2003

ARE WE LETTING IN TOO MANY IMMIGRANTS?
By BONNIE ERBE and JOSETTE SHINER

From Empower America

QUESTION: As this country approaches the millennium, the Census Bureau reports we are as much a nation of immigrants as we have ever been - nearly one in 10 Americans is foreign-born. That's a higher proportion of immigrants than we've had in 150 years. Is this good immigration policy?

BONNIE ERBE: As a granddaughter of immigrants, I heartily endorse the old saw, "Immigrants make the best Americans."  For the most part, immigrants work harder, take the most distasteful jobs and are more appreciative of American citizenship than those of us born to this marvelous privilege. But just as you can be too thin or too rich, too much immigration is not a good thing. A good thing goes wrong when we start ruining the quality of life new immigrants are coming here to enjoy.

I believe we have arrived at that point. My concern is preserving the quality of the American environment for those immigrants, their children and so on who are already here. By overcrowding, over-developing and over-polluting this country, we are slowly turning America into another Bangladesh. Of course we maintain a huge economic advantage - and that, let's be honest - is why most immigrants are willing to uproot themselves from family and friends to start a new life here. And American employers love the cheap labor a steady source of immigrants allows them to enjoy (some might say, exploit). But the average American faces stiffer competition for fair wages, higher housing prices, overcrowded schools and endless suburbs and cities as a result.

It is no coincidence that as the United Nations reports the world population will hit the 6 billion mark next month, the United States is under increasing pressure to absorb huge immigrant populations. Instead of allowing so many new residents into this country, we should be helping other countries bolster their own economies. We must also help them control their own population growth rates; something India, Peru and other such countries are anxious to do. Hispanics and Asians make up the largest proportion of new immigrants most coming here to escape poverty and take part in our economic explosion. But while they as individuals benefit, we as a nation suffer the consequences, an effect we must work to reverse.

JOSETTE SHINER:

Far from being a drain on American resources or clutter on our vast landscape, immigrants have traditionally been and continue to be a fountainhead of talent, productivity, and strong families. My colleague claims immigration exacerbates "urban sprawl," but less than 3 percent of the land in America is urbanized, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Immigrant workers were the backbone of the agricultural and industrial revolutions, and more recently, America's technology and Internet revolutions.

Consider some of the technological and economic leaps - the Manhattan Project, the microprocessor, and numerous advances in software, satellites and cell phones - made possible by foreign-born innovators just this century. These innovators are the "geniuses from abroad," as George Gilder says, many of whom "are literally thousands of times more productive than the rest of us. We all depend on them for our livelihoods and opportunities." 

The American high-tech industry has been responsible for between 25 and 33 percent of U.S. GDP growth over the last five years. In fact, Empower America's chairman, Floyd Kvamme, writes, "The realm of technological and enterprise possibilities is expanding at such an astounding rate that America has more ideas than it has workers to implement them." Current federal law mistakenly limits the number of foreign-born engineers and computer specialists who can work here, leaving nearly 350,000 skilled information technology (IT) positions unfilled. The Immigration and Naturalization Service has proved an arrogant and inept bottleneck on high-tech visas, unable to even account for visas issued. More than 70 percent of the companies surveyed by the Information Technology Association of America identify this labor gap as the prime obstacle to future competitiveness and growth.

Intel CEO Craig Barrett says, "We should consider stapling a Green Card to every high-tech Ph.D our universities grant." I agree. Fortunately, there are several sensible solutions being proposed on Capitol Hill. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, would increase the number of skilled-worker visas from 115,000 to 200,000 annually. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., has proposed legislation that is even better; she calls for an unlimited number of visas for technical graduates of American universities. But Congress must act soon.

 

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