July 14, 2006

It is quite common for people to view America’s immigration debate solely through the painfully narrow lens of border security.  Many voices state that border security is the only reality that needs to be considered in the immigration debate.  National security has, after all, become the national trump card under which the country has sacrificed all manner of things:  privacy rights, due process rights, environmental protections, balanced budgets.  While reasonable people will certainly disagree as to the outcome of such policy debates, allowing all arguments to be reduced exclusively to the national security perspective is folly.  The immigration debate is a perfect example.  No one disputes that border security is a legitimate and necessary goal, but it is not the only factor that must be considered in crafting the solution–there are other realities that we ignore at our peril.  One of the realities facing the U.S. and most other developed countries is the demographic aging of our populations.  Of the U.S. population of 300 million, 75 million are baby-boomers who have already left the workforce or will be soon.  Twelve percent of the population is already over age 65.  Thanks to immigration, the U.S. finds itself in a better position than many other global competitors.  According to the Population Reference Bureau, Europe’s population is expected to decrease by 55 million (-10%) in the next 45 years, Japan’s alone by some 20 million (-21%).  Aging populations mean fewer workers and less entrepreneurship, which means slowing economies.  Slowing economies mean lower standards of living and decreasing economic competitiveness.  Russia, facing a nearly 25% decrease in its population over the next 45 years, has turned to immigration to deal with the crisis, attempting to draw ethnic Russians back from former Soviet republics.  The U.S., in comparison, is experiencing modest population growth .  A January 2006 PRB report showed that the demographics of the U.S’s ethnic white non-Hispanic population resembled that of Germany’s:  a fertility rate of 1.85 and a declining population.  However, the U.S.’s total fertility rate is exactly 2.0, the replacement level, when all ethnic populations are combined and, when added to migration levels, is actually allowing modest population growth.  These demographic realities and their implications for the country’s future economic competitiveness should play just as significant a part of the immigration debate as border security.