Most countries in the world have irrelevant numbers of “immigrants.” In the Americas, for example, only Canada, America, and the British West Indies have significant non-native populations. In Mexico, immigrants account for 0.6 percent of the population, and that generally negligible level prevails all the way down through Latin America until you hit a blip of 1.4 percent with Chile and 3.8 percent in Argentina. There’s an isolated exception in Belize, which, like the English Caribbean, has historical patterns of internal migration within the British Commonwealth, such as one sees, for example, in the number of New Zealand–born residents of Australia. But profound sweeping demographic transformation through immigration is a phenomenon only of the Western world in the modern era, and even there America leads the way.
Over 20 percent of all the immigrants on the planet are in the United States. The country’s foreign-born population has doubled in the last two decades to 40 million — officially. Which is the equivalent of Washington taking a decision to admit every single living Canadian, and throwing in the population of New Zealand as a bonus. Thank goodness they didn’t do that, eh? (Whoops.) Otherwise, America would have been subject to some hideous, freakish cultural transformation in which there would be hockey franchises in Florida, and Canadian banks on every street corner in New York trumpeting their obnoxious jingoistic slogans (“TD: America’s neighborhood bank”), and creepy little pop stars with weird foreign names like Justin and Carly Rae doing the jobs America’s teen heartthrobs won’t do. What a vile alien nightmare that would be to wake up in.
Not so very long ago, its national mythology notwithstanding, the United States was little different from most other countries. In 1970, its foreign-born population was 4.7 percent. And, while most of the West has embraced mass immigration in the last half-century, America differs significantly from those developed countries, like Canada and Australia, that favor skilled migrants. Personally, I don’t see what’s so enlightened and progressive about denuding Third World nations of their best and brightest to be your doctors and nurses, but it does demonstrate a certain ruthless self-interest. By contrast the majority of U.S. foreign-born residents now come from Latin America, and more than a quarter of them — 12 million — from Mexico. A policy of “family reunification” will by definition lead to low-skilled immigrants: An engineer or computer scientist is less likely to bring in an unending string of relatives — because his dad’s a millionaire businessman in Bangalore and his brother’s a barrister in London, and they’re both happy and prosperous where they are. Insofar as there is any economic benefit to mass immigration, it’s more than entirely wiped out by chain importation of elderly dependents and other clients for the Big Government state.
So any rational immigration reform that respected the interests of the American people would attempt to reorient present policy. Instead, the Gang of Eight’s bill will cement it, and accelerate it. According to Numbers USA, if the immigration bill passed, it would increase the legal population of the United States by 33 million in its first decade. That figure includes 11.7 million amnestied illegals and their children, plus 17 million family members imported through chain migration, with a few software designers on business visas to round out the numbers.
Thirty-three million is like importing the entire population of Canada . . . oh, wait, we did that shtick three paragraphs ago. Okay, if you’re black, look at it this way: The demographic clout it took you guys four centuries to amass can now be accomplished overnight at a stroke of Chuck Schumer’s and Lindsey Graham’s pens. And, if you belong to the 40 percent of Americans who’ll be encountering many of these “chain migrants” in the application line for low-skilled service jobs, isn’t it great to know that in this gangbusters economy you’re going to have to pedal even faster just to go nowhere?
Speaking of demographic clout, the main reason for not importing 33 million Canadians is that they’re supposedly a bunch of liberal pantywaists and the Republican party would never be elected to anything ever again. But fortunately 33 million Latin Americans are, as we’ve been assured time and again by Charles Krauthammer and other eminent voices, “a natural conservative constituency” — which I think translates into Spanish as “una parte del electorado conservador natural.” I Googled this phrase and it got no hits, so perhaps Dr. Krauthammer got lost in translation. But I’ll take his word for it that, once America assumes the demographics of California, the Republican party will be unstoppable.
Aside from that electoral windfall, the benefits of Schumer-Rubio “comprehensive” “reform” seem doubtful. Every new arrest in the Boston Marathon bombing reveals some laughably obvious breach of the system. Alert to the possibility that the involvement of various hardworking immigrants in the recent unpleasantness might not be the best advertisement for his bill, John McCain is now proposing that the United States look more carefully at admitting persons “from countries that have histories such as Dagestan and Chechnya and others where there has been significant influence of radical Islamic extremism.” Incendiary Chechens is nothing a bit more bureaucratic oversight can’t cure.
The problem with this instant solution is that Chechnya and Dagestan are not “countries” — or, to be more precise, are not sovereign nations. They’re subnational jurisdictions of the Russian Federation, whose citizens travel on Russian passports. This would be the equivalent of permitting United Kingdom immigrants from Wales and Scotland, but not from England and Northern Ireland. Senator McCain’s proposal could in theory work — if you believe that our post-9/11 state-of-the-art “smart government” will have no trouble distinguishing between a guy from St. Petersburg, and a fellow from Makhachkala, formerly Petrovsk, the Dagestani capital once named after the same tsar as Petersburg. But, if you’re a wee bit skeptical that U.S. immigration officials are capable of distinguishing a Russian from one city named after Peter the Great from a Russian from another city named after Peter the Great, it’s a bit of a long shot — and that’s before the Dagestani from Petrovsk takes the precaution of getting a post-office box in St. Petersburg.
So McCain’s intervention is useful only insofar as it reminds us of the gulf between political “solutions” and reality. When I came to this great land, I was initially worried that the government might find out about my unpaid parking tickets in Moose Jaw and the chain of unsolved prostitute murders in the port of Hamburg. My immigration lawyer explained to me that the examiners devote six minutes to each application, and then say yea or nay. I’m confident that if we toss another 33 million into the mix, we can get that six minutes cut by two-thirds. Much of which can be devoted to checking the background of Dagestani applicants, assuming the immigration official takes no more than three attempts to type “Makhachkala” correctly.
And so it will go with all the other much-vaunted “triggers”: Chances of them ever having any meaningful impact? Zero percent. The Daily Caller has already identified in the bill 999 references to “waivers, exemptions, or political discretion,” meaning that all these “triggers” will be in the hands of a federal bureaucracy that will never pull them, and will take its cue from the left-wing immigration-lobby groups the new bill funds so generously. So what’s the big deal about making McCain’s Dagestani crackdown the 1,000th meaningless safeguard that will be entirely ignored?
Beneath the phony “triggers,” an already rapid transformation of America is about to be speeded up. An informed citizenry would trade all the triggers for a straight answer to one simple question:
— Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2013 Mark Steyn