Affirmative Action for Immigrants? (Editorial)

By John Tanton
Volume 6, Number 2 (Winter 1995-1996)
Issue theme: "Affirmative action for immigrants?"

About a year ago there was a good deal in the press about an initiative effort in California to put an affirmative action measure on the ballot in the fall of 1996. Realizing that there was an immigration angle to the affirmative action story, we asked our senior analyst James Robb to look into the connection. The result was his 121-page monograph entitled 'Affirmative Action for Immigrants The Entitlement Nobody Wanted.' For this issue of The Social Contract he condenses his report to ten pages, which we are pleased to present as our cover article. (Jim says that in this process of abbreviation he learned what Pascal meant when he wrote to a friend, 'I have made this letter longer than usual, because I lacked the time to make it short.')

Whether the initiative will make it to the California ballot remains to be seen. (I know from personal experience on two occasions just how trying a process it is in California.) But the absurdity of giving preferences to immigrants freshly arrived in the country does seem to be the Achilles' heel of the affirmative action program, as one of Robb's interviewees claimed. We chose that symbolism for our cover art.

It seems to us that either immigrants will have to be excluded from affirmative action programs or the programs will have to be scaled back substantially. It will be of interest to see how this plays out in the forthcoming election cycle.

We call your particular attention to David Simcox's article, 'USA - Land of Perpetual Immi-gration?' This is a commentary on an article by Douglas Massey that Dave had discovered. Too long to reprint in our journal, the article contends that we Americans place excessive faith in enacting laws as a way to change behavior (at least in immigration matters).

Massey believes that much of the credit for breaking immigration flows that is given to the Acts of 1921 and 1924 belongs instead to other phenomena the disruption of shipping in WW I, and then the Great Depression and WW II.

Conversely, he feels that much of the blame laid on the Act of l965 for opening up immigration is misplaced. Instead we should look to such factors as the doubling of world population from two billion in 1910 to 4 billion in 1975 (hence increasing 'push' pressures), the improvements in communication technology that helped get people to thinking about migrating, and the betterment in modes of transpor-tation that have made moving easier, and perhaps even less expensive in inflation-adjusted currency.

One way to test this thesis is to ask what the result would have been if the 1965 Act had passed in 1924, and the 1924 Act in 1965. Would the flow have opened up in 1924, and closed down in 1965? Probably not. As it was, both pieces of legislation were 'going with the flow' of their times, and were reinforced by other trends that were already in place, or developed in subsequent years.

The significance of this reality for current reform efforts is that restrictive legislation today is 'going against the flow' of a further increase in world population of 2 billion people by 2000 (over the 1975 figure); further improvements in communication and transportation technology; and the social, political, environmental and economic unrest in much of the sending world - plus the momentum of the immi-grant stream. Massey performs a real service by spending some time on this concept of momentum, so important in demographic matters. More like driving a speeding auto than filling a sink, an immigration flow cannot be readily stopped. The unwelcome conclusion just changing the laws, much as that needs to be done, will not likely bring the desired end to illegal immigration and the substantial slowing of legal immigration. More stringent measures will certainly be called for - what these might be I will leave to your imagination.

Information on how to obtain a copy of Massey's 20-page article can be found in the first endnote to Simcox's commentary.

These are certainly fundamental points with which immigration reformers must come to grips.

Elsewhere in the issue we present an interesting collage of materials on population, immigration, language and national unity concerns. We hope these will repay the reading time.

We always welcome your comments.

John Tanton

Editor and Publisher

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