Immigration Bomb

From: Olga Bourlin (
Date: Fri Aug 31 2001 - 23:57:17 MDT

I remember reading "The Population Bomb" a generation ago (from the liberal perspective) ... Richard Lamm (Reform Party, '96) is worried about the "Immigration Bomb" (from the conservative perspective).

Bigger isn't better for U.S. immigration policy
Sunday, September 2, 2001


One of the great challenges of public policy is to recognize and anticipate new challenges.

"New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient good uncouth," writes the poet. If I could leave anything carved on the state Capitol after my 12 years as governor of Colorado, it would be something like, "Beware of solutions appropriate to the past, but disastrous to the future."

It is easy to talk about yesterday's issues but the real policy challenges involve understanding and anticipating the new issues of tomorrow.

A new, important, pressing public policy question faces America: What is our demographic destiny? How big a country do we want to become? How many people can live satisfied lives within our borders? These issues will not go away and will only grow more complicated.

Our natural American birth rate will lead to a stable U.S. population around 2050. With the current level of immigration, our population will be approximately 400 million on its way to a billion.

I have yet to meet an American who wants 1 billion neighbors. Or 400 million. This is not an issue of immigrants, but of immigration.

What possible public policy advantage would there be to an America of 400 million? Do we lack for people? Do we have too much open space, park land and recreation? What will 400 million Americans mean to our environment? Do we need a larger military? Are our schools underpopulated? Do we not have enough diversity? Will our children live better lives if Phoenix and Denver double in size? Do you want an Arizona of 12 million people? These questions seem to answer themselves.

The growth issue in America is largely an immigration issue. We have a public policy choice: (1) to stabilize America's population or (2) double it and double it again through our current policy of mass immigration. If we continue with our present policy of mass immigration (America takes twice as many immigrants as the rest of the world combined) we will continue to grow and grow and grow. The geometry is relentless.

The first census in (1790) found 4 million Europeans in America. Two hundred years (1990) later we had approximately 260 million Americans. That means we had six doublings of the original European population. Please note that two more doublings gives us more than a billion people sharing America. Have you ever been to India or China? Is that what you want to leave to your grandchildren? Can you imagine an America of 1 billion people that you would want to leave to your grandchildren?

Of course, immigration has been good for America and yes, we are all immigrants. But is that the extent and depth of the immigration argument? I governed a state like Arizona for 12 years. In my experience immigration made virtually every problem I was trying to solve more difficult.

I have been working all my political life to get health insurance for low-income citizens. How can this ever be done when our Swiss cheese borders allow an endless stream of people needing medical care? A majority of the patients at our large Denver Public Hospital are illegal immigrants.

Our standard school scores go down rather than up partly because of the large numbers of immigrant children. Housing? Our public housing is filled with both legal and illegal immigrants.

Crime? Twenty percent of our prison space is filled with the foreign born. Sprawl and growth? Colorado, like Arizona, is being flooded by Californians who move here because they don't like what's happening in California.

Bottom line, ask yourself: What problem in America will be made better by continuing to add massive numbers of people? America before the immigration reform of 1965 averaged approximately 250,000 immigrants a year. If we would return to those numbers, we would take a great step toward leaving our children a sustainable America.

We must decide how many immigrants we want or need. I would argue that America should move toward a stable, sustainable population.

The world's ecosystem does not need 300 million more consuming Americans, nor do we. Immigration has gone from a solution to a problem, and the sooner we recognize this the better America we will leave our children and grandchildren.


Richard D. Lamm served as governor of Colorado and is director of the Center for Public Policy and Contemporary Issues at the University of Denver. He is co-author of "The Immigration Time Bomb: The Fragmenting of America," among other books. Special for The Arizona Republic.

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