On Tuesday, July 31, I spoke about immigration and the environment to a group of homeschoolers and parents at Santa Clara University (which calls itself "the Jesuit university in Silicon Valley"). The kids were participating in the Homeschool Summer Debate Workshop, a yearly affair to bring homeschoolers together to learn debating skills and mix it up some.
I was invited at the suggestion of my friend Rick Oltman who had spoken to the debaters before.
We spoke to a group of about three dozen parents and student, mostly high school, some younger. Rick showed about 10 minutes of a DVD of the late Madeleine Cosman speaking about the public health dimension of immigration anarchy to set the tone, and then I presented my remarks.
Let me tell you just a bit about where I'm coming from on the subject of immigration, because it is a complex, controversial and easily misunderstood topic.
My awakening came on March 19, 1996, and was a true lightning bolt. My eyes were opened as never before as I watched the House of Representatives on C-SPAN and heard Rep. Tony Beilensen, a Democratic from southern California, speak the following words on the floor of Congress:
"Middle range Census Bureau projections show our population rising to nearly 400 million by the year 2050, an increase the equivalent of adding 40 cities the size of Los Angeles. But many demographers believe it will actually be much worse, and alternative Census Bureau projections agree: if current immigration trends continue, the population will exceed half a billion by the middle of the next century." [PDF 1 2]
My jaw literally dropped in shock and horror—I had no idea the situation was that extreme. I immediately understood that all we environmentalists had worked for—plentiful resources, open spaces, clean air, species protection—would be swept away in an overpopulated America.
I felt something like a religious calling to become active in restricting immigration in order to preserve a recognizable country—now and for the future. I knew that our uniquely influential nation—and therefore the planet—was in serious danger and I had to do something in my own small way.
Domestic overpopulation does have serious environmental consequences which we see at the local level. In California, explosive population growth in the last three decades is almost entirely due to immigrants and illegal aliens, and their children.
We Californians may soon face mandatory water restriction after just one year of below-average rainfall here in the north. If there is not substantial rain in November and December, officials may call for rationing around the first of the year—just a guess on my part.
In the late 1970s, California had a moderate drought, and after 2-3 years duration, severe restrictions were mandated. Residents were advised to take short showers, water their gardens with previously-used "grey" water saved from washing machines, etc and put a brick in the toilet tank to lessen by displacement the water used per flush.
Parts of Marin County ran out of water. There was a large pipe hung on the Richmond Bridge that carried water from the East Bay reservoirs to Marin.
The difference between then and now is the number of state residents. In 1977, California's population was fewer than 23 million. Today just 30 years later, the state is home to over 38 million residents. That huge growth of 15 million people is equal to the population of the whole state in 1960 (actually 15.7m).
If the rains don't come, Californians will have to ration water far earlier than would have been necessary before immigration became a flood. Natural resources are finite, and there's only so much that technology can do to shield us from that basic fact.
And our beautiful state continues to be rapidly paved over for a destructive level of growth. The Department of Finance predicts there will be 60 million residents in California by 2050. That's unimaginable.
Places like California are glittering magnets to foreigners around the world, from TV, movies and word of mouth. The state has jobs where English is not required and provides many taxpayer-funded services for immigrants and illegal aliens, plus there are enormous Hispanic communities, where ethnic groups can congregate and be around those who share their language and culture.
Those attractions are considered pull factors. On the other end of the scale are the push factors that make people want to leave where they are—unemployment, poverty, war and ethnic strife.
These problems are all exacerbated by explosive worldwide population growth—which is the 800-pound gorilla in the room of public policy. The effects of over six and a half billion people living on the planet are little recognized, even though the symptoms are discussed daily in issues from climate change to the conflict in Darfur.
Global population growth today is without precedent. We are going into territory where no human society has gone before. 1960 is a year which some in this room can remember, the year when John Kennedy was elected President. In that year, the population of this planet was three billion people. In 1999, the world population odometer flipped over to 6 billion—an astonishing doubling in just 4 decades.
Today, that number has continued to increase. World population now is over six billion six hundred million, and still rising. Many of those people are poor and would like a better life. In reality, almost five billion people live in countries that are poorer than Mexico, where the average per capita gross domestic product is lower than the Mexican mean of $9,600.
Overpopulation is behind many wars because of conflict over increasingly scarce resources like water and food production, but you never hear that aspect reported as part of the analysis. But the phrase "resource war" will likely become more common in coming years.
Some in the religious and liberal community believe that borders should be opened entirely from a humanitarian point of view. But this idea is flawed for several reasons. Clerics who believe they are doing good deeds by encouraging illegal immigration are practicing a funny kind of morality which is more Marx than scripture. Jesus said to "Render unto Caesar, that which is Caesar's" which certainly means to obey civil law.
Another problem with open borders is how countries like Mexico have become dependent on remittances, the small sums regularly sent home from Mexican émigrés to help out their families. Remittances are Mexico's #1 source of foreign cash, more than petroleum and tourism.
As a result of so much easy money—over $23 billion in 2006—there is no incentive for long overdue economic and social reform. There is also no reason for Mexico to work for limiting population growth, since excess people can be pushed north to America as illegal immigrants.
And remittances create a negative feedback loop: the worse the Mexican government runs the country, the more poor villagers leave and send back billions of dollars.
The kindest thing we as a nation could do for the Mexican people would be to shut down the border tight. Demands for social reforms would follow and hopefully beneficial change would result. Reform won't happen any other way.
Not only is Mexico harmed in the long run by open borders, the cheap labor that floods through them is brutal on blue collar America. Wherever there are large numbers of immigrants and illegal aliens in job categories, wages are driven down for the black, white and minority citizens who have done those occupations. As Black Minuteman Ted Hayes has remarked. illegal immigration is the "biggest threat to blacks in America since slavery."
We hear all about "jobs Americans won't do" from everyone from pundits to the President, but the wages are never mentioned in those instances.
Today, we think of meatpacking as one of those jobs done only by immigrants and illegal aliens. But in the 1980's American workers were fighting to keep that work, as chronicled in the Academy Award winning documentary "American Dream." Citizens fought hard to keep those jobs because they provided a middle class life for families, but the company broke the union and eventually brought in exploitable foreigners willing to work for far lower wages than Americans.
Polls consistently show that Americans across the political spectrum want immigration to be legal, controlled and reduced. Citizens still expect immigrants to assimilate to American values, speak English and be loyal to this country. For all the talk about multiculturalism, the idea that all cultures are morally equal does not correspond to reality: you only need to look at how women are treated in many cultures to understand that.
Multiculturalism also does not take human nature into account. Our psychology is hard wired to be tribal, to want to be around others with whom we instinctively feel safe. We all prefer to be around others who speak our language, share our values and understand our jokes. Human community is based upon similarities, not differences.
Another important point about immigration policy is the way that national sovereignty is weakened by open borders and lax law enforcement. Unregulated immigration is part and parcel of globalization due to the increasing power of transnational corporations.
These days, weakened sovereignty may not sound like a bad idea. Some might think that a more global form of government would be an improvement over what we have now in Washington.
But a larger worldwide democracy is not what's happening at all in globalization. Many corporations see globalized trade as a way to leapfrog over the middle class concerns of citizens in first world, including decent wages, environmentally friendly manufacturing, product safety and honesty in how merchandise is described.
In fact, if the powerful corporations get their way, democracy itself will be significantly diminished by moving power out of government into transnational trade agreements and other organizations like the European Union.
As Czech President Vaclav Klaus remarked, "You cannot have democratic accountability in anything bigger than a nation state."
Here at home, Americans are not happy with NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, which has met none of its promises for improved environmental quality around the border, increased jobs in this country and decreased illegal immigration. When citizens learn that the Bush administration is working in stealth to expand NAFTA and politically integrate with Mexico and Canada in a North American Union, they are not happy at all. Because many thousands of American soldiers died to protect just that sovereignty that politicians are giving away.
The continuing extreme level of immigration, both legal and illegal, will change this country far more than anything else in the coming decades unless it is brought under control soon. And once America has been dismantled from a unitary nation into a grouping of ethnic enclaves, it will be broken forever.
Our goals in fixing immigration should include a stabilized US population with a strong emphasis on patriotic assimilation of those who are here, particularly using the school system. The problems of world poverty should be addressed in the home countries with proven programs like microlending because on a planet with 6 1/2 billion people, every country must be a decent place to live and prosper.After my prepared speech, Rick Oltman gave a more extemporaneous talk using dates of immigration legislation, and attempts at legal controls by citizens, as a rough outline to give a historic background of how we got to where we are.
He showed a few minutes of a DVD of his old TV talk program on public access from 1994 to suggest how little has changed since then, except the numbers. The show was about the struggle for Prop 187 in California, which would have ended most taxpayer-funded social services for illegal aliens. Even after being outspent 10-1, the initiative won decisively with 59 percent favoring the measure, including majorities of Asian and black voters. But in order to prevent Prop 187's constitutionality from being properly argued in the courts, Grey Davis and other Mexican cronies sabotaged it behind closed doors in a fixed "mediation"—an outrageous denial of citizen rights.
The biggest change in the years since Prop 187 is that the battles fought in California and other border states are now national.
Rick made an excellent comparison between environmentalism and immigration. At a certain point, environmentalists essentially said to business that it could no longer pollute freely in the process of making money. A similar demand must now be made about immigrants, that business must no longer exploit foreign workers in the extreme to wring out the last nickel of profit at the price of destroying the country.
That point seemed well received by the audience, which was thoughtful overall in response to the ideas presented. In fact, it was heartening to see so many smart kids in a room.
Finally, I came away from the day with a new respect for the discipline of debating, which forces a critical examination of all aspects of an issue.
Brenda Walker (email her) lives in Northern California and publishes two websites, LimitsToGrowth.org and ImmigrationsHumanCost.org. She admires Mexico for its marvelous tequila, and that's about all.