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The coming need for immigrants

Guest Blogger

The controversy over Arizona’s new immigration law throws a spotlight on the nature of migration worldwide. Fred Pearce, an environmental and development consultant for New Scientist, has taken a hard look at worldwide demographic trends in “The Coming Population Crash and Our Planet’s Surprising Future,” published this month by Beacon Press. If trends continue, the world’s population will be declining by 2040 for the first time since the Black Death almost 700 years ago. As a result, migration is expected to rise as countries with lower birth rates will need workers. Here Pearce explains the consequences for migrants and communities.

By Fred Pearce

Hasan Omar is the tall, slight and gentlemanly head of the Somali Community Association on the north side of Columbus, Ohio, where some 40,000 Somalis from the failed East African state have settled in the past 15 years.

Somalis? Columbus, Ohio?

Well, why not? Wasn’t Christopher Columbus the first transatlantic migrant? Anyhow, Hasan told me over American coffee and Somali samosas, “We are not destitute. We have skills: we are engineers, economists and teachers. We run shopping malls and car dealerships and health centres.”

Today’s migrants are the advance guard of an increasingly globalized workforce of transnational citizens. And we are going to need them.

Native-born workforces in Europe, North America and parts of Asia will implode in future, because women in these countries are today having fewer than the two children needed to replace numbers. Meanwhile, surplus people in dozens of other struggling nations with still-growing populations are eager to fill the gaps.

I see nothing to fear and a great deal to be gained. Who else will pick grapes in California, clean hotel rooms in Italy, gut chickens in England and look after babies in Washington? In any case, argue economists, if capital can travel the world, why not people?

And, like it or not, in the coming decades the world’s demographic imbalances are going to produce a surge in migration. On current trends of falling fertility, the world’s population will likely be falling by later this century. Stocking up on Homo sapiens now may be a smart move for the people-famine to come.

The United States is a nation of migrants -- a marvellous advertisement for the virtues of migration and a living condemnation of the world’s xenophobes, racial purists, cultural imperialists and ethnic cleansers. As a Brit, I love its diversity.

Of course even Americans can be ambivalent about newcomers. Even in the 19th century, golden age of migration, the “keep out” signs were never far from the welcome mat. The melting pot sometimes boiled over.

African Americans had long known that the white northern Europeans’ sense of openness and freedom had distinct bounds. And when the Chinese arrived in California for the gold rush, they soon faced the Chinese Exclusion Act and pogroms against the “yellow peril”.

After the 1917 Russian revolution the fear was that Bolsheviks would infiltrate America’s nascent labor movement. The Quota Act of 1921 welcomed Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians and Germans but limited other Europeans severely. Hispanics were encouraged and thrown out as labor demands in the south and west rose and fell. Africans and Asians were all but banned until quotas were ended in 1965.

Today, migrants to the United States are approaching the numbers of a century ago, and everyone from rednecks to greenies are fearful of their impact.

But the truth is we need them as much as they need us. In Columbus, the old German village may now be a tourist spot with no sign of any Germans, but Koreans run dry cleaners, Indians own motels and Cambodians trade diamonds. There are Ghanaians and Ethiopians, Hmong tribals from southeast Asia and Rwandans from central Africa. Suddenly the Somalis are no longer the new kids on the block.

My cab back from Hasan’s suburban office was driven by an Eritrean called Abraham, who worked for the Irish-owned Shamrock Taxi company. In town, the Columbus Italian Festival was starting.

This is America, I thought. This is the new world. We should not fear it.

By Steven E. Levingston  |  May 3, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Blogger  | Tags: anti-immigration law, arizona immigration law, migration trends  
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Having immigrants is great and wonderful that is how this country became so great. But they were legal and did it the right way and learned our language there was no press 2 for italian, yiddish, greek,russian,or whatever.They (illegals) have no rights here they are here illegally what is so hard to understand or explain about that.

Posted by: lildg54 | May 3, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Gee, we're being short-sighted.

How American.

Posted by: tauot | May 3, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Tauot appears to feel that he/she prefers someone who makes no meaningful contribution to society other then doing the tasks he/she abhors. Unconscious of the burden on society these illegals impose on us with there disposition towards crime , 10 times greater then Americans, an indifference to our customs, a distinct disdain for our language and increasingly a propensity to have as many anchor baby's as they can to avoid working and at the same time refusing to learn our language. Yes Tauot you have what you want you selfish person. The examples of the other races who have come to the USA legally is remarkably different. They can converse, learn and respect our customs while exercising their own customs in a socially accepted way they are not only respected they are highly welcomed. Pardon me I forgot, they don't do the tasks you want them to do, they are too interested as Americans to succeed and prosper and have a safe environment for their family to grow up in. This is the American way, demonstrated education,wiliness to learn the language and successfully join the melting pot of our country, not be subservient to you but to be equal or most chances greater .

Posted by: paulb6 | May 3, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

there is a big difference between illegal and legal immigration, you should learn the difference...

Posted by: DwightCollins | May 3, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

The notion that the U.S. is a nation of migrants [sic] is tendentious, maudlin mythology. Well over 90% of current American citizens were born here--that's hardly a a nation of immigrants.

The often-heard, "Our founders were immigrants," is also absurd. The founders were subjects of British colonies; there was no country to which they could immigrate. Even Alexander Hamilton arrived from another British colony. His take on immigration was, "To admit foreigners indiscriminately to the rights of citizens...would be nothing less than to admit the Grecian horse into the citadel of our liberty and sovereignty."

It is false analogy to compare conditions relevant to legal immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to today's conditions relevant to Illegal aliens. The poem on the Statue of Liberty doesn't say give me your illegal aliens, your drug smugglers, your criminals, and the worst miscreants among you.

Posted by: quobist | May 3, 2010 12:53 PM | Report abuse

You really should consider how illegal immigrants affect our economy. They are not only stealing jobs from Americans; they are stealing our taxes, receiving from various sources WE CANNOT draw from unless we pay into them.
I'd bet you;d raise a stink if somebody stuck a gun under your nose and took your money. There's NO difference between that and illegals taking our money...except that the government won't enforce immigration laws.
Presidents Hoover and Eisenhower expelled illegals to save American jobs...and probably saved the country altogether. Read:

"But the truth is we need them as much as they need us. "
Pure BS!! ...And you have NOTHING plausible to substantiate that claim.

Posted by: flipper49 | May 3, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

This article is te proverbial straw man.
The debate about immigrants is not whether we should have any immigrants. The US welcomes legal immigration. The Arizona law is not aimed at legal immigrants. No country needs anything or anyone that is illegal.

Here's what Wikipedia says about current legal immigration levels:

"As of 2006, the United States accepts more legal immigrants as permanent residents than all other countries in the world combined." "A record 1,046,539 persons were naturalized as U.S. citizens in 2008."

What we want is an immigration law that allows in people who will be the most productive members of our society, based on how our economy works now, not how it was 50 or 100 years ago.

Posted by: jfv123 | May 3, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I am happy to see the posters here focusing on the real issue. There is a difference between immigrants and illegal immigrants. Immigrants need to follow the proper channels to come to the US to work, live and ultimately stay, just like in every other country! My family had to go through this process and there is nothing wrong with that.

Posted by: Shadow10 | May 3, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

"Having immigrants is great and wonderful that is how this country became so great. But they were legal and did it the right way and learned our language there was no press 2 for italian, yiddish, greek,russian,or whatever.They (illegals) have no rights here they are here illegally what is so hard to understand or explain about that.
Posted by: lildg54

Followed by other posts hawking the familiar "immigrants are a dirty threat" lies that have accompanied every other wave of migrants.

If there was no "press 2 for italian" it was because there was not "press 2" at all. Immigrants from different cultures have usually clustered together in neighborhoods with their own foreign-language newspapers, churches, groceries, restaurants. Why do you think there are so many Italian Americans on the North Shore? Usually the third generation has forgotten the mother tongue. It is no different with today's immigrants.

They pay taxes - sales taxes, property taxes (often embedded in rent), income tax and social security. They're mostly young working-age adults - so they need less healthcare than average. They are not eligible for welfare. Yes, there may be food aid for the kids - which only reflects how cheap they work. The main public expenditure is for the education of their kids - who are going to replace the kids we're not having in the workforce, and generate the income to support our social security and medicare benefits.

I don't believe in unrestricted migration. I do know that is we base immigration policy on myths and lies, we're going to get bad policies that only hurt ourselves.

Posted by: j2hess | May 3, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

The Chinese were welcome in the US to help build the transcontinental railroad. It is considered one of the greatest American technological feats of the 19th century.

Once the railroad was finished, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. No tickee -no laundry. No visa - no immigrant. Just the other day, Houston cops beat up a Chinese diplomat in the garage of the Chinese Consulate.

It is becoming increasingly more dangerous to be a foreigner in America due to our crazy xenophobia and hatred of immigrants.

Posted by: alance | May 3, 2010 3:05 PM | Report abuse

"these illegals impose on us with there disposition towards crime , 10 times greater then Americans, an indifference to our customs, a distinct disdain for our language and increasingly a propensity to have as many anchor baby's as they can to avoid working and at the same time refusing to learn our language. Yes Tauot you have what you want you selfish person."

I'm no advocate for open borders. Just for an orderly system that at least provides a channel for the low skilled workers to come and do the jobs that are so clearly waiting to be done. But it seems the debate is fueled by myths and half truths picked up from xenophobic blogs. Stop saying these things. OR quote a credible source/study. Most studies show that immigrant crime is a fraction of natives, yet you keep repeating this lie.
Also please explain how having an "anchor baby" gives the parents ANY legal rights to be in this country? If you can't, then stop repeating this stuff. At least know your true reasons before venting like this.

Posted by: ps-md | May 3, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Contrary to the anti-immigrant rhetoric, illegal immigrants are not eligible for welfare, unemployment, or food stamps. They don’t get free medical care. Although hospitals are required to provide emergency care to everyone, including immigrants, hospitals do charge everyone. It is not free care. Despite the fact that they are tax-payers, illegal immigrants cannot take advantage of the social programs their taxes support. They are not eligible for health programs like Medicare. I personally know many immigrants who are paying their bills like everyone else.

Immigrant households, both legal and illegal, and businesses paid approximately $300 billion in federal, state, and local taxes: $165 billion in federal income taxes, $85 billion in state and local income taxes, and $50 billion in business taxes. (Report authored by Stephen Moore, Senior Economics Writer at the Wall Street Journal and former director of Fiscal Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, and Richard Vedder, Distinguished Professor of Economics at Ohio University). Since 1996, the I.R.S. has distributed about 15 million Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers to enable people without Social Security numbers to pay taxes.

More than 75 percent of immigrants, arrive in their prime working years. According to the Social Security Administration, illegal immigrants have contributed more than $400 billion to the Social Security fund since the 1980s.

Immigrants create companies that hire workers and create economic activities at higher rates than the native born. Economist William Ford of Middle Tennessee State University calculates that illegal immigrants contributed $428 billion dollars to the nation's $13.6 trillion gross domestic product in 2006.

Posted by: CyberPost | May 3, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Oh, yes, with 44 million jobs outsourced, with 4.5 million U.S. hi-tech workers of of jobs while the hi-tech in industry is allowed to import "guest workers", 21st Century slaves, with real unemployment hovering around 20%, we need a whole bunch of cheap immigrant workers flooding the job market. Get real! We need severe limits on immigration or we face a revolt in this country.

Posted by: mibrooks27 | May 3, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

Oh, I see - economics is all that matters. Memory, family, culture, shared values, race (yes), language, religion and neighborhoods are as nothing, yes?
I asked Frank Rich (NY Times) if he would supply me a list of all successful societies that lack large caucasian majorities. I reckon he's still working on it.

Posted by: LeePefley1 | May 3, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

Yes, wait until one of these immigrants decides that terrorism is the answer to perceived slights against their religion or culture.

The issue of immigrants is more than just economic. There is also the issue of culture. Large number of immigrants will influence US culture, in not always welcome ways. Local culture gets displaced, observe how announcements are now in English and Spanish. They can remain an alien un-integrated minority, as is the case in many countries. To say that the US will somehow integrate all cultures is wishful thinking at best.
This country does not need a flood of new immigrants. What it needs is a well educated American workforce.

Posted by: Observer20 | May 3, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

If I only had just $1 for every bleeding heart who intentionally blurs the difference between LEGAL immigration and persons in the United States ILLEGALLY, then as they say, I would be a rich man.

I don't care how hard they work, how great they are, how diligent they have become in flying the American flag, how many anchor babies they've hatched, how many kids in high school they have, or how many cabs they drive. If they are here ILLEGALLY, they need to leave the country, apply for readmission and get in the queue. Our immigration policies need to recognize what skills we need, where we are short, etc., and focus on admitting those persons.

Based on what I know about the current state of our primary education system, we don't need ANY MORE poorly educated people who can't speak acceptable English and therefore are doomed to be permanent underclass.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | May 3, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Such fear of immigrants!

As if our culture was so weak that it would melt away from an influx of Hispanics.

As if we haven't successfully assimilated and educated earlier generations of poor immigrants.

As if our own uniquely American culture wasn't wealthier from adopting and adapting from others.

Perhaps we should start purging ourselves of all non-Northern European influences?

Let's start with cowboys - the anglos learned that from the Mexican gauchos and adopted their chaps and spurs.

Then let's get rid of tacos, burritos, magaritas, rhumba, samba, Herb Alpert.

And then those Italians - they forced pasta and pizza and hoagies down our throat! And I had to listen to Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin! The horror! Dion and the Belmonts!

And of course Jazz, blues, gospel, and Rock and Roll - fatally tainted by African culture!

Perhaps we should just all move back to England, Holland, and Germany.

Posted by: j2hess | May 3, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

The simple truth is that there are all kinds of immigrants. While no one can argue that the role immigrants played in companies such as Intel and Google are a benefit to this country, it is far more difficult to argue that someone who is a waiter, a house cleaner, and so forth it. On this point, I urge everyone to look at the research of Robert Rector. His point is that the cost of society of allowing low skilled labor into this country cannot only be looked at on one level but must be looked at in totality. Simpy put, this is a far more complex problem than the author of this piece either wants to acknowledge or wants to examine. The time has come to have a sound sensible debate on immigration, but sadly with pieces like this I believe that is a step beyond most people.

Posted by: jeffreed | May 3, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

This isn't a Democrat/Republican issue, we're all American citizens first. Amnesty isn't going to happen!
Spin the issues all you want, project YOUR race based issues onto your opposition, offend the Jewish population by comparing people coming here illegally to the genocide they faced, riot in the streets, and scream insults at the American population; at the end of the day it won't change anything!

At best you can hope Americans don't run pro-criminal voters (probably "progressive") right out of our electorate. This isn't a party issue, don't let Democrats trick you into thinking it is, they don't even have enough support in their own party, and the LGBT crowd has abandoned THEIR idea of "Illegal Immigration Reform" We don't reward criminals and nobody is gonna get Amnesty for breaking the law. NOBODY! The "path to citizenship" and "humane enforcement" lines are crap too, criminals that have been emboldened to cheat our system for years don't get "fast-tracked" to citizenship. The people trying to come here legally certainly aren't going to like being "line jumped" by people breaking the laws they so patiently observed. We aren't the monsters for enforcing our laws, they are the monsters for coming here illegally and in some cases procreating and making families that now carry their burden, THEY ARE THE MONSTERS! If I sneak into a concert at the Gorge, when I'm caught I don't get taken to the front of the entry line, and the amount of time I've been inside the event has nothing to do with my removal, unlawful entry is unlawful entry!

Amnesty isn't going to happen! Sorry if you don't like it, but too bad, build a bridge, get over it, and start immigrating here legally like all the other generations of Americans.

Gay Urban Hipster in Seattle Permanently Boycotting Anyone Helping The Harper Valley PTA To Oppress Arizona's CITIZENS

Posted by: WhatAreYouPeopleSmoking | May 5, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

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