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Letter to the Editor of the Washington Post, re: 571 Million Americans

Cite as "AILA InfoNet Doc. No. 00062359 (posted Jun. 23, 2000)"

June 23, 2000

Letters to the Editor
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20071

To The Editor:

It is heartening to see Alan Simpson and Richard Lamm acknowledge that immigration is good for America. But their recent article (“571 Million Americans,” June 20, 2000) is just a demographic spin on the anti-immigrant and anti-immigration arguments that Simpson, Lamm, and the Federation for American Immigration Reform have been espousing for decades.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan repeatedly has said that America needs immigrants to continue our economic boom. The reason is simple: demographics. As Simpson and Lamm tacitly admit, the U.S. birth rate is declining. Simultaneously, millions of workers born during the baby boom are retiring or getting ready to retire. As a result, leading economists have testified before Congress that the United States is in the midst of a severe worker shortage that likely will last for 20 years. Without immigration and immigrants, millions of jobs will go unfilled, thereby causing drastic economic harm to the booming U.S. economy.

Other figures bolster support for immigration and immigrants. Bureau of Labor Statistics and immigration data suggest that the states with the highest levels of immigration and new immigrants also are those with the lowest unemployment rates.

Chairman Greenspan also has noted that immigrants can be the key to saving both Social Security and Medicare. Within the next ten years, retirees will outnumber workers so that fewer workers will be contributing taxes to pay for benefits. Because of medical advances, people are living longer; because of inflation, medical benefit costs are rising. Without immigrants and the funds they contribute to both Social Security and Medicare, Congress inevitably will be faced with the choice of dramatically slashing these benefits, increasing the age at which people become eligible for those benefits, or hiking the payroll taxes.

While immigrants will constitute much of the growth in the U.S. population for the next 20 years, the Census Bureau reports that, even with that increase, the U.S. will have one-quarter the population density of Great Britain; hardly something for Americans to worry about. In addition, the level of immigration as a percentage of the total U.S. population is about one-third the level during the early 1900s. Furthermore, the immigration level now is lower than it was even two decades ago.

Interestingly, while discussing the impact of increased population on our educational system, Lamm and Simpson gloss over evidence that correlates the presence of immigrants with rising test scores. For example, while critics say that high levels of immigration over the past decade have damaged America’s educational standards, the 1990s also saw the highest-ever rise in scores on a leading college placement exam. That decade also saw dramatic increases in elementary and high school student achievement on national tests in math, science, and reading. Contrast that to the 1960s and 1970s, when immigration was lower and college entrance test scores fell by 2.3 points.

Finally, Lamm and Simpson blame immigrants and immigration for our nation’s environmental problems. This is hardly the case. Our environmental challenges are not caused by immigrants. The basic problem is our behavior. Who’s to blame for our dirty air - immigrants or Americans and our fabled love of the car? Who’s to blame for urban and suburban sprawl - immigrants or America’s culture of the shopping and strip mall?

To put the article into a proper perspective, your newspaper also might have noted that Lamm is on the board of directors of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a notorious anti-immigrant group. Simpson, a long-time member of the Federation, recently resigned from the Federation’s board after that organization’s executive director used outrageously derogatory language when referring to a sitting U.S. Senator. You also may have noted that the Federation has been denounced by virtually every newspaper in the state of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference for advertisements the Federation has been running in that state. In fact, one newspaper opined that because of the Federation’s sympathy for virulent causes, no one should take the organization seriously. Perhaps the same can be said for the Federation’s arguments espoused on your pages.


Margaret A. Catillaz

Ms. Catillaz, a partner in the Rochester, NY, law firm of Harter, Secrest & Emery, is President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.