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Mass Immigration and the American Nation

(Over 100 illegal immigrants rush a border fence in El Paso, Texas on March 21, 2024)

“The monthly encounters under President Biden have been like nothing else seen in American history. There are estimates that, in 2023, there were more illegal alien encounters per month than babies born to American mothers.”

Mass immigration into Western nations is among the defining issues of our time. It will continue to be so. The numbers that have come already are extraordinary. What is even more extraordinary is that the numbers likely to come in the future—unless something significantly changes—will make the currently extraordinary quantity seem small. The United Kingdom has been experiencing its own version of this flood over the last several years. But the epicenter of this new normal is the United States of America. Mass immigration constitutes one of the core elements of the new civil religion of the American ruling class, motivated by its New Moral Order. The consequences for the United States as a nation have already been immense. Going forward they are set to be truly seismic. 

The question of numbers must be considered first. Legal immigration into the United States has stood at 1-2 million persons per year for decades now. Alongside the legal numbers are the illegal numbers. Under President Donald Trump these began to fall, through a combination of immigration enforcement and outside circumstances such as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and the response to it

However, with the election of President Joe Biden and the end of COVID-19-era measures, the number of illegal aliens that has crossed into the United States is simply staggering. Various measures that President Biden implemented early on in his presidency effectively opened the United States’ Southern Border to all of those seeking to come. It is estimated that there have been at least 6.5 million, and possibly as many as 10 million border crossings since President Biden took office in January of 2021, the vast majority of those across the United States’ long border with Mexico. The monthly encounters under President Biden have been like nothing else seen in American history. There are estimates that, in 2023, there were more illegal alien encounters per month than babies born to American mothers

These are just the crossings that are known about via Border Patrol. There are likely many more that have crossed the Southern Border undetected, slipping unnoticed into the black economy of the swelling immigrant enclaves in sanctuary cities. Meanwhile, the idea that those encountered are returned in large enough numbers to make a dent is risible, given the reporting of Bill Melugin of Fox News and others showing those crossing illegally at various points being either allowed to enter unopposed or even waved in. Then there are those who push their way into the United States, as happened yesterday in Texas, overwhelming any resistance from agents of the state. No border, no country.

A functioning country has a border and also knows who resides in it. Ann Coulter wrote in her 2015 book Adios, America! that, in 2015, there were likely already 30 million illegal aliens residing in the United States. A Yale University study released in 2018 said that there were likely around 22 million. Contrary to this, the immigration-restrictionist Center for Immigration Studies supported the official number of illegal aliens at 11 million in a 2018 report. The Federation for Immigration Reform (FAIR) reported in June of 2023 that the numbers of illegal aliens in the United States stood at 16.8 million. But assuming the number of illegal immigrants had indeed stayed static at 11 million for decades, then the number of illegal immigrants now in the United States stands between 17-21 million. In such a short period of time, these sorts of numbers constitute nation-altering levels. Combine this with the 1-2 million legal immigrants per year, and one sees that the “nation of immigrants” myth has been willed into a reality it did not possess in the nation’s past. 

As Jeremy Carl has argued, it is more accurate to say that the United States was a nation of settlers that experienced waves of immigration through several periods in the 19th and early 20th centuries, each followed by a pause, the longest being the moratorium legislated by Congress in 1924, at which point the United States’ population was 14% foreign-born, a similar proportion as today. This immigration regime was ended, replaced by a hugely restricted system of national preference. This held until the passage of the Hart-Celler Act in 1965, which abolished this system and opened the gates. From 1965 to 2015, 59 million people immigrated to the United States, with around half from Latin America and a quarter from Asia. This means that at least 75% of immigrants came from non-European and Anglophone countries, a complete contrast from pre-1924 immigration.

This post-1965 wave was enabled by a combination of family-reunification measures that enabled mass chain migration, along with various visa schemes for workers. Legal immigration into the United States has been the main driver of its population growth. Before President Biden’s opening of the borders in 2021, 40 million people living in the United States were foreign born. Immigration throughout the latter half of the 20th century was a larger proportion of the population growth than even at the pre-freeze height in 1900-1910. The reality is that the situation under President Biden represents a radicalization and acceleration of an existing situation, much as the 2015 migrant crisis was for Europe, as Douglas Murray described in his 2017 book The Strange Death of Europe.

What do these numbers mean? Already by the late 1990s President Bill Clinton, senior politicians, and the media were prophesying the “browning of America” and “the end of white America.” Demographic change was a certainty when the fast rising post-1965 legal immigration was combined with illegal immigration, itself encouraged by moves like President Ronald Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act 1986, which reformed immigration to make it easier, did not enforce measures for control, and included a massive amnesty of illegal aliens into the bargain. This acted as an incentive that drew increasing numbers north toward the United States’ Southern Border. The Census Bureau estimated in 2012 that the United States would cease to be a white-majority country by 2044. Given the levels of immigration, both legal and illegal since then, it would not be a surprise if this date comes much sooner. White Americans were already a minority among the young before 2020, for example. 

For the American Left, such a transformation is all to the good, representing the dismantling of what many on the Left view as an inherently racist legacy American population. This population must be dispossessed and replaced to ensure the rise to hegemony of “people of color.” Everything that is bad about America, in their eyes, comes from white people; is embodied by the white population; and is enforced through the institutions white Americans founded and developed. The only way to erase the stain of past oppression and present systemic prejudice is to displace the population that created such oppression and continues to enable such prejudice. Change the people; change the politics; change the country. With the decline of the United States’ white majority into plurality and eventual minority status, those on the Left believe they will have the power to begin the world over again, completely to entrench and implement the woke New Moral Order that sanctifies in the present those groups oppressed in the past. 

For the American Right, meanwhile, the attitude to this is either apathy, a “So what?” shrug of the shoulders or to retreat to the claim that “America was always a propositional nation, an idea, so the people don’t matter” a position, which is divorced, of course, from history and present reality. Then, others embrace a deeply unpleasant and profoundly unintelligent white nationalism that sees nations primarily through the lens of race. This usually also results, sadly, in eventually blaming everything on the Jews. None of these reactions are appropriate or equal to the moment. The first is fatalist and defeatist; the second is irrelevant; and the third is immoral.

The United States, like other nations, is a place that was inhabited for much of its history by a particular people. The ideas in the Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights, and the Constitution of 1787 did not create the people. Rather, the people created the ideas. These ideas concerning the best form of government were nurtured and given shape by the culture, norms, mores, and metaphysics of a particular set of people bound together in a specific place at a specific time. As Russell Kirk argued in his 1974 book The Roots of American Order as well as in his 1993 book America’s British Culture, the influence of British political culture and constitutional forms was fundamental.

Moreover, as Samuel Huntington put it in his 2005 book Who Are We?, it is simply to reckon with reality to conclude that the United States became what it was because it grew out of a British-majority people transplanted to the New World. As Huntington asserts, the United States would have been very different had it been influenced and founded by the French or Spanish. The British roots of the American culture and political order were filtered through the material experience of the Founders and their people’s existence in a new land for decades and centuries before 1776, along with strands of ancient philosophy that were woven together to create the infant United States of America. 

The United States was never originally just an idea or proposition, and it was not, in fact, a nation of immigrants. From the beginning, American elites were skeptical of immigration and praised the fact that Americans largely shared the same heritage. As John Jay wrote in Federalist No. 2, “…Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people—a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.”

Jay continued“This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties.”

The United States became more ideological as the inevitable result of the increase in mass and scale that accompanied both industrialization and population growth. The immigration during the late-19th and early 20th-centuries required a project of Americanization into which the new arrivals could assimilate. This entailed a more abstract, ideas-based conception of what it meant to be an American. However, even then, the United States had figures such as President Theodore Roosevelt, inveighing against hyphenated identities, such as in his famous 1915 Carnegie Hall address: “There is no room in this country for hyphenated Americanism…The one absolutely certain way of bringing this nation to ruin, of preventing all possibility of its continuing to be a nation at all, would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities…” 

In 1924, the United States imposed a pause in immigration that was overwhelmingly European in origin, when the foreign born comprised 14.8% of the population. Today, with the population at around 14%, the American managerial ruling class and corporate oligarchy seem determined to speedrun the United States through an unprecedented situation of a democratic nation-state that goes from ethnic majority to ethnic plurality. This has never happened before in history in peacetime, with the tacit acceptance of the majority population. We might at least be able to acknowledge this uniqueness and admit that immigration at this scale could constitute something other than a benign phenomenon. The transformation of the American population has been accompanied by a fall in social capital and cohesion. A 2020 meta-study confirmed the thesis of Robert Putnam’s 2007 findings in his lecture “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty‐first Century” on the negative effects on trust from rising diversity. 

Trust is the social lubricant that makes possible the expanded sense of self that underlies the development of what Yoram Hazony calls “mutual loyalty,” the bonds of obligation and reciprocity that make civilized society possible. Mutual loyalty at the individual, familial, communal, and national level binds a nation together, giving it a sense of belonging. It imbues a feeling of a shared past and a sense of duty to pass on an inheritance to a common future. In short, it creates the “first person plural,” the sense of a “we” that Roger Scruton argued is at the center of what defines a nation, whereby strangers can live together in peace and acquiesce to political results that go against their preferences. All of this is put under immense strain by such levels of immigration as the United States has experienced since 1965, and especially since President Biden took office. With the United States’ changing population, one must ask: Is the United States even truly a nation anymore? To paraphrase Christopher Caldwell, “Can America be the same with different people in it?” 

These rapid and seismic changes have their roots in the 1965 Hart-Celler Act. This act expressed the logic of the managerial revolution of the mid-20th century. This was a “revolution within the form” of American government, leading to the progressive removal of power and sovereignty from politics into the administrative state. The immigration revolution is the inevitable partner to the managerial revolution. Bringing new peoples into the United States dissolves old ties of mutual loyalty and fellow-feeling between the communities of the legacy population. Such change creates a homogenized mass of deracinated and atomized individuals who seek solace and status through politicized identity groups, undergirded by the instruments of the managerial regime. This twin revolution in government and population means the United States is no longer the country it was. What it will now become remains to be seen.

Henry George is a columnist at Merion West, focusing on politics, political philosophy, and culture. 

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