The Welcome Mat is Threadbare

		        Yeh Ling-Ling

                   Los Angeles Times Op-Ed
		       April 13, 1994
When the Statue of Liberty was erected in 1886, this country had 60 million people and plenty of resources. Today, the United States has 260 million residents, of whom 37 million are poor, 8.7 million unemployed, more than 35 million without health insurance, hundreds of thousands homeless. We have a $4.5-trillion national debt. Our schools are overcrowded and underfunded and our freeways more congested than ever.

Seeing this nation in distress, the Clinton Administration promises that it will provide health care to all Americans, cut our welfare rolls, put our unemployed back to work, trim our national debt and improve our public schools. Yet how can these goals be achieved without first controlling the population growth in this country?

I am a first-generation immigrant. I also have 10 years' experience as an immigration paralegal. I recently joined the staff of Population-Environment Balance out of a recognition that the United States must encourage a replacement-level fertility rate of 2.1 or lower, concurrently adopt a replacement-level immigration policy of 200,000 people a year and enforce our immigration laws. These measures are necessary to protect the quality of life of Americans of all racial backgrounds.

Immigration contributes nearly 50% of U.S. population growth, considering immigrants' higher-than-average fertility rates. Every year, about 1 million immigrants enter the United States legally, while an estimated 300,000 arrive and stay illegally. The projected cost of providing universal health care to all existing Americans and legal immigrants is already alarming. Who will finance the cost of future legal immigrants and their U.S.-born children?

The usage of welfare by elderly resident aliens, not including naturalized citizens, increased 400% from 1982 to 1992. In 1992 alone, more than 90,000 legal immigrants age 55 and over entered the United States. If we continue to admit elderly immigrants at this rate, how can we keep our welfare and Medicare rolls from soaring?

Almost every week, we hear about thousands of our workers losing their jobs. Yet in 1992, more than 750,000 legal immigrants of working age were admitted to this country. In addition, we admit annually more than 60,000 foreign professionals on extended work visas. Many of these "temporary workers" enter skilled occupations, such as computer programming and engineering, where there have been massive layoffs. If the United States continues with an immigration policy that operates as if we had a labor shortage, how can we expect unemployed Americans and welfare recipients to find jobs? Donald Huddle of Rice University estimates that 2 million American workers were displaced by 1992 as a result of immigration since 1970, at a cost of $11.9 billion paid to U.S. workers in unemployment and other benefits. Huddle also estimates that in 1992 alone, immigrants used services costing $42.5 billion in excess of taxes they paid.

The economy of the past 200 years was mostly labor-intensive. With advances in technology, our economy now requires highly skilled workers to prosper. Yet nearly two-thirds of the legal immigrants entering this country every year are low-skilled. Half of them enter occupations that are disappearing, where they compete mostly with poor minority workers.

This country does not even have the resources to provide an adequate education for current residents so that they may acquire the necessary skills to help the United States remain competitive. Where are we going to find tax dollars to educate the hundreds of thousands of legal immigrant children we invite to this country every year?

Even if all newcomers were to bring economic assets to this country, how can a state like California, which absorbs almost half of the U.S. immigrant population, deal with the growing problems such as water shortages and farmland loss? Nationally, an average of 1.5 million acres of arable land are lost annually to erosion and development due to rapid population growth. Our underground aquifers are being depleted 25% faster than the recharge rates.

Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) has introduced a bill to reduce the legal immigration ceiling to a base figure of 500,000 a year--a commendable action, but the ceiling should be much lower. Given our finite fiscal and natural resources, we must aim for an all-inclusive ceiling--legal immigration, amnesty, refugees, etc.--of 200,000 a year.

In opinion polls, the majority of Americans, including 78% of Latino Americans, say they support a reduction in immigration, legal as well as illegal. Until our national leaders recognize that our current level of immigration far exceeds this country's carrying capacity, no real remedies to America's problems will be found.

Yeh Ling-Ling is California outreach coordinator for Population-Environment Balance, a Washington-based group.