Twenty Years and Counting (Editorial)

By John Tanton
Volume 2, Number 4 (Summer 1992)
Issue theme: "Twenty years later: a lost opportunity"

It is now two decades since our country made its first attempt to enunciate a national population policy. President Nixon had appointed the Commission on Population Growth and the American Future. I well recall testifying before it on behalf of the Sierra Club, as chairman of its Population Committee. We witnesses were hopeful... there was little opposition... it was the heyday of the population movement. Why, then, did so little happen?

We have asked David Simcox, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) to help us analyze this question and commemorate the work of the Commission. His lead article sets the stage for the recollections of Congressman James Scheuer (D-NY), one of the commissioners. Roy Beck follows this with interviews of some of the principal staff people and consultants. We conclude this feature section by reproducing the chapter on immigration from the Commission's report. This was one of the very first public acknowledgements of the immigration topic, in what has become the late-twentieth-century round of immigration debates.

The Rockefeller Commission was an opportunity lost - perhaps by overzealous staff people who could not content themselves with first steps. We pay the price today in a rudderless immigration policy that has no overall guidance on numbers. The reckoning will come in our children's generation as, in the meantime, we continue to multiply our numbers and divide our resources.

Beyond this 'commemoration' (requiem?) we present an interesting collection of articles on the consequences of a short-term and poorly thought out immigration policy, a glance at the international migration scene, and several valuable items on the opening up of the immigration debate in the United States. These last-mentioned articles are particularly heartening, as we have long-theorized that in the U.S.A. there would be three stages in the immi-gration debate

1. The Statue of Liberty/ Emma Lazarus phase, in which appealing to the (misunderstood) imagery of the statue1 and reciting Ms. Lazarus' poem are sufficient answers to any and all immigration policy questions. Both conjure up a politically correct understanding of America as perpetually open to unlimited immigration.

2. The caveat phase, in which people are beginning to think about the issue rather than just react to it - but still feel the need to excuse themselves for this lack of orthodoxy by prefacing their comments with 'Now, I'm not a racist or a xenophobe, but I've been thinking about immigration and...'

3. The free discussion phase, in which the immigration topic matures into a legitimate item for public debate, just like any other important national issue. Those who engage in the debate can do so without having to endure the reprisals of character assassination.

We take hope that the articles reproduced in the section entitled 'Immigration The Emerging Topic' are signs that we are at last moving into Phase Three.

We conclude by reviewing several offerings out of the current surge of population- and immigration-related books.

But underlying all these considerations is the question of numbers. Somehow we must work our way back upstream to an agreement on how numerous we want to become.

John H. Tanton

Editor and Publisher

1 See Elizabeth Koed's essay 'A Symbol Transformed How 'Liberty Enlightening the World' Became 'The Mother of Exiles'' in the Spring 1992 issue of The Social Contract, page 134 ff.

About the author

John Tanton is Editor and Publisher of The Social Contract and founder of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. His personal website is