"Is Immigration a Problem? Are the Minute Men the Answer?"

Peter Brimelow's Speech at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, June 16 2005

[VDARE.COM Note: We're posting this speech from last year, which we've been meaning to do for a while, partly because recent events on the border have showed that the Minutemen must be part of the answer—because the National Guard, under the control of the Bush Administration, isn't the answer.]

[See also: Questions and Answers]

[Watch it in RealVideo]

Ladies and gentlemen, as is immediately obvious to you from my accent, I am an immigrant myself. And it may seem strange to you that an immigrant would be critical of immigration. But the Wall Street Journal tells us that immigrants do the dirty work that Americans won't do. And here I am! [laughter]

You know, people often react very badly to this when they are in favor of immigration. They say things like "Aren't you pulling up the ladder after you got on the boat?" And I have a number of answers—such as, you know, just because I'm the last person on the lifeboat, am I not supposed to say the lifeboat is going to capsize?

It's an objective issue, an issue of fact and truth, involved here.

I have a number of answers, as I say. But they're all really beside the point. Because the real reason why I write about immigration is that it's irresistible.

I mean, here you have a sovereign state transforming itself by accident, against its will to no economic benefit whatever—George [Gilliam, Director of the Miller Center Forum] is wrong in his brief [introductory] summary, by the way, there's no evidence that immigration is of any value to the native-born Americans on balance, in aggregate—in a way that's unprecedented in the history of the world.

And you're not supposed to talk about it!

It's a really taboo subject. I've been in financial journalism in the U.S. for 25 years, and I've never been able to write a serious study of immigration in the Mainstream Media. They just simply do not want to discuss it. That's why we have our website VDARE.com, and is why I wrote my book Alien Nation ten years ago.

How could I resist it? I'm like a moth to a flame, I guess.

Well, the question is, the topic for today is "Is Immigration a Problem: Are the Minutemen a Solution?" I don't want to keep you in suspense here as to what I think about that. I think

  • immigration is a problem; and

  • the Minutemen are a part of the solution, they're a significant part of the solution.

It's important to recognize that immigration's a new problem. From the 1920s when the last Great Wave of immigration was cut off through legislation, through the 1960s—more than forty years—there was no significant immigration to this country at all. In fact, in the 1930s, there was out-migration. There are many such pauses that go right back through American history, right back to the Colonial period. For example, in the area of New England that I come from now, after the "Great Migration" of the 1620s, there was no significant immigration until the Irish started arriving in the 1840s. For over 200 years, it was a totally stable society. There is a wave of Irish—and then they stopped coming in such large numbers. And these pauses have been essential to the process of assimilation. This is a pattern that you always see—until now.

It's often said that this is a "nation of immigrants". Well, of course, all nations are nation of immigrants. There's no known case where people grew out of the ground. But, really what drove American population growth was natural increase. Immigration is only a fairly episodic occurrence in American history. It's not the constant that popular understanding is given to understand.

Now what triggered this next Great Wave of immigration in the 1960s was the 1965 Immigration Act. It was pushed through by Senator Kennedy, who is still with us, and in fact pushing another immigration bill right now. I'm pleased to see that the Miller Center is doing one of its oral history projects on him. I hope you ask him about it. In fact, I can supply the questions! [laughter]

Here is what he said in 1965 when he was on the on the Senate floor with the Immigration bill. He said the bill was being misrepresented. He said:

"First, American cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same. [It was then less than 200,000 a year]. Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset. Contrary to the charges in some quarters, the bill will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or the most populated and deprived nations of Africa and Asia."

He went on, "In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think."

Now, every one of those points has proved false. There are a million immigrants coming in. The flow of legal immigrants has been captured, because of the paradoxical workings of the act, by a relatively small number of Third World countries. And so on, and so forth.

When I wrote Alien Nation, we tried to ask Kennedy what did he think about this assertion, did he feel he could stand by the claims that he made then. Was he upset that they'd been falsified? It took a very long time before we got an answer. We eventually got a note from him that said, "Many things have changed since then." So I recommend that question to you, George.

So this is something that is of particular importance right now. Because Senator Kennedy has this new bill up, which will substantially increase immigration from its current level.

Well, why is immigration a problem? There are four reasons.

  • The first reason: the sheer size of the influx. In fact about a million immigrants a year are coming in, just short of a million in the last year. And there's also about three hundred to five hundred thousand illegal immigrants net a year.

The stock of illegal immigrants in the country increases by about three to five hundred thousand a year. And that's because the enforcement of the southern borders simply collapsed in the 1970s at the same time that the legal immigration floodgates were opened.

Now, there was a very similar illegal immigration crisis by the way in the early 1950—something which seems to have totally vanished from popular memory. But the Eisenhower Administration ended it in four or five months with Operation Wetback. It was called Operation Wetback. They deported over a million people. And that ended illegal immigration for the next 20 years. So it can be done. It's just that the current political class doesn't want to do it.

Now, the sheer size of this immigrant inflow has a number of implications. One of them is that the population is going to be much higher than it would otherwise be. Americans of all races have gotten their family sizes down to replacement level. Population would stabilize around about 300 million, absent immigration. But with immigration it is going to go up, the Census Bureau says, to 400, maybe 500 million by 2050.

What that means is there aren't going to be any horse farms around here in Charlottesville. What's happened in northern Virginia is coming to get you! It's going to consume all this area, it will be strip malls and—

Actually it's very distressing. I think the Virginia countryside is one of the great artifacts of the world. To see what's happened in northern Virginia since I lived in Washington in 1980 is deeply depressing. But it's going to be more depressing. It's going to come here.

I often wonder where the environmentalists are in all of this. Why don't the "Seven Sisters", the big environmental groups, speak up against this? I mean, the major factor in environmental degradation is population growth. And that's driven by immigration.

But in fact the environmentalist groups will not speak out on this question. The reason is, I'm afraid, that they're basically run by refugee liberal democrats who are hoping to get back into the next Clinton administration. And they don't want to disturb their liberal coalition.

The other aspect of this rapid population growth is that it's very rapidly shifting the racial balance in the country—contrary to Kennedy's assertion. In effect, the 1965 Act choked off immigration from the traditional sources of immigration to the U.S., namely Europe, and it allowed a small number of third world countries to capture the inflow, as I said. And, above all, Mexico. The Mexican government, the Mexican ruling class, appears to have simply made the decision to export its poor to the U.S.

About one in five Mexicans in the world, now lives in the U.S. We sometimes call this the " Mexodus," it's one of the great population movements in history. And because of this, and the other movements going on, the whites in the U.S. are going to go to minority. They were 90% of the country in 1960. After 2050, they'll be below 50%.

At the time of the 1953 riots in East Germany, which the Communist government put down brutally, the poet Bertolt Brecht wrote a poem, in which he suggested it would be appropriate if the government "dissolved the people and elected a new one". That's essentially what's happening here. The government is dissolving the people and electing a new one. It's all happening through public policy.

Now, Americans get very antsy if you raise the question of race with them. They just can't handle it. As an immigrant, I'm insensitive to this. They will often say, "Well so what if whites do go into minority in the U.S?"

My answer to that—and it's a big topic, I'm going to give a short answer to it here—if you have a situation where you bring in a very large number of Mexicans, for example, there is a chance that the U.S. may actually become Mexico. Immigrants don't go through some magic transformation when they cross the border.

So that's an interesting question to me: is this going to be America, or is it going to be Mexico? It is going to be really determined by the makeup of the population.

  • The second reason immigration is a problem: current policy is perversely impacting immigrant skill levels. It's had the effect of skewing skill levels downward, because of a paradoxical selection process.

It's not that employers go out into the world and try to find immigrants who have skills. In fact, there's virtually no consideration of skills in the immigration selection process. What matters is so-called "family reunification"—which is very broadly interpreted. Families that aren't united—because they never existed—can come in. If an immigrant goes back and marries a spouse in the old country, that's the highest priority, a spouse.

What that means is that even legal immigration is out of control. Americans have no control over who come into their country. They can delay it, but they can't actually deny entrance to large numbers of foreigner. Not just illegal immigration, but legal immigration, is out of control.

What this means is that, for the first time in American history, the skill levels of immigrants are, on average, lower than the natives. It is, as George said, it is a bipolar distribution. There are skilled immigrants (although it's not true any more immigrants have degrees than the native-born. That was so in the 1970s, but the phenomenon has evaporated in recent years.) But it is true that many more immigrants aren't educated at all. On average, their education levels are significantly lower than the native-born.

And they're not doing well in the work force. They are heavily dependent on welfare, and are, in fact, quite clearly responsible for the formation of a new underclass in the U.S. That's what's happening; the U.S. is basically importing a new underclass through public policy.

So that's the second reason why immigration is a problem, because of this perverse skewing of skill levels.

I don't mean, when I say the welfare state, just welfare. The term "welfare state" means transfer payments of all kinds.

Education, for example, is a major form of transfer payment. It amounts to something like 7 or 8 thousand dollars per year for every kid in the K-12 system—a subsidy from the taxpayer to an immigrant child.

In fact, there are transfers that don't even go through the government's books. As you all know, right now, there is a major healthcare crisis in this country. Insurance premiums are rising. Those insurance premiums are rising in significant measure because hospitals are required by federal law to treat indigent patients, who are, to a large degree, immigrants and illegal immigrants. And the hospitals have got to find the money from somewhere, so they turn around and stick it to the people who do pay health insurance, namely you. It's basically a mandated transfer from the middle classes to immigrants.

I'm not saying this is wrong per se, but it's completely different from the way that immigration used to work in this country. We've had mass immigration before in the U.S. And we've had the welfare state, from the 1930s onward. But we've never seen both together.

And it's totally altered the incentive structure that the immigrants face.  In the last Great Wave of immigration, between 1880 and 1920, significant numbers of immigrants—it's usually thought to be about 40%—ultimately ended up going back to the country from which they came. With some immigrant groups, it was even higher than that. The Italians for example, went back something like 70-80%.

Now that's all gone. Net immigration now is more than 90% of gross immigration. And you can see the reason. In the old days, if somebody failed in the work force, they would go home to the family farm or something. But now, there's every reason to stay here. For one thing, their kids are being educated for free. For another, they can go to the hospital emergency rooms. There are a million reasons why they should stay and not go home. And they are staying. It's completely altered the incentive structure for immigration.

And that's why the economist Milton Friedman, unquestionably one of the greatest economists of the twentieth century, said recently, and I'm going to quote him "It's just obvious that you can't have free immigration and a welfare state". He said that in 1997. The realization has not yet penetrated the political class. But he's right, it can't be done. You can't have the welfare state and mass immigration.

  • The fourth reason immigration is a problem now: its macroeconomic impact and its redistribution effect.

I'm sorry to break into financial journalist jargon there! I'll try and translate.

It's the consensus among labor economists—the consensus—that this immigrant inflow, this foreign-born presence in the American population, is, in aggregate, of no benefit to the native-born.

It's the consensus. It's been the consensus for more than ten years. It was the consensus when I researched my book Alien Nation and it was confirmed by the National Research Council report, The New Americans, that came out in 1997. In aggregate, this inflow doesn't benefit the native born. They would be just as well-off without it.

Immigration does increase the economy's size—Gross Domestic Product. But the bulk of that is captured by the immigrants themselves, in the form of their wages. So there's substantially no benefit to the native born.

But there is a tremendous impact within the native-born community because of immigration. It causes tremendous redistribution of income, essentially from labor to capital. George Borjas, who is the preeminent economist in the field, and also an immigrant from Cuba, estimates some 2% of GDP is being transferred from labor to capital—to the owners of capital from the worker—from the poor to the rich—because of this policy. It's an ugly policy. It's having a serious effect.

If you chart, as I occasionally do, the real incomes of blue-collar workers, they've basically stagnated since 1970. And immigration is a major reason for that. And this is particularly true for minorities, by the way. The displacement of African-Americans is simply extraordinary. Just recently in VDARE.COM we ran an article, we looked at African-American unemployment, it has actually risen through this recovery. And the reason for that is that there is an enormous shift within the work force towards Hispanics.

Hispanics are getting 30-40% of all the new jobs created, although they're only about 10% of the workforce right now. They're doing it because they're working for less money, of course. This is having a tremendous impact on the American blue collar workers.

You know, when I was a kid, in England, I went to a very left-wing university, and I spent a great deal of time arguing with the Left, about the Vietnam War and so on. It's a major reason why I chose to come to the U.S.—because I was opposed to all that stuff. But I have to admit that immigration policy is susceptible to a very simple Marxist analysis. It is a class policy. It benefits the upper classes. It disadvantages the lower classes.

What's going to happen if it continues is that the U.S. is not going to be a "Republic" in any sense that Jefferson would recognize. It's going to become Brazil, or Mexico. There are going to be gated communities of very wealthy people, and a lot of peons who are going to live in the barrios.

So these are the four reasons why I think immigration is a problem. The numbers are too large, one. Two, the skill levels are too low. Three, the interaction with the welfare state is disastrous. And, four, there is no macroeconomic benefit and there is a serious redistribution effect which we ought to be worrying about.

I turn now to the Minutemen. I assume you all know that what's happened here. A grassroots group got together and put a lot of volunteers on the border. And they did it with a great display of organization. And it was a great success. I mean, they did cut down the numbers of illegal immigrants very dramatically, despite the Bush Administration's attempt to finagle the numbers by telling the Border Patrol not to pick people up afterwards and things like that.

So I regard the Minutemen as part of the solution. They show that enforcement works.

There are 50,000 miles of interstates in this country, 3,000 miles of southern border. It's madness to suppose that Americans couldn't seal the southern border if they put their mind to it. There were less than 10,000 people in the border patrol at any one point on the border. There are 135,000 men in Iraq. The disproportionality is extraordinary. If the American government wants to seal the border, it can do it.

The other reason I think the Minutemen are part of the solution is that it is a popular and grassroots movement. It shows, basically, that there is great discontent out there and that it cannot be contained by the current political system.

I was fascinated to read, talking of interviews that you do, I guess you've interviewed Lyn Nofziger from the Reagan administration. [VDARE.COM note: they have— PDF] Well, Nofziger was one of the Reaganauts from the California governorship days onwards. He most recently wrote in his blog—I mean, he's a real Republican—but he wrote in his blog, to my great amazement, that he now thought that immigration was an issue, like slavery, that couldn't be contained in the party system. That it would ultimately break the party system.

Every once in a while in the U.S., the party system is broken up and a new party comes around. Nofziger thinks that's what's going to happen now.

Well, not all problems have solution. But the immigration problem does have a solution. And it's a simple one.

There should be a moratorium on immigration—that is to say, no net immigration. About two hundred thousand, three hundred thousand people, leave the U.S. every year anyway, so that would mean gross immigration would be about two-three hundred thousand. That would take care of hardship cases and any really needed skills, and so on. Ironically, this is very close to what Kennedy said would be the case when he put through the 1965 Act.

The second part of the solution is that the American people should be asked—they should be asked what they want. Do they want 500 million people living here in 2050?

Because up to now, they've not been asked.

This is all nearer than you may think. You know, the last time there was a Great Wave of immigration like this, it really took thirty years of argument to resolve the question. The Immigration Restriction League was founded in 1894, and the restrictions came in 1924. The best known immigration reform organization right now, FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, was founded in 1980. So, I expect that we'll have this problem pretty well solved by about 2010.

It just takes longer that you think to solve these problems, but it does happen.

And actually, we were very close to a major solution in the 1990s when my book was published. At that time, the Jordan Commission, which was headed by a black congresswoman by the name of Barbara Jordan, had made a series of recommendations which would have radically reduced immigration. And President Clinton endorsed it. The Clintons have always been very sensitive to immigration. It took a great deal of lobbying and lying by special interest groups, ethnic groups and so on, to stop that bill—the Smith-Simpson bill, which embodied the Jordan commission's recommendations.

We were very close to getting significant reforms then. And I believe it will quickly mushroom now, given a couple of good elections.

I guess I will finish on a personal note—another point I make when I'm accused of being an immigrant who isn't toeing the party line on immigration.

I have children here. My little girl was born the year my book came out, in 1995. She just turned ten. She will be, just let me think, 50? No, 55, in 2050…I never was good at math…55 in 2050, when this transformation of the U.S. reaches the critical point, when the traditional American nation goes into the minority.

I no longer view 55 as being very old. I won't be here in 2050, and I'm afraid some of you won't be here either… (Some of you will!)

But, she will be here. Our children will be here. And that's why we have to solve this problem. And that's why we have to win this war.

Thank you.

Peter Brimelow is editor of VDARE.COM and author of the much-denounced Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster (Random House - 1995) and The Worm in the Apple (HarperCollins - 2003)