About ten percent of each group held a graduate or professional degree, but just 29.9% of new adult immigrants attended or completed college compared to 51% of natives.5
Who is responsible for U.S. immigration policy?
As a sovereign state, the United States has the right and responsibility to regulate the permanent and temporary admissions of non-citizens. This authority is vested in the Congress, which makes the laws that determine the basis on which visas are authorized (although refugee admissions are proposed annually by the President for concurrence by the Congress). The regulations that promulgate those laws are developed and administered by the Department of Homeland Security (which absorbed the previous Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Within the DHS, there are Customs and Border Protection (CBP) which staffs ports of entry and the Border Patrol; Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) which handles investigations and interior enforcement; and Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) which adjudicates applications for immigration benefits. In addition, there are immigration judges (appointed by the Attorney General), who hear cases on violations of immigration law and regulation. Also within in the DOJ, there is a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) administered by the Executive Office for Immigration Review; the BIA hears appeals of decisions by the immigration judges.
Is immigration different now than it used to be?
Immigration today is very different from earlier periods in sources of the immigrant flow and in size of the flow. Through most of our country's history (more than 180 years), we took in fewer than 500,000 immigrants a year; for more than 135 of those years, it was fewer than 300,000 immigrants. Since 1820, we admitted more than one million immigrants in only nine years up until 2001, and three of those years resulted from the adjustment of illegal aliens as a result of the 1986 amnesty. Over the last decade we have averaged 1.1 million immigrants admissions annually. Only since 1986 has the sources of immigrants changed from primarily European origin to largely Latin American and Asian origin. More importantly, our nation is different now than it was during the industrial revolution when industries sought large numbers of blue collar laborers.
How does this affect the job market?
This large influx into the labor market of unskilled immigrants as well as illegal aliens depresses wages and working conditions for native, low-skilled workers (who are often the young, minorities, and other recent immigrants). It blocks our native poor from entry level opportunities, contributes to the widening gap between rich and poor in our society, and increases business’ dependency on cheap labor instead of innovation and modernization.
How does immigration affect welfare?
Despite the attempted ban on welfare to new immigrants and illegal aliens, immigrants are nearly twice as likely to be on welfare as natives, and the annual cost of public benefits to recent immigrants is estimated at $75 billion a year. Furthermore, welfare use rises when native Americans are underemployed or are displaced from their jobs by immigration.
How does immigration affect crime?
Both legal and illegal immigration contribute to the poverty that breeds crime. A disproportionate 26 percent share of federal inmates are noncitizens, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. This is despite the 816,000 criminal aliens that were removed from the country between 1998 and 2007.6 Our study of alien prisoners in the state and local prisons found that their share of the prison population was 50 percent higher than the prison share of natives. 7
What are the overall costs of so much immigration to society?
Estimates of the net cost of immigration run from $30 billion to $50 billion a year. And this is only the quantifiable deficit to local, state, and federal budgets; the deterioration in our quality of life caused by immigration-driven population growth cannot be measured.
How many immigrants should we have?
FAIR believes we should strive for a system in which continuing immigration does not add to our population size. That would mean admitting only as many immigrants as residents who are leaving to reside abroad, i.e., about a third of a million persons. a year. This would allow us to maximize the positive effects of immigration without overwhelming our environment, schools, social services, and other institutions. It would also contribute to U.S. population stability over the long-term.
How can we say no to immigrants?
America’s need for immigration ended a century ago when the frontier was closed and we reduced immigration correspondingly. The new, heavy immigration flow harms both our country and the countries that are sending immigrants here. According to studies, at least 400 million people in the world would move to the U.S. tomorrow, if we let them. The only hope for these societies is for their people to work to improve their own countries, not to move here.
What do other Americans think?
For several years now, the polls on immigration have been very consistent: at least two-thirds of Americans think that the level of immigration to this country should be reduced.
What can we do?
Unwise immigration policies, geared toward pleasing special interests instead of serving our country, are bringing in too many immigrants a year, and Congress is responsible. We must demand that Congress enact a moratorium on most forms of legal immigration and crack down on illegal immigration.
Updated November 2010
- "Persons Obtaining Legal Permanent Resident Status: Fiscal Years 1820 to 2009," Table 1.1, Yearbook of Immigration Statistics 2009, Department of Homeland Security.
- Census 2000, Current Population Survey March 2009 (Table 1.1).
- Census Bureau, 2009 Population Projections.
- Passel J. S. and D. Cohn. "U.S. Population Projections: 2005-2050." February 11, 2008. Pew Hispanic Center.
- Census Bureau, 2009 Population Projections.
- "Immigrants in the United States, 2007," Steven Camarota, Center for Immigration Studies, November 2007.
- "Illegal Immigration and Crime Incidence," John Martin, FAIR, 2007.