The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, signed into law by Lyndon Johnson 50 years ago this Saturday, is one of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy’s earliest and, Democrats argue, greatest achievements.
That is, if you think inflicting massive cultural change on the nation and introducing millions of new dependents into the population is an achievement.
If you want to know why Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall with Mexico is resonating, look no further than Kennedy’s half-century old law.
Since its passage, immigration has soared. And the statute’s provisions abolishing the country of origin quota system, which once ensured a strong proportion of European immigrants, has resulted in an influx from areas with significantly different values from ours — despite explicit assurances from Kennedy and others at the time that this wouldn’t happen.
A Pew Research Center immigration study released Monday describes the measure’s effects in graphic detail.
After a wave immigration, largely from Europe, the share of foreign-born residents reached 14.8 percent just before the 20th century, but declined to 4.8 percent in 1965. That has now been almost completely reversed.
Pew projects that the foreign-born share of the U.S. population will hit 13.9 percent this year and exceed the all-time record within a few years. The United States has — by far — the largest foreign-born population in the world, with about a fifth of the world’s immigrants.
“For the past half-century, these modern-era immigrants and their descendants have accounted for just over half the nation’s population growth and have reshaped its racial and ethnic composition,” the report states, adding that immigrants and their descendants will account for nearly nine-tenths of population growth through 2065, if current trends hold.
Throw in the American-born children of immigrants and the numbers are even higher. The combined population is 26 percent today and projected to rise to 36 percent in 2065. That would equal or exceed the level of the early 20th century.
“It’s not a surprise, although the numbers are quite extraordinary,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation of American Immigration Reform. “We’re doing all this for no definable purpose.”
Well, one purpose is definable. These new immigrants, usually dependent on big government as espoused and designed by Democrats, tend to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. So where does America go from here?
“This is not the weather. This is not something that is out of our control.”
“We’re headed into uncharted territory,” said Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies.
Camarota said the trends are the direct result of an immigration system designed to increase the number of newcomers.
“This is not the weather,” he said. “This is not something that is out of our control.”
The Pew report projects that without immigration, the U.S. population would increase modestly, from 324 million to 338 million in 2065. At current rates, though, the U.S. will add 103 million immigrants over that period, to 441 million.
“That would be defined as runaway population,” Mehlman said. “We have these policies that have reshaped our country in so many ways.”
Camarota said the Pew report makes clear that most of the change is not due to illegal immigration.
“The legal component is much more important,” he said.
Profound Demographic Change
Immigration has had a profound impact on the nation’s demographics and will continue to change it. Without post-1965 immigration, the United States would be 75 percent non-Hispanic white 50 years from now. With the 1965 law, the current non-Hispanic white population has dropped to an estimated 62 percent in 2015, while Hispanics make up 18 percent and Asians 6 percent.
Immigration advocates argue that newcomers reinvigorate the U.S. economy.
“The country’s overall population will feel the impact of these shifts,” the Pew report states. “Non-Hispanic whites are projected to become less than half of the U.S. population by 2055 and 46 percent by 2065. No racial or ethnic group will constitute a majority of the U.S. population.”
Immigration advocates argue that newcomers reinvigorate the U.S. economy. Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from South Carolina who is running for the Republican nomination for president, noted at this month’s GOP debate that the birth-rate is declining among native-born women.
“Strom Thurmond had four kids after he was 67,” he said, referring to the late senator from South Carolina. “If you’re not willing to do that, we’ve got to come up with a new legal immigration system.”
But Mehlman said the usage rate of government assistance programs is far higher among immigrants. He said those counting on immigrants to rescue entitlement programs are “just deluding themselves.”
Camarota said that if economic growth were simply a function of immigration, then Yemen, Mali and Niger should have among the highest-performing economies in the world.
“What matters in economics is the per capita income,” he said.
The American experience over the past four decades also calls the arguments for pro-immigration forces into question
The American experience over the past four decades also calls the arguments for pro-immigration forces into question, Camarota said.
“It has not been a particularly good period for American workers,” he said.
According to Pew, the nature of immigration has changed in recent years. After rising sharply from 1970 to 2000, the rate of growth has slowed. The number of immigrants peaked in 2005 and has been declining since.
At the same time, the share of immigrants coming from Central and South America declined from 48 percent in 2000 to 28 percent in 2013. The Asian share increased from 25 percent to 41 percent. Asians are expected to be a majority of immigrants by 2055.
Because Asian immigrants are more likely to have college degrees, arrivals in recent years have been better-educated. Mehlman acknowledged that better-educated immigrants are better for the U.S. economy, but he said the change has been based on luck rather than policy.
“To simply leave it up to chance that the next relative in line will have the skills that are needed isn’t necessarily the best immigration policy,” he said.
Mehlman added that a portion of those Asian immigrants are coming from the Middle East. “Asia’s a big place,” he said.
Hispanic Slow-Down Temporary?
Camarota said Pew’s forecasts may not be accurate. While immigration from Central and South America dipped after the 2008 financial collapse, recent data suggest it is growing again.
This may explain why GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has backed away from his previous participation with the so-called “Gang of Eight” group of senators that tried to craft an immigration reform plan.
“If you had asked me five years ago, I would have said, ‘yes,’” he said. “Now, I don’t know.”
Quarterly immigration statistics tracked by the Center for Immigration Studies indicate that 12.1 million people in the United States in the second quarter of this year were from Mexico, a jump of about 700,000 from the second quarter of 2014.
Further data will be necessary to confirm a long-term turnaround from recent-year trends, Camarota said, but he added that the recent proportional increase from Asia “may have been a temporary phenomenon.”
The Pew study comes against the backdrop of a presidential election in which immigration concerns have dominated the GOP debate. A survey taken by Pew in March and April indicates that by a margin of 45 percent 37 percent, U.S. adults — both native and foreign-born — think immigrants have made U.S. society better. Among Republicans, that split is 53 percent to 31 percent in the other direction.
The latter number may explain why GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has backed away from his previous participation with the so-called “Gang of Eight” group of senators that tried to craft an immigration reform plan.
Camarota said the plan would have “super-charged” immigration, doubling the number of legal immigrants from 10 million to 20 million over a decade. It would have led to more relatives of immigrants entered the country, he said.
“It probably would have accelerated it, exacerbated the situation,” he said.
Just like a previous measure pushed through Congress by a famous senator 50 years ago.