Asking Jan Ting: How will the DREAM Act impact America?

Noted law professor Jan Ting also shares his views about immigration control, the idea that America needs mass immigration, and much more. Photo: President Obama watches as Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano administers oath of citizenship AP

FLORIDA, March 28, 2012 — Although currently out of the headlines, illegal immigration remains a serious problem.

Capitol Hill is now abuzz with controversy about the subject. However, this is nothing new, though the proposal of amnesty for millions of illegal aliens has added a fiercer tone to the debate.  

Perhaps the biggest problem is that those who speak the loudest rarely have much to say. Fortunately, there are a select few who buck this trend without apology.

Jan C. Ting is a law professor at Temple University. A former Republican U.S. Senate candidate from Delaware and a senior fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies, he served as Assistant Commissioner of the Immigration and Naturalization Service under George H.W. Bush. 

In this first part of our discussion, he shares his views regarding immigration control, how the federal government should manage current immigration trends, the idea that America needs mass immigration, how the aforementioned trends impact the environment and public education, as well as the DREAM Act.  

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

Jan C. Ting: First, everyone thinks they understand the immigration system because they’re descended from immigrants or know immigrants, or are immigrants themselves, just as everyone thinks they understand the tax system because they’ve been paying and reporting their taxes for years. But they don’t. Both systems are immensely more complicated than ordinary citizens believe or understand.

We have to choose between either enforcing a numerical limit on the number of immigrants we allow every year or, alternatively, having no limit on immigration as was the case in the first century of the republic. It’s a binary choice. There is no third way, such as pretending we have limits, but then not enforcing those limits and instead amnestying violators of the limits whenever they attain a large number. 

I respect proponents of unlimited immigration, which is an intellectually coherent position to take. I do not respect proponents of a “third way,” because keeping limits on the books, but not enforcing them, is intellectually incoherent and expensive beyond our means. 

I personally believe that a democratic society is morally entitled to set and enforce a limit on the number of new immigrants admitted each year. I believe we are threatened with overpopulation that endangers the economic and environmental future of the Americans already here. We already have many millions of Americans looking for work who can’t find any. We face a future of advancing technology and robotics that will reduce the number of needed workers. 

Our population is projected to grow from just over 300 million to over 400 million by 2050, and to 600 million by the end of the century, and that’s if we do nothing to accelerate population growth by enacting an immigration amnesty. 

Where are the jobs? How do we educate the children and provide health care for all? Where will another 100 to 300 million Americans park and drive their cars? How much energy will they burn to heat their homes?  What do we do with their litter, waste and greenhouse gases? 

Virtually all the population growth is due to immigration, with only an insignificant fraction attributable to births to the native population, where the rate of birth is barely at replacement level.

So my first choice is to enforce a numerical limit on immigration. My second choice is to stop enforcing immigration limits, open the borders, and allow everyone in the world who’s not a criminal or national security risk to immigrate to America and pursue the American dream. That second choice will also save taxpayers billions of dollars now spent on immigration enforcement.

Cotto: How should the federal government manage current immigration trends? What advice would you give Congress on the matter?

Ting: I would advise Congress to understand that we have to enforce a numerical limit on immigration, even if that requires us to deny admission to would-be immigrants who resemble our own ancestors, who are neither criminals nor national security risks, and who only want a shot at the American dream to try to build a better life for themselves and their families. And if they come in violation of our numerical limit, we have to deport them. 

If we can’t bring ourselves to say no to such people, then no limit on immigration is enforceable, and we might as well not have one at all, declare the borders open, and let everyone who wants to (who’s neither a criminal or national security risk) settle in the U.S.A.

We know from the 1986 amnesty and immigration deal that border enforcement alone is insufficient. Border enforcement coupled with employer sanctions and threatening employers who hire immigration law violators is insufficient. We need a system where would-be immigration law violators understand that the costs of violating our laws exceed the potential benefits. 

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?

Ting: There’s a chance that they could be right, and we could just be lucky. But should we bet the republic that they are right? I’m not willing to bet all that has been built up over two centuries can be sustained in the face of unlimited immigration stimulated by cheap and easy communications and transportation. 

As I’ve noted above, millions of Americans are looking for work now and can’t find any.  Technology and robotics are advancing and will reduce the need for workers in the future. How many tons of coal and barrels of oil will be burned in the U.S. to heat the homes of hundreds of millions of additional Americans. What will be their impact on the environment, open spaces, clean air and water?

Cotto: How do our current immigration trends impact the environment and public education?

Ting: We’re not doing a good job in providing public education to the people that are here now. What makes anyone think we’re capable to doing a good job for hundreds of millions of additional immigrants and their children, not to mention health care for all, good jobs for all, good housing for all, and incarceration for that small percentage of any population that need it?

Cotto: The DREAM Act has become a tremendously contentious issue. If passed, how do you think that it would impact the United States?

Ting: The DREAM Act was intended to benefit illegal immigrants who were brought here as children, the most sympathetic subset among our large illegal immigrant population. Along with the STEM Jobs Act enacted by the House of Representatives, it is being held hostage to get the amnesty passed as part of a so-called comprehensive immigration reform package.

I believe the DREAM Act would pass today if a separate vote was allowed on it alone. But I don’t think it should be approved until it’s narrowly restricted to limit benefits only to the intended beneficiaries of the Act, the childhood arrivals, and not to the parents or other relatives who deliberately violated U.S. immigration law. Enactment of a narrowly restricted DREAM Act would be an appropriate part of continuous review, reform, and renewal of our immigration laws.


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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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