The Magazine

Who Gets In

And what happens once they're here.

Sep 15, 2008, Vol. 14, No. 01 • By PETER SKERRY
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Krikorian is on more solid footing when addressing the demographic implications of immigration. He points out that because immigrants only slightly increase America's fertility rate, they reduce the average age of the population minimally. So immigrants won't solve America's Social Security problems. Nevertheless, they do contribute significantly to overall population growth, which he regards as too high to sustain Americans' present quality of life: "The real population question for Americans is not whether a Malthusian catastrophe awaits us but rather what kind of life we will bequeath to our grandchildren."

Krikorian is particularly deft when analyzing the impact of immigration on government spending. He lays out the data demonstrating conclusively that immigrants are a net fiscal burden, now and in the foreseeable future, especially at the state and local levels. As have others, he points out that one-fourth of those without health insurance are immigrants. But digging deeper, he points out that most of the growth in the uninsured is traceable to immigrants. He invokes Milton Friedman's observation that "you can't have free immigration and a welfare state." But unlike many free-marketeers and libertarians, he rejects the notion that immigration can be used to undermine the welfare state. Self-conscious realist that he is, Krikorian sees that Americans lack the political will to deny social welfare benefits to immigrants and their children, pointing to failed efforts to do so amid welfare reform during the 1990s. As he concludes, "Walling immigrants off from government benefits once we've let them in is a fantasy."

Most compelling is Krikorian's analysis of the economic impact of immigration. Drawing on the research of economist George Borjas and others, he demonstrates that immigrants represent an increasing proportion of the poor, and that the income gap between immigrants and natives has been widening, while the children of immigrants have been making gains relative to their parents but earning less than other Americans. One result is increased competition at the bottom of the labor market between immigrants and unskilled American workers, especially African Americans-though Krikorian is careful to note that this is hardly the only problem confronting poor blacks. Finally, he argues that the huge influx of unskilled immigrants is discouraging investment in innovative technologies that increase
productivity.

Reading Krikorian's uncompromising critique, one cannot help but wonder what drastic policy recommendations will follow. Yet his actual proposals fall far short of his radical views. Relying on a "zero-based budgeting" approach to the question of how many legal immigrants to admit annually, he comes up with 400,000-less than half the approximately one million we have been admitting in recent years. To achieve this, he would limit family-based admittances to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens, excluding parents, adult siblings, and the adult children of legal residents and citizens.

To support his "pro-immigrant policy of low immigration," he urges increased funding for immigration services, including expanded English-language instruction and the establishment of immigrant welcome centers. As for the 12 million or more illegals here, he rejects mass deportations but also opposes any kind of amnesty, proposing instead "attrition through enforcement"-that is, rigorous application of existing immigration laws, especially in the nation's interior. Over time, he maintains, illegals here would leave and subsequent newcomers would be discouraged from coming.

None of these recommendations will pass muster with immigration advocates or their sympathizers-or with rabid restrictionists, for that matter. But the main problem with Krikorian's proposals is that they fly in the face of his own analysis. If immigration is fundamentally at odds with contemporary America-weakening the nation fiscally and economically, squeezing the most vulnerable of our citizens, and threatening our sovereignty-then surely 400,000 immigrants a year is still too many.