Let's Face It: Many Americans Oppose All Immigration

In a recent commentary on this site, I addressed one of the great myths to which Americans cling in the immigration debate: that opposition to immigrants has nothing to do with racism. It’s time to address another: that it’s only illegal immigrants that Americans have problems with, and that legal immigrants are still welcome.

Baloney. If that were true, there wouldn’t be such a strong movement in this country to limit all immigration, both legal and illegal. There wouldn’t periodically be bills introduced in Congress to establish a moratorium on legal immigration or to deny legal immigrants access to social services.

And the landscape wouldn’t be so cluttered with anti-foreigner groups such as the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), and NumbersUSA -- all started by the eugenicist John Tanton and dedicated to not just eliminating illegal immigration but also limiting legal immigration to an absurdly low level. Roy Beck, the head of NumbersUSA, wants to see the United States return legal immigration levels to what they were 40 years ago. Mark Krikorian -- the executive director of CIS and author of The New Case Against Immigration, Both Legal and Illegal -- would admit about 150,000 legal immigrants a year and limit admission to the spouses and adopted children of U.S. citizens.

Many Americans oppose additional legal immigration for the same reason they oppose illegal immigration: not because of how immigrants get here, but the impact they have on their surroundings once they arrive. For many, the continued influx of foreigners -- legal and illegal -- is changing America’s cultural landscape in ways that are unsettling and frightening. Former Congressman Tom Tancredo, R-CO, figured this out and exploited that fear to raise money and win votes by railing against the tyranny of having to “Press 1 for English.” Meanwhile, people call into talk radio shows and complain about how Main Street is turning into Little Mexico right before their eyes and how they can’t get a job unless they speak Spanish.

There is also resistance to competition. And while many low-skilled illegal immigrants threaten U.S. workers by doing low-paying jobs that might otherwise go unfilled, many high-skilled legal immigrants threaten the native-born for the exact opposite reason -- because they take high-paying jobs that are in great demand. What are American workers to do? One thing that the U.S. government has done is cut the number of high-tech visas as a way of eliminating the competition for native-born workers. It has also put in place a series of bureaucratic hurdles that almost seem intended to discourage foreigners from settling in the United States.