April 21, 2006
“Living next to you,” Pierre Elliot Trudeau famously said in a speech to the National Press Club in the United States, “is like sleeping with an elephant; no matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
The elephant is getting a lot bigger. And we can’t help but be affected.
The official population of the United States – 275 million as of the last census in 2000 and 299 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s population clock today – is increasing faster than that of any other Western country – by about 1.2% per year, or 3.5 million people. U.S. immigration is at its highest level since 1900 and foreign-born Americans, at 10% of the population, are at their highest level since 1930.
With each new census, the rate of growth edges up. In 1989, the census projected 300 million Americans by mid-century, with its population dropping. In 1992, the census bureau revised its projection to 393 million, in 1996 to 394 million, in 2000 census to 404 million Americans and in the interim 2004 census to 420 million Americans. That’s a 40% increase in a mere 15 years.
The U.S. census doesn’t ordinarily project to the end of the century, but in its 2000 census it projected a U.S. population approaching 600 million in a middle-growth scenario and, in its high-growth scenario, a U.S. population of 1.2 billion – as populous as China today.
That middle-growth scenario, which assumes that immigrants will come to the U.S. in much smaller numbers than they have in the past, is wildly implausible. The U.S. is, has been, and will continue to be the destination of choice for the world’s migrants. A 2005 Pew survey of Mexicans found that 46% of the country’s adults – about 32 million people – would move to the U.S. if they had the means and the opportunity, half of them illegally if necessary. The same survey found that 35% of Mexican college graduates would move, even for work at a job below their qualifications; many of them also said they’d be willing to come illegally. That makes the high-growth scenario, which has the number of annual immigrants rising as the U.S. population rises, not only look more realistic but maybe even on the low side.
Despite intense U.S. concern over border security following 9/11, under a new bipartisan immigration bill that is now before the U.S. Congress, immigration would become easier still. Some estimate that the new law would result in some 30 million additional immigrants in the next decade. The numbers grow further if the U.S. also grants an amnesty to its current illegal immigrants, generally estimated by most at 11 million to 12 million. Others claim the country’s current illegals could number 30 million or more. When president Reagan granted amnesty to illegal immigrants in 1986, three times the expected number came forward.
The U.S. is on a roll, following its historical tried-and-true formula for economic prosperity through rapid immigration growth. Abraham Lincoln’s unassailable logic: “time alone relieves a debtor nation, so long as its population increases faster than unpaid interest accumulates on its debt.” In 1862, Lincoln assured the country in his annual message to Congress that the Civil War and the emancipation of the slaves could easily be financed through immigration: “At [the turn of the century] we shall probably have a hundred millions of people to share the burden, rather than 31 millions, as now. And not only so, but the increase of our population may be expected to continue for a long time after that period, as rapidly as before; because our territory will not have become full. . . . Our abundant room – our broad national homestead – is our ample resource. Were our territory as limited as are the British Isles, very certainly our population could not expand as stated. Instead of receiving the foreign born, as now, we should be compelled to send part of the native-born away. But such is not our condition.”
Neither is that the condition today. As put by the Census Bureau’s principal author, Frederick Hollmann, “Our projections in 2100 will give us a population density one-quarter that of the United Kingdom. We’ll still be a sparsely populated country among the industrialized countries of the world.”
Canada should take heed. We, too, are sparsely populated and underperforming as a result. Our native-born population has a low fertility rate and we are consistently failing to reach our immigration targets. If we don’t open our borders, and make of our country a land of opportunity, with each passing year we will command a diminishing share of the North American population, enjoy an ever-diminishing importance and be ever more susceptible when the elephant rolls over.
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