Unsustainable Mass Migration Keeps California Growing at Everyone’s Expense
Every month, millions of Americans struggling to pay rent or save for a mortgage feel the crunch of the nation’s widely publicized housing crisis. Nowhere is this pain worse than California, where renting or buying has been notoriously unaffordable for decades even as the state continues to pave over what remains of its nature for more roads and subdivisions. In theory, prices should reflect high desirability, but for a number of years California has been losing hundreds of thousands of mostly middle-class Americans annually to other states. How, then, has the state maintained a nearly stable population and such high prices?
The answer is mass legal and illegal immigration, now California’s only source of population growth. California, with over 11 million foreign-born residents (27 percent of the state), has long experienced a constant influx of illegal aliens as a result of lax federal border policy and the generous benefits the “sanctuary state” provides to immigration violators. The state is also a magnet for lawful immigration, both by unskilled chain migrants and tech workers who compete with Americans for lucrative jobs. Academic research on immigration shows that high overall immigration drives up housing prices while motivating native-born residents to leave the area. The disruption of immigrant visas by COVID led directly to a dip in the state’s population in 2020 as immigration couldn’t compensate for Americans leaving. However, as legal and illegal immigration picks back up, California is again using foreigners as a crutch to compensate for the Americans who move away because of bad state policies.
Normally, when a state can barely keep the lights on and its school districts beg families to take teachers in because of housing costs, the logical decision for residents is to move away. If the state’s population was allowed to decline naturally for a few years, this might give the native-born poor and middle class a real chance at homeownership and force the California government to deal with the labor market consequences of its policies. However, unchecked and unmanaged foreign inflows into the state keep the population numbers artificially high and the housing market tight despite mass outflows of everyone but the rich.
As one of the consequences of being a “sanctuary state” where the average house costs over $800,000, California leads the nation in overcrowded housing. When the state loses lower-income Americans to more competitive states for various reasons, their places and jobs are taken by often illegally present immigrants who disproportionately live in unsanitary and undignified conditions to cope with high prices. When higher-income American tech workers flee to Texas along with their industry, California companies abuse the H-1B skilled worker visa program to make up for the loss. It’s no surprise that nearly three-fourths of Silicon Valley tech workers are foreign nationals when the best option California can offer many in the industry is privacy-free pod living. By encouraging mass migration of non-voting foreigners who will tolerate the intolerable, the state can avoid confronting its problems.
California is expected to add five million additional residents by 2050, growth driven entirely by foreign immigration, even as the state’s urban areas already sprawl for literally hundreds of miles over what once were forests, wetlands, deserts and foothills. The consequences of overdevelopment, like fires and drought, are already crystal clear. For a state government committed to sustainability, actively supporting even more immigration is an indefensible decision that puts the ecosystem at risk. California’s leadership can delay reckoning with its problems for a bit by encouraging immigrants to put up with the misery Americans won’t, but the result will be further sprawl, environmental catastrophe, and a continued exodus of native-born Californians. Unfortunately, they won’t consider the real solution: quit using mass immigration as a coping mechanism and directly address the concerns of Americans who don’t want to see their home state falling to pieces.