One of the chief conceits of the pro-immigration crowd-and by that I mean those who support the current policy of mass, unfettered immigration to this country-is that we are a “nation of immigrants.” And that is a true statement, as far as it goes. No one contests the fact that various immigrant groups have made important economic and cultural contributions to this country over the course of this nation’s brief history. In fact, one need look no further than my own hometown to see that this maxim does have a certain ring of truth. Whether it’s the waves of Irishmen who populated our civil service in past centuries, or the Italian immigrants who constructed many of the majestic buildings that we now take for granted, or even more recently, the West Indians who have revitalized the previously blighted community of Flatbush-the neighborhood of my birth-there are many examples of immigrant groups that have contributed to this city’s prosperity, and by extension, the prosperity of the nation.
Therefore, the question is not whether immigrants have contributed economically or culturally to this city or this nation-something that is not contested-but whether that then means we have no alternative but to welcome each and every person who seeks to emigrate from their nation of origin and to settle permanently in America. My answer, in contrast to the many pubic officials who are fond of disgorging nostalgic, but not very informed, rhetoric on this issue, is a categorical “no.”
We can’t welcome each and every person who wants to live here-which would include over forty percent of the current population of Mexico, if a survey by the Pew Hispanic Research Center is to be believed-even if doing so would validate the misconception some have that we were once a nation without tangible immigration limits or border controls. We can’t because it is simply not sustainable as a long term policy.
To focus solely on my city, we see the inability of this idealistic vision to reconcile itself with reality. We now have eight million people living within the confines of the five boroughs-not including the hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens who studiously avoid being counted by the U.S. Census Bureau, or the 20+ million people who live in the greater metro area-and that population is expected to exceed 14 million in a matter of years.
Now, I’m not going to advance any apocalyptic claims of catastrophic pollution that brings this city grinding to a halt, or horrific, inter-ethnic strife that breaks the back of the NYPD, because they are unnecessary. We do not need to fear an improbable future scenario when the concept of living in another bursting megalopolis-along the lines of something we are currently witness to in mainland China, or see in Mexico City (D.F.)-is so manifestly unappealing, and unworkable on its face.
Could we live alongside 14, or 20, or 25 million fellow New Yorkers? Quite possibly we could, but why would anyone in his or her right mind want to? Our mass transit system is already taxed to its limit-and perhaps beyond-our public hospitals are overcapacity, and the cost-of-living is already exorbitantly high, and increasing with some rapidity, in this city. Why would any rational person-who did not have a vested financial or political interest in the matter-want to exacerbate the pre-existing, chronic problems our city is currently facing?
I think that’s the question you need to ask of people who endlessly repeat the mantra-and only partial truth-that we are a nation and a city of immigrants, instead of providing us with real, concrete solutions.