NumbersUSA Offers a Direct Approach to the Immigration Debate

NumbersUSA has a simple and very appealing take on the immigration debate.  As the name would suggest, it is to focus on the numbers.  For founder Roy Beck there is a suitable level of immigration.  It is lower than what we take in currently, but it is not zero.  Immigrants can be an asset to the United States, as long as we don’t take in more than our economy can handle.

That’s an idea that Americans should be able to come together around, negotiate, and act on.

Beck, a US Army veteran and journalist with reporting experience in the Midwest and Texas, bases his approach to immigration on two federal government papers.  The first is a bipartisan report headed up by Civil Rights leader Barbara Jordan.  The other is the product of the Clinton White House.  Both recommended that the United States allow around half a million immigrants per year, about half of current legal immigration numbers.

This openness to bipartisanship and focus on the bottom line makes NumbersUSA stand out in the immigration debate.  Unlike some other groups, NumbersUSA is open to immigrants from anywhere in the world. 

NumbersUSA is not particularly concerned with the race, religion, or culture of immigrants.  In their view, immigrants will be assimilated in time as long as their numbers are not overwhelming.  True to its name, NumbersUSA focuses on the bottom line — the number of immigrants allowed into the United States.  Keep that number at a reasonable level, and they should be able to find jobs, homes, and schools.

But being realistic about immigration numbers means understanding what America can and cannot accomplish with immigration.  Beck’s well-known “jelly bean” demonstration is one example.  To illustrate the futility of using immigration as a humanitarian tool, Beck picks out a handful of jelly beans, two or three at a time, to represent the immigrants — legal and illegal — that the United States lets in during a typical year. 

Meanwhile, large bottles of jelly beans stand nearby, representing the number of people in poverty worldwide.  The point: using immigration to alleviate global poverty is futile.  The vast majority of the world’s poor people have no chance of taking advantage of even the most generous immigration plan.

If poverty is your concern, we would be far better off providing technical assistance and financial aid to improve living conditions globally.  That’s the realistic way to go once you understand the numbers.

If anything, NumbersUSA founder Roy Beck is sympathetic toward minorities, especially African Americans.  As he explains in his book “Back of the Hiring Line,” excessive immigration has made it more difficult for Black Americans to find work and escape poverty.  Looking over the history of immigration since the end of the Civil War, Beck finds that Black Americans have made their biggest strides while immigration was low, while they languished whenever immigration was high.

NumbersUSA warns that excessively high immigration ripples throughout the economy.  It depresses wages, especially in low-wage jobs in restaurants, construction, and meat-packing.  It drives up the cost of housing.  It also contributes to urban sprawl and even environmental damage.

Excessive immigration increases poverty in the United States and aggravates racial and social division.  Immigrants themselves can become the victims as opportunities are squeezed, prices are inflated, and living standards are dragged down.

All these factors need to be taken into account when the United States makes immigration policy.  The point is to work out an immigration level that works well for everyone, native-born Americans and immigrants alike.  But Beck and NumbersUSA avoid criticizing legal immigrants: “If the total number of legal immigrants has not been helpful to this country, the individual immigrants bear zero blame.” says Beck.

NumbersUSA doesn’t offer a single easy answer to the problems created by illegal immigration, but they do suggest several actions policymakers can take.  Physical barriers — the wall — have a role to play.  But they also advocate mandatory use of E-Verify by employers to confirm the legal status of employees.

They oppose any federal amnesty or broad attempts to “legalize” illegal immigration as well as state and local initiatives, like “sanctuary cities” that serve to encourage illegal immigration. 

NumbersUSA calls for a stronger enforcement arm to deal with foreigners who violate the terms of non-immigrant visas, especially those who fail to return on time.  They also recommend limiting birthright citizenship to the children of legal residents, doing away with the visa “lottery,” tightening standards for asylum, and other steps to limit immigration to reasonable levels.

For Beck and NumbersUSA it’s not about the immigrants themselves.  Even illegal immigrants deserve humane treatment because they are simply responding to the incentives created by lax enforcement.  It’s not about culture.  American society has tremendous appeal, and practically all immigrants will learn to live in peace with those around them.

To Roy Beck and NumbersUSA it boils down to the number of immigrants we allow in.  Keep those numbers at a level that America’s economy and infrastructure can handle and the rest should work itself out.  It’s not exactly a simple solution, but it’s no more complicated than it needs to be: settle on a reasonable number and make it stick.  That’s a plan that Americans should be able to agree on.

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