By Peter Brimelow Random House, New York, 1995 (327 pages; US$24.00/CAN$33.50)

Peter Brimelow is a senior editor of Forbes and National Review. He has also worked for Fortune and Barron's, and his writings have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Harpers, The New York Times, the London Times, and elsewhere. His National Review cover story on immigration (6/22/92) is widely credited with reopening the immigration debate on the right. Now he has expanded that article into a powerful new book, Alien Nation, which should be read by every American who cares, even a little, about what may happen to America in the next fifty years.

If you are disturbed by the current uncontrolled flood of immigrants into the U.S., this book will give you an valuable toolkit of arguments you can use to make your case. If you are an immigration enthusiast, and accept the media orthodoxy that there is nothing unusual about the current level of immigration, and that nothing bad could possibly come of it, then this book will test your faith severely. And if, like so many Americans, you haven't even thought about the issue that much, then I think this book may scare you badly. And it should!

Ironically, Brimelow is himself an immigrant. Raised and educated in England, he clearly feels this "cultural diversity" has given him a useful distance and perspective on American society. And indeed, Brimelow writes like someone who was raised entirely unaware of American sore spots and taboos, and is thus able to talk directly about subjects that Americans generally feel they must dance around, and risk offending sensibilities that Americans generally dare not offend. This British style of argument is something I find most refreshing (and rather startling at times). Here is the opening paragraph from Alien Nation, where Brimelow establishes his main theme: that our current immigration policy was never actually thought out at all, by anyone, but is simply a well-intentioned, rather mindless, accident; an accident which may nevertheless have enormous unintended consequences.

There is a sense in which current immigration policy is Adolf Hitler's posthumous revenge on America. The U.S. political elite emerged from the war passionately concerned to cleanse itself from all taints of racism or xenophobia. Eventually, it enacted the epochal Immigration Act (technically, the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments) of 1965. And this, quite accidentally, triggered a renewed mass immigration, so huge and so systematically different from anything that had gone before as to transform -- and ultimately, perhaps, even to destroy -- the one unquestioned victor of World War II: the American nation, as it had evolved by the middle of the twentieth century.

The media tends to treat the recent changes in America's ethnic composition, the so-called "browning of America," as though it were some sort of natural and inevitable process, but in fact these changes are being directly and actively promoted by current government policy. It is almost as though it had been decided that it would be best if, as Bertolt Brecht put it, "...the Government/ Dissolved the people and/ Elected another." To believe this however would be to give the government credit for knowing what it was doing at the time it was doing it, and there is (to put it mildly) little evidence of this.

Still, given that the 1965 Immigration Act figures so prominently in this process, it is rather unnerving to learn that the bill's floor manager in the Senate was our old friend and long time benefactor, Senator Edward Kennedy, who at the time was chairman of the Immigration Subcommittee. Indeed, one of Alien Nation's most astonishing visions is that of Ted Kennedy swearing up and down on the Senate floor that the new bill would not result a million Third World immigrants flooding into our cities every year, and that the "ethnic mix" of this country would not be upset. Gee thanks, Ted! It's good to know you felt this was important!

Needless to say, every one of Senator Kennedy's assurances has proven false. But these assurances were, nevertheless, necessary, because it is clear that the Congress we had in 1965 would never in a million years have passed such a bill if they had understood what it's consequences would be. Nor have the American people ever wanted such consequences. Unfortunately, the American people were never asked. Peter Brimelow believes they should be asked, before the process goes any farther.

It would be difficult for me to do justice to all of Brimelow's arguments here, so I will just hop around to those I find most interesting. Be assured that the book is very thorough, and that even if I don't touch on your favorite argument (or sentimental cliche, as the case may be) Brimelow almost certainly does.

First of all there are the myths. There is the myth that current immigration is not really all that high in historical terms. In fact, as Brimelow demonstrates, it is higher than it has ever been, both in absolute numbers and in impact on the population. In the past there were not only immigration peaks but long lulls, when immigrants could be assimilated, and immigration tended to vary according to the needs of the U.S. economy. Now, due perhaps to the "welfare safety net" and our policy of "family reunification," and most certainly to our moral cowardice in declining to control our borders, the numbers remain unrelievedly high, in good times and in bad, and the percentage of immigrants who eventually return home is much lower than it used to be. Immigrants are projected to account for two thirds of our population growth throughout the nineties, and all of it thereafter. According to U.S. Census projections, by the year 2050 one third of the U.S. population of 400 million will be due to post 1965 immigration. At this point American whites will be on the verge of becoming a minority, and will already be a minority among the young. And of course, in another 50 years or so whites may well be a small minority, merely a beleaguered elite struggling to maintain their position in what is essentially just another crowded, miserable Third World country.

(Note that 400 million is only a "most likely" projection; the worst case for 2050 is 500 million. The Census has a long history of underestimating U.S. population growth, and immigration powered population growth is not expected to suddenly stop in 2050 in any case, so such numbers are merely a matter of time. Imagine what half a billion or more Americans would do to the environment. Without post-1965 immigration by 2050 the U.S. population would be expected to stabilize at around 250 million. The pre-1965 population is already close to achieving zero population growth, but this is being wasted, and we are facing a future that will be terribly crowded, not with our own children, but with the children of others).

The next myth is that immigrants are somehow necessary economically. (In other words, that Americans are somehow inadequate, and unable to get by on their own without constant infusions of new blood). But Brimelow demonstrates that immigration is really a luxury, not a necessity, and like any luxury it can be good or bad depending on the circumstances. When you stuff more people into an economy that economy pretty much has to grow in absolute terms, but most of that growth is soaked up by the immigrants themselves, and even under the best of circumstances the per capita economic benefits of immigration for natives can be shown to be quite meager. However to the extent that such benefits do exist they tend to work in such a way as to transfer wealth from native American workers (whose wages are marginally depressed) to the owners of capital (who benefit from a lower cost of labor), which could conceivably explain some of the pro-immigration sentiment you find among our economic elites.

(Incidentally, the book includes an amusing dissection of one such elite individual, the noted self-help author, economist and immigration enthusiast Julian Simon. Brimelow gets a little bit mean here, in a very British sort of way, and the result is quite hilarious. But such discussions are really not out of place, as another of Brimelow's many topics is the intense and unacknowledged emotionalism of many of the immigration enthusiasts, who seem to view immigration to the U.S. as a sort of universal "civil right," and who are often startling open in their contempt for pre-1965 America.)

A third myth is that of the industrious, energetic, entrepreneurial immigrant. This picture seems to have been true of the pre-1965 immigrant, and remains true of some immigrant groups today, who do indeed "revitalize" whole neighborhoods (which actually says something pretty awful about the previous inhabitants of those neighborhoods!). But the rosy picture so often painted was based on statistics decades old -- and newer figures are much more discouraging. Taken as a whole, post-1965 immigrants are much less successful than their predecessors, in ways that are very easy to measure.

For example, pre-1965 immigrants tended to earn slightly more than natives, but by 1990 immigrants on the average earned 16 percent less than natives, and immigrants who had arrived within the last five years earned 32 percent less! This is really not surprising, as the skills and education levels of recent immigrants are down dramatically from pre-1965 levels (another consequence of our family reunification policy). In addition, post-1965 immigrants, again unlike their predecessors, are significantly more likely to be on welfare than natives, dramatically so for some groups (such as Dominicans, 28 percent of whom are on welfare, far above the level of even native American blacks, which is 13.5 percent). Beyond that, welfare participation now seems to increase the longer immigrants stay in the country. In short, many of our recent immigrants do seem to be assimilating, but to the American welfare system rather than to the greater American culture!

To be blunt, there is simply no economic justification for our current immigration policy, and the cultural consequences are enormous, and often enormously bad.

Consider crime. Right now 25 percent of the prisoners in our federal penitentiaries are immigrants. Thirty five to forty percent of the heroin that comes into this country is smuggled in by Nigerians, and and U.S. law enforcement officials estimate that an incredible 75 percent of all Nigerians in this country are engaged in some sort of systematic fraud. The Russian "Organizatsiya" (drawn from the educated elite of a totally corrupt society) is unbelievably violent, and so well organized that it may be on its way to displacing the Italian Mafia as the world's largest crime syndicate. The list goes on and on, with different ethnic groups tending to specialize in different crimes.

Consider disease. Tuberculosis is on the rise again, mostly due to immigration. Exotic tropical diseases are starting to be reported in the U.S., again due to immigration. Public health officials estimate that 10,000 people would probably die within months if yellow fever, endemic in Africa and South America, were to reestablish itself in New Orleans. Again, the list goes on.

Consider the consequence for partisan politics. Despite the hopes of "bleeding heart conservatives," immigration seems to be inexorably reinforcing the "Rainbow Coalition" envisioned by Jesse Jackson. This is perhaps the main reason that so many on the Multiculturalist Left react to calls for immigration reform with outraged accusations of racism, nativism, and xenophobia. They see immigrants as reinforcements in their great culture war against traditional American society, and in this, for once, they are probably right.

Consider the consequences for American Blacks. It can be seriously argued (and was certainly believed by blacks at the time) that previous waves of immigration from Europe had the effect of squeezing blacks out of skilled trades. History may be repeating itself now. Consider the consequences for population and the environment. I've already talked about this, but consider it again. The Third World population explosion is REALLY HAPPENING, and for a long time to come there will be hundreds of millions, even billions, of desperately poor people all over the world who could improve their lives enormously just by setting foot on our shores. If we don't prevent it, they will come here, and the only thing that will stop them is when things get so bad that they would be no better off here than in their own countries. Try to imagine how bad that would have to be! (It is interesting, BTW, to notice how the Civil Rights and Environment lobbies have both tended to avoid addressing their constituent's concerns on the question of immigration).

And while you are considering all these issues, and the many more that Brimelow discusses in his book, please ask yourself this one important question. Why? Why are we doing this? No one can see the future, so I suppose it is possible that everything will somehow work out. America will become a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-lingual empire, held together by nothing more than the force of law and the raw authority of it's political elites, and everything will be just dandy.

It could happen I suppose, but if you look at the rest of the world the picture does not seem encouraging at all. It is clear that we are taking a terrible risk, and for what? The advantages to the immigrants are obvious, and I do not fault them for wanting to come here, but the people who are here already have little to gain and much to lose. You may think the worst case scenarios are unlikely. Well, if you play one game of Russian roulette it is "unlikely" that you will lose. The odds are five to one in your favor. If you think that makes it a good idea then I definitely do not want you in charge of our public policy!!! Think about it. Then think about it again.

In the end, there is simply no rational justification for this. For no good reason at all, we are passively allowing ourselves to become, in the angry words of former senator Eugene McCarthy (of all people!), a "Colony of the World," and perhaps it is time for the American people to finally ask ourselves whether this is what we want. Personally I just don't think it is, and I am glad Peter Brimelow has the courage to argue for us that "America is more than just an idea, it is a nation."

So what is to be done? Brimelow has a number of suggestions, all of which are practical, have worked in the past for us and other countries, and require nothing more than political will to implement.

To begin with, we must beef up the Border Patrol, and take back control of our borders. Immigration enthusiasts gloatingly assert that this is impossible, but in fact when the problem is taken seriously even modest efforts, such as the 1993 "Operation Blockade," organized by El Paso Border Patrol sector chief Silvestre Reyes (who is Hispanic himself), have proven strikingly successful.

Next, we should beef up our internal security. There should be a repeat of the 1954 Operation Wetback, which would be an attempt to round up and deport the millions of illegals already here. Jack Miles, whose generally favorable review of Alien Nation appears in the April issue of The Atlantic Monthly, feels that this is impractical, and that given the heavily armed 40 percent Hispanic minority in cities like Los Angeles this would be a virtual declaration of civil war. (It says a lot about our situation that such possibilities must be considered.) Nevertheless, Miles says he agrees strongly with Brimelow that "American immigration law needs to be reformed severely and quickly," and that Brimelow "makes a powerful -- indeed, nearly overwhelming -- case against the status quo." But even more important than controlling illegal immigration is cutting back, or perhaps even temporarily stopping, legal immigration. The 1965 Immigration act must be repealed, and any new law should favor skilled immigrants over family reunification. The costs of immigration must be made to fall on the immigrants themselves, or their sponsors. We should consider restricting immigration from the many countries which do not allow reciprocal emigration from the U.S. No payments of any sort should be made to illegal immigrants, and no immigrant should ever be considered a member of a "protected class" for affirmative action purposes. Congress should be given the flexibility to adjust immigration on a yearly basis, according the the needs of the country. English language competency should be made a requirement for immigrants, and the Constitution should be amended so that the children of illegal immigrants born on American soil do not automatically become American citizens. Few other countries grant citizenship this way, and this would eliminate the phenomenon of Mexican women dashing over the border to give birth in U.S. hospitals. (Right now, two thirds of all births in Los Angeles Country hospitals are to illegal-immigrant mothers, and a recent survey of new Hispanic mothers in California border hospitals found that 15 percent had crossed the border specifically to give birth).

All of these reforms make sense. And all will be resisted bitterly, even hysterically, by pro-immigration forces. But Brimelow believes that some sort of immigration restriction is inevitable in America, no matter how our political elites resist, and that the real struggle will be over what form these restrictions will take. If you want to be involved, and to understand the issues, you will simply have to read Alien Nation. And then you can start to think about what sort of immigration policy you want.

Tom Lathrop




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