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Rich Lowry: What’s the big immigration debate?
Rich Lowry
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review. - photo by File photo

Rich Lowry

Syndicated columnist

Do you remember the big national debate on whether the United States would adopt a policy to make the foreign share of the population the highest it’s ever been?

Neither do I. For the simple reason, of course, that there wasn’t one.

That doesn’t mean that the policy wasn’t adopted, through inertia and the Biden administration’s imposition of a de facto open border for a large swath of asylum- seekers. An analysis of Census data by Steve Camarota and his colleagues at the Center for Immigration Studies has found that a 4.5 million net increase in immigrants since Joe Biden took office has boosted the share of the foreign born to 15% , the highest ever recorded.

You know all the black-andwhite photos of immigrants coming to Ellis Island, the lore about names being changed upon arrival, “your huddled masses yearning to be free”?

We are currently higher than that. We’re eclipsing the Great Wave of Immigration with an even greater wave. We hit 14.8 in 1890 and 14.7 in 1910, in what were, until now, the most historic decades for immigration.

Just last month, the Census Bureau was projecting the foreign-born share of the population wouldn’t hit 15% until in 2033. Now, we could keep going up from here. “If the immigrant population continues to grow,” Camarota writes, “it will set new numerical and percentage records every year going forward.”

A straight-line projection shows the share of foreign-born increasing to 15.5 by the end of Biden’s term, and to an astonishing 17.3% by the end of a potential second term.

This is not the normal course of business. According to Camarota, the foreign-born population has grown on average by 137,000 a month since the beginning of Biden’s term, higher than Donald Trump’s pre-COVID-19 42,000 and Barack Obama’s 68,000.

What accounts for this? Some of it is a COVID-19 bounce-back in legal immigration. But that’s not responsible for the lion’s share of the story. The Biden administration has boosted the foreign-born share of the population well above the pre-COVID-19 trend line.

It has done it by ignoring the law and greasing the skids for new arrivals even if they have no right to be here. Of the total net 4.5 million increase of immigrants on Biden’s watch, 2.5 million of that is illegal immigrants. Most of that illegal number is solely a function of discretion and the administration’s opposition to excluding bogus asylum-seekers.

The Biden administration’s border policy has obviously been the subject of debate, including criticism from his own party. The overall number of immigrants, though, is rarely mentioned, and even treated as an almost illegitimate topic for public consideration.

This makes no sense. The foreign- born share of the population has consequences for schooling, welfare, wages, politics and the broader culture. It is at least as important, if not more so, than trade policy, Ukraine aid, the deficit, infrastructure or a whole host of other issues that are routine fodder for congressional debate and the Sunday shows.

It also should be subject to the approval of the American people and its representatives just like those other issues. We should affirmatively decide whether we want the foreign share of the population to be 15% and growing, or less than 15% and shrinking, and the mix of people who are coming --largely unskilled, or overwhelmingly higher skilled?

Instead, we treat immigration as something that happens to us, like the weather. (Although progressives now seek to influence the weather, so maybe this is a dated analogy.) It isn’t. We are making the choices that have gotten us to this point.

The fact is that immigration has operated largely under its own power, and under false pretenses, since the immigration reform of 1965. One reason there’s so little discussion of the underlying issue is that many people simply don’t know the historic numbers involved.

In short, there’s been no debate on 15%, and one, shamefully, doesn’t seem in the offing.

Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.

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