Immigration is a discretionary policy of the government and can be changed. The fundamental question for the American public and policy makers is whether a much larger population would add to or diminish the quality of life in the United States, and the standing of America in the World.
Putting too fine a point on the matter, America faced a choice between becoming a middling sized white country - dominated by the Republican Party, or a big brown country, dominated by the Democratic Party. According to preelection polling in 2016, in a tally of white voters only, Trump would have defeated Clinton 389 to 81 in the Electoral College, with the remaining 68 votes either a toss-up or unknown. The racial and ethnic isolation of whites at the zip code level was one of the strongest predictors of Trump support. The growth of the Hispanic community should help Democrats and could penalize Republicans, particularly if they continued to insist on strict immigration enforcement along with the tough kind of rhetoric that tends to turn off Hispanics around the country. The Asian-American vote has grown 128 percent since 1996, making them the fastest growing minority in the US in terms of percentage. Still, they only made up about three percent of the overall 2012 vote, but that was expected to grow to as high as seven percent in coming years.
Among the world's great powers, the United States is alone in being relatively receptive to immigrants, providing the basis for continued population growth, and increasingly demographic preponderance in the world. With immigration, America is alone among the great powers in using immigration to offset the burden of an ageing population. Thanks to immigration, only America can send diplomats to foreign lands who are descendents of the the peoples of those lands - only American diplomats look like the locals.
The nation's immigrant population (legal and illegal) hit a record 43.7 million in July 2016, an increase of half a million since 2015, 3.8 million since 2010, and 12.6 million since 2000. As a share of the U.S. population, immigrants (legal and illegal) comprised 13.5 percent, or one out of eight U.S. residents in 2016, the highest percentage in 106 years. As recently as 1980, just one out of 16 residents was foreign-born. In addition to immigrants, there were slightly more than 16.6 million U.S.-born minor children with an immigrant parent in 2016, for a total of 60.4 million immigrants and their children in the country. Immigrants and their minor children now account for nearly one in five U.S. residents.
Mexican immigrants (legal and illegal) were by far the largest foreign-born population in the country in 2016. Mexico is the top sending country, with 1.1 million new immigrants arriving from Mexico between 2010 and 2016, or one out of eight new arrivals. However, because of return migration and natural mortality, the overall Mexican-born population has not grown in this six year period.
Of the 13.3 million lawful permanent residents living in the United States, approximately 8.8 million are eligible to apply for citizenship. There are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced a series of new executive actions on immigration. The actions provide temporary relief for four million to five million undocumented immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a long period of time and who have children who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents. Specifically, they include: Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) Program, which would offer a legal reprieve to the undocumented parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who have resided in the country for at least three years; and an expansion of the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that allowed young immigrants who are under 30 years old and were brought unlawfully as children, to apply for a deportation deferral.
Between 2014 and 2060, the US population is projected by the US Census Bureau to increase to 417 million, reaching 400 million in 2051. Without any immigration, the US population will increase by 31 million by 2050, to about 355 million, and not grow beyond that level thereafter. Even if immigration is half what the Census Bureau expects, the population will still grow 79 million by 2050, with immigration accounting for 61 percent of population growth. Though projections past 2050 are much more speculative, if the level of immigration the Census Bureau foresees in 2050 were to continue after that date, the US population would reach 618 million by 2100 — double the 2010 population.
For comparison, the US Census Bureau projects that the population of India will reach 1.65 billion by the year 2050, growing from around 1.4 billion in the year 2025. China will reach 1.3 billion by the year 2050, declining from a peak of around 1.4 billion around the year 2025. The European Union [taking into account Brexit] will reach 435 million by the year 2050, declining from a peak of around 462 million around the year 2005. Japan will reach 107 million by the year 2050, declining from a peak of around 127 million around the year 2005.
The frequently cited UN medium projection assumes Indian fertility will decline to below replacement by 2035 and remain at 1.8 births per woman in subsequent decades. As a result, India’s population is projected to peak at 1.7 billion in 2060 before declining to 1.5 billion by 2100.
Although international migration at or around current levels will be insufficient to compensate fully for the expected loss of population tied to low levels of fertility, especially in the European region, the movement of people between countries can help attenuate some of the adverse consequences of population ageing. In Europe, 25% of the population is already aged 60 years or over. That proportion is projected to reach 35% in 2050 and to remain around that level in the second half of the century. Populations in other regions are also projected to age significantly over the next several decades and continuing through 2100. Even Africa, for example, which has the youngest age distribution of any region, is projected to experience a rapid ageing of its population.
By comparison, the third and fourth most populous countries in 2100, Nigeria and the United States, are projected to have populations in 2100 of nearly 800 million and 450 million, respectively. The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100, according to a new United Nations report of 21 June 2017.
On May 7, 2017, at 6:13 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time, the US population clock is projected to cross the 325 million threshold. That’s according to Vintage 2016 population estimates produced by the U.S. Census Bureau. The share of the population born abroad is on track within just a few years to exceed its all-time high of 14.8 percent in 1890, at the Melting Pot Era’s height.
The U.S. population is projected to grow more slowly in future decades than in the recent past, as these projections assume that fertility rates will continue to decline and that there will be a modest decline in the overall rate of net international migration. By 2030, one in five Americans is projected to be 65 and over; by 2044, more than half of all americans are projected to belong to a minority group (any group other than non-Hispanic White alone); and by 2060, nearly one in five of the nation's total population is projected to be foreign born.
The 2012 election fundamentally changed the political calculus of immigration reform. More than 12 million Latino voters went to the polls, making up 10 percent of the American electorate. Seventy-three percent of them supported President Obama, representing a crucial margin that played a key role in his re-election victory. This conflict was further consolidated by the 2016 election of Donald Trump, whose victory rested in no small part on the anxieties of rural Whites about the browning of America.
In its first days, the Trump administration released wide-ranging executive orders on immigration and refugee resettlement, touching on everything from the construction of a border wall to deportations policy, the refugee resettlement program, and admissions from certain majority-Muslim countries. Trump proposed the most significant restriction on legal immigration since Congress slashed it after the Great War.
President Trump embraced a proposal on 02 August 2017 to slash legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade. Projections by the non-partisan Pew Research Center suggest that, compared to current law, Trump’s plan would reduce legal immigration through 2065 by tens of millions. “The actual number of people who might not come to the United States would be at least 30 million, possibly more,” said Mark Hugo Lopez, Pew’s director of Hispanic research.
As some 75 million baby boomers prepare to retire, immigrants will be crucial to keeping the federal pension program afloat. The crux of the problem is that the ratio of workers to retirees is falling fast. While there were 16 workers for every retiree in 1950, the ratio now stands at a little under 3 to 1 and within 20 years when the baby boomers are age 65 or older the ratio will fall to about 2.5 to 1.
Immigrants help ease this demographic problem in three ways. First, most come here between the ages of 18 and 35, near the start of their working years. Second, few come with elderly parents (only about 2.5% of immigrants are over age 65 when they arrive), and the seniors who do come aren't eligible for Social Security because they have no U.S. work history. Third, immigrants tend to have more children than do native-born Americans and their offspring will also pay into the system.
According to government estimates, about 13 million people currently live in the country as Lawful Permanent Residents [LPRs]. Changes to visa policies that broadly affected the characteristics of new LPRs—for example, by shifting the type of permanent visas awarded from family-based preferences to work-related or merit-based preferences—might have a significant impact on the demographic composition of LPRs and, as a result, on their use of federal programs and payment of taxes.
Changes that significantly increased the net flow of foreign-born workers into the United States, and therefore increased the total population, would lead to an increase in the supply of labor, which would have broad effects on the economy and the budget. The magnitude of those effects would depend on factors such as the new immigrants’ rate of participation in the labor force, their unemployment rate, the average number of hours they work, and their average wage.
The United States issued about 9.2 million visas for temporary admission in 2013. About 670,000 of those visas were issued to temporary workers and the rest were issued to other temporary residents and visitors. Because temporary workers are generally not eligible to receive benefits from most federal programs, policies that changed the number of temporary visas awarded to foreign-born workers might have a smaller effect on the federal budget than changes to the number of permanent residents.
A policy that modified the visa system in a way that resulted in a shift in the demographic composition of temporary workers also would affect the federal budget. For example, a shift that resulted in a larger share of people with more skills or education would probably reduce spending on needs-based programs and boost wages and tax revenues.
Granting legal status to some or all of the noncitizens living in the country without authorization would affect their tax liability, their eligibility for federal benefits, and the amount of benefits they received. Those effects would depend critically on the specific provisions of the legislation, which would determine when and how those newly authorized residents became eligible for federal benefits.
Some advocate that a path to citizenship should be opened for the 11 million unauthorized immigrants, many of whom lack access to publicly funded services, such as health care. Even the Affordable Care Act blocked unauthorized immigrants from participating in Medicaid expansions and private health insurance marketplaces. Many argue that public funds should not support immigrants whose tax payments may be insufficient to justify access to publicly funded programs.
Due to rising health care costs, and increased enrollment driven by baby-boomers, politicians and others have expressed concerns that Medicare may not be sustainable. Medicare’s revenues are mostly derived from earmarked taxes and general government revenues, with smaller funding streams from beneficiary premiums, state payments, taxes on Social Security benefits, and a few other sources.
Policies providing a path to citizenship for currently unauthorized immigrants would have multiple effects on Medicare’s finances. First, they would probably increase the number of immigrants eligible for Medicare and hence increase expenditures on their behalf in the long term. However, such policies would also likely increase payroll tax collections by reducing immigrants’ “off the books” employment and removing barriers that keep them out of jobs that generate higher wages (and payroll taxes). If there were a path to citizenship, unauthorized immigrants and the newly authorized would contribute a cumulative surplus of $45.7 billion, as compared to $44.1billion in the absence of this policy, from 2012 to 2019.
The younger age structure of the unauthorized immigrant population (compared to the age structure of the US-born) is likely to be the most important factor. This implies that a steady flow of healthy young immigrants would counterbalance the health care financing challenge presented by the aging US population and would help sustain Medicare funding for the millions of elderly and disabled Americans who rely on it.
Immigration helps balance out an aging population. Because most immigrants are young, additional immigration helps balance out the increase in retirees-per-worker that will occur as the Baby Boom generation retires. As a recently-published analysis in Health Affairs concluded, “Encouraging a steady flow of young immigrants would help offset the aging of the U.S. population and the health care financing challenge that it presents.”
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