The United States is consumed by an immigration debate shaped in large part by fears that don’t match the facts.
There are legitimate questions about immigration: whether policy should favor skilled or unskilled migrants, how “global” do we really want our policy to be, what do we do about the related problems of border control and illegals, what rate of immigration best serves the various interests of current American citizens and their employers.
But behind the debate is a fear of an unstoppable tsunami of Mexican immigrants, legal and illegal, coming in such numbers that instead of Americanizing the immigrants, the immigrants will Mexicanize America. These fears are expressed by distinguished Harvard professors (like the recently deceased Samuel Huntington), by loudmouthed racists in the local bar and by many in between.
Via Meadia doesn’t share them. That doesn’t mean we favor lowering the barriers and letting everyone it, but it does mean we don’t think the United States of America is about to go down before wave after human wave of Mexican immigrants storming north across the Rio Grande.
Why do we think this? First, American culture is far more dynamic than many of the nattering nabobs of negativism think. 125 years ago the country was ridden by fears that new waves of Catholic, Orthodox and Jewish immigrants from eastern and southern Europe, so different from the sturdy northern Protestants of old, would destroy the individualist and “Angl0-Saxon” culture of the United States.
It didn’t happen then, and I don’t see it happening now. If anything the contemporary immigrants are more open to American individualism than their predecessors; large percentages of the new immigrants are converting to Protestantism, for example — something that the Italians and Jews never quite did.
Second, Mexico isn’t the all devouring demographic superpower that the fear-mongerers say it is. Mexican fertility rates are following a worldwide pattern have fallen dramatically as the country gets ahead. There were 7.3 children per woman in 1960; today Mexico’s fertility rate (2.3) is only a whisker above the US level (2.1). It will not be long before the number of people turning 18 each year in Mexico begins to fall: far from inexorably rising forever the pool of potential immigrants from Mexico is stagnating and will soon begin to shrink. The eagle is not going to swallow the ox; the United States will not be submerged by waves of fast-breeding Mexicans.
Third, while most of the press coverage about Mexico focuses on the bad news (and there is plenty of it), we too often ignore the reality there: Mexico is turning into a middle class society. An article in today’s Washington Post makes the point pretty well; two thirds of Mexicans now consider themselves middle class and a growing proportion of them live middle class lifestyles — car payments, mortgages, saving to put the kids through college.
These people aren’t biding their time before crossing the Rio Grande; they shop in Costcos, they have pick up trucks, and though they are sending their kids to English language private academies its to succeed in business, not to fool the immigration agents at the border.
Mexico is no utopia and many young people there continue to look north for a better life; the US needs an immigration policy more complex than a simple “Welcome” doormat on the border. But we don’t have and aren’t likely to get the apocalyptic Mexican immigration crisis so many people fear; we need an immigration policy that deals with actual rather than imaginary problems. That isn’t where our current debate is headed; Via Meadia regrets this and hopes we see change.