I believe a brief history of the United States and its’ immigration policies and some statistics are necessary to formulating an intelligent opinion on the topic of U.S. immigration. In today’s podcast, I go into detail about all the statistics below, and offer a straightforward thesis on how we as Americans can have a better philosophy towards developing our immigration policy as a nation. References to the following history and statistics can be found at the bottom of this page.
U.S. Immigration History
- For the first century of America’s existence, we had an open border policy. Immigrants were free to move in and out of the United States as they pleased.
- To become an official “naturalized citizen,” all you had to do was reside in the United States for 2 years, be white, and of “good moral character.”
- Various laws would be passed that changed the amount of time required for residency to obtain citizenship, but to immigrate here was still a very simple process. There wasn’t a lot of government “red tape” to prevent people from easily immigrating here, nor to become citizens.
- About a century later in the 1870’s, ideas created by popular “eugenics” philosophies created the fuel necessary for more restrictive immigration policies. People deemed “inferior” by the “science” of eugenics would eventually cause quotas to be placed on the number of people of various nationalities, or at times, used to completely ban certain nationalities altogether, depending on the the way the political winds were blowing any given year.
- Thus, we would see an eventual crackdown on Chinese, Japanese, Italian, and Jewish immigrants. Some of these people were deemed genetically inferior, stupid, or were considered a threat to Americans because of diseases certain races carried, or because they threatened “American jobs.”
- In 1965 congress did away with national and race based quotas, and instead changed to a broad regional quotas system, allowing 120,000 immigrants per year from the Western Hemisphere, and 170,000 from the eastern hemisphere (290,000) per year. It gave preference to skilled laborers, families seeking reunification, and asylum seekers.
- In 1990 Congress increased the annual quotas to 700,000, where it has been ever since. These numbers do not include seasonal temporary workers, or people coming here for vacation.
- The president is given the authority to regulate how many people can immigrate here annually under asylum status. This number varies from year to year, but is currently set at only 30,000 per year, and is also determined by regional quotas. For example, only 9,000 asylum seekers can come from the Near East and Southern Asia.
Basic Statistics On U.S. Immigration
- In 2018, there were roughly 106,000 people that applied for asylum or refugee status in the United States. As of January 2019, there is a backlog of nearly 1.1 million people in the pipeline waiting for their asylum status to be granted.
- In 2017 according to Pew Research, there were roughly 22 million applicants that applied for the U.S. Visa program. It should be noted this program isn’t a “line”, it’s a lottery. You could apply every year, be qualified, and still never be granted the ability to immigrate here. You don’t get priority simply because you applied last year.
- Currently 44.5 million immigrants live in the United States as of 2017, and make up 13.7% of our current population (325.7 million people). Historically, going back to 1850 (earliest data), the percentage of immigrants in America typically fluctuates between 12-15% of the total population, although the percentage was as low as 4.7% in 1970.
- As of 2016, 42.7 million people entered the United States on temporary short term visas. 34.2 million of those were tourists.
- In 1990, there were an estimated 3.5 million illegal immigrants in the United States. This number peaked at 12.2 million in 2007 (right before the Great Recession), and has decreased every year since to 10.5 million total illegal immigrants. This means that since 1990 the United States has averaged 259k illegal immigrants per year entering our country.
- Per Pew Research an estimated 4-5.5 million illegal immigrants (out of 10 million) in this country are here as a result of a visa overstay. So roughly half are here as a result of simply overstaying their visit.
- The U.S. workforce has an estimated 7.6 million illegal immigrants, which means about 76% of illegal immigrants are working.
Let The Free Market Decide Our Immigration Policy
I am not an “open border” immigration guy. I think we as Americans have the right to know who is entering this country, and should have the right to exclude individuals who might prove to be threat to our rights, namely, known violent criminals.
However, in the spirit of the founding fathers, who for a century had pretty much an open borders policy regarding U.S. Immigration, I think we should adopt a similar mindset. I think we should allow the “free market” to determine how many immigrants our country should be able to sustain on an annual basis, instead of the highly restricted artificial quotas that place an unnecessary restriction on how many people can come here on an annual basis.
Indeed, I believe it should almost be as easy to immigrate from another country to come here and live and work as it is for me to live, move, and work in different states within America. We shouldn’t require much more than basic paperwork to verify who you are, a clean criminal background check, and to file necessary tax documentation.
Of course, people might not be ready to jump into such a radical free market concept for immigration. So, until they are, I think we would do well to take some baby steps by simply increasing the quotas that currently limit the amount of people that come here legally to work.
I propose that for now, we double or triple the amount of legal immigrants we allow into this country. Currently we only accept 700,000 annually. And with a rate of roughly 300,000 illegal immigrants making it into this country every year (out of the 22 million that apply to come here), I think doubling the rate of acceptance to 1.4 or 2.1 million would greatly reduce the number of illegal immigrants that come here.
Either way, whatever the exact path forward, making it easier to immigrate here legally and for legitimate purposes should be the preferred solution that is in keeping with our nations founding principles. The super strict quotas that we currently have is doing nothing more than fuel black markets, and creating a national and humanitarian crisis along the southern border. A lot of these problems could be solved if we simply cut a lot of unnecessary red tape, and removed a lot of unnecessary burdensome government restrictions.