Asking Jo Wideman: Does mass immigration help America's economy?

The executive director of Californians for Population Stabilization shares her views on how legal and illegal immigration impact America. Photo: AP

FLORIDA, April 11, 2013 — Economic growth is generally viewed in a positive light. Growth is progress. When economies and populations expand, it seems self evident that a corresponding increase in an area’s socioeconomic power is inevitable. While this view has some evidence behind it, but what happens when populations soar and the economy does not? 

What happens when there is rampant population growth accompanied by equally strong economic contractionWe start to look at population stabilization. That’s a touchy subject, and as with any hot-button topic it produces heated debate.

Jo Wideman is the executive director of Californians for Population Stabilization, one of America’s foremost groups addressing population-related issues. In this first part of our discussion, she explains why she believes that our country needs population stabilization, as well as what she thinks the most effective manner of handling illegal immigration is.

Wideman also tells us about her view on the idea that mass immigration will reinvigorate America’s economy, how immigration trends impact the environment and public education, and what role both legal and illegal immigration play in our national security.    


SEE RELATED: Illegal immigration: A rising and dangerous tide

Joseph F. Cotto: Population stabilization is a concept with which most of us are familiar. Why, in your opinion, does the United States need it at this time?

Jo Wideman: The United States needs to achieve population stabilization because even our existing population, to say nothing of a much larger population in the future (according to Census projections), is unsustainable under current resource consumption rates and technology.

Virtually every environmental problem stems from human activity. More people mean more environmental degradation. For some problems there may be a partial technological fix, but that can be overwhelmed by continued growth. If we reduce per capita air pollution by half, but double the population, we are back where we started. Many other problems are exacerbated by continued population growth. A growing population places more stress on infrastructure such as roads and bridges. Crowded schools impede learning.

Nearly 20 years ago, President Clinton’s Council on Sustainable Development concluded that “the two most important steps the United States must take toward sustainability are: 1) to stabilize the U.S. population promptly; and 2) to move toward greater material and energy efficiency in all production and use of goods and services.” With a U.S. population nearly 50 million larger than when this conclusion was reached and with continued rapid growth of 2 ½ million people per year, this conclusion is, if anything, even more pertinent today.

SEE RELATED: The case for real immigration reform

By any number of measures, the United States is already in what scientists call “ecological overshoot,” that is, we are living beyond our environmental means. In other words, Americans have exceeded the carrying capacity of our environment.

Carrying capacity refers to the number of people ― at a given standard of living and quality of life ― that can be supported in perpetuity by an environment or land area and its resources, without degrading that environment or depleting its renewable and non-renewable natural resources. 

Cotto: Illegal immigration is a political lightning rod. What would you say is the most effective manner of handling it?

Wideman: We must enforce our immigration laws at all points of entry ― borders, coastlines and airports) ― and at the workplace with an effective way to track foreign visitors who overstay their visas. The latter is particularly important. If we dry up the jobs that attract illegal immigrants, we will have solved much of the problem. The first rule of fixing a problem is to not make it worse. An amnesty would provide an incentive for more illegal immigration, and, thus, make the problem worse.  

Cotto: Some believe that America needs mass immigration now more than ever. They say that such a thing will reinvigorate the economy. Do you have an opinion on this view?

Wideman: The miracle economies of the past half century — Japan, then the Four Tigers, then China, then BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) — have been achieved without significant immigration, probably net emigration in some cases. Today, Germany has a robust economy while Spain has a moribund economy with massive unemployment. Neither has significant immigration, so the economic differences lie elsewhere. 

The impact of immigration on the economy is complicated, but it is clear that immigration is not needed to drive economic growth. As the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council found after an exhaustive analysis, “Overall, in the massive and complex U.S. economy, immigration is unlikely to have a very large effect on relative earnings or on gross domestic product per capita.” As a matter of fact, implementing an amnesty is predicted to cost trillions of dollars. 
Cotto: How do our current immigration trends impact the environment and public education?

Wideman: As David Brower, the first executive director of the Sierra Club, said, “Overpopulation is perhaps the biggest problem facing us, and immigration is part of that problem. It has to be addressed.” In the U.S., immigration is the primary driver of population growth. The Pew Research Center reported in 2008 that 82 percent of the projected increase in the U.S. population between 2005 and 2050 will be due to immigrants (47 percent) and their U.S. born descendants (35 percent).

In a technology-driven world, the global winners will be those with well-educated workforces, not those with the most bodies. Large-scale immigration has impeded education by contributing to crowded classrooms and by swamping schools with students who speak little or no English, creating a difficult learning environment. Also the sheer volume of immigration, often from non-English speaking societies (meaning that scarce staffing and budgetary resources have to be redirected toward ESL), has placed enormous stress on the physical and financial resources of affected school districts around the country. 

By forcing the U.S. population ever upward, current immigration trends are also aggravating a host of environmental problems, such as paving over productive farmland and arable soils; loss of wildlife habitat; loss of productive forestland; increased pressure on endangered species; added stress on water resources, both in terms of quality and quantity; increased air pollution; pressure on parks, both urban and rural (such as national and state parks); increased energy consumption and all that entails; increasing carbon dioxide (the most important greenhouse gas) emissions; traffic congestion, and so forth. 

Because mass immigration will directly and indirectly (through births to immigrants) account for something on the order of 75 percent or more of our projected population growth to 2050 and beyond, it has pronounced implications for the American environment. 

This is not, as our critics claim absurdly, “scapegoating immigrants.” It is forthrightly acknowledging demographic reality rather than sticking our heads in the sand. Immigrants are no different from native-born Americans in terms of their per capita environmental impacts. But because immigration is the driving force behind unsustainable U.S. population trends, to ignore it is to condemn our environment to ever-increasing population pressures. 

Cotto: What role does immigration, both legal and illegal, play in our national security? 

Wideman: While some terror incidents in the U.S. have resulted from the acts of “home-grown terrorists,” a large number have been effected or attempted by immigrants or others here with temporary legal authorization. Others have been perpetrated by the second-generation offspring of immigrants, some of whom visited the Middle East for terrorist training. We must do a better job of screening those we admit to this country.

Regarding illegal immigration, by definition, we do not know and have not screened those who enter without permission. While the overwhelming majority of those who illegally cross our southern border are likely good people primarily from Mexico or Central America, illegal entrants from dozens of countries, including terrorist states, have also been apprehended. 

Far-left? Far-right? Get real: Read more from “The Conscience of a Realist” by Joseph F. Cotto 



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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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