Immigration has long been integral to America’s national identity, but our citizenry has also historically been united by what Abraham Lincoln called “the political religion of the nation”—a shared reverence for our Constitution and laws. Indeed, while Americans tend to support immigration as an ideal, many intuitively sense that something has gone badly awry with an immigration system overrun with illegality. And the facts support that intuition. According to Census Bureau statistics, immigrants’ share of the U.S. population rose more from 1990 to 2010 than during any other 20-year period since these figures were first recorded in 1850—from 7.9 percent to 12.9 percent (up 5 percentage points). This broke the previous record set from 1850 to 1870, when it rose from 9.7 percent to 14.4 percent (up 4.7 percentage points). In other words, immigration reshaped the composition of the population more significantly from 1990 to 2010 than over any prior 20-year period since at least 1850, including during the great waves of immigration of the late nineteenth century. While the Census Bureau couldn’t collect reliable statistics on immigrants’ share of the U.S. population during the most recent decennial census—largely because it adopted Covid policies that kept it from going door-to-door during much of 2020—its (generally less reliable) annual surveys indicate that immigrants’ share of the U.S. population continued to rise from 2010 to 2020, though not by as much as over the previous few decades.
Under President Biden, border crossings have accelerated at an extraordinary clip. Under the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called the “Remain in Mexico” policy (officially, the Migrant Protection Protocols) “an indispensable tool in addressing the ongoing crisis at the southern border and restoring integrity to the immigration system.” Yet, as Andrew Arthur of the Center for Immigration Studies writes, “the Biden administration suspended enrollments in the program the day after taking office.” Arthur adds that the Biden administration has now proposed a rule that would “allow DHS to release any illegal migrant it cannot detain into the United States, while at the same time Biden is asking Congress to cut immigration detention in his proposed FY 2022 budget.”
It’s hard to get informative statistics out of the Department of Homeland Security, but legal challenges to Biden’s lax enforcement of federal immigration laws have yielded some fruits in this regard. As Arthur highlights, in response to a federal district court order, DHS has released statistics on how many migrants the Biden administration has apprehended at the border and then released into the U.S., and it has also published stats from prior years. These show the magnitude of the change under Biden.
DHS statistics show that from Biden’s Inauguration Day through May 2022—just 16 months and change—about 1.05 million migrants were apprehended on the southwestern border and then released into the U.S. That’s more than were apprehended on that border and released into the U.S. during the four years from Fiscal Year 2017 through Fiscal Year 2020. Under Biden, authorities have detained and released into the U.S. about 2,200 migrants a day on average—four times as many as the approximately 550 per day apprehended and released during the eight fiscal years preceding Biden. And these tallies don’t include unaccompanied minors, let alone the unknown sums of people who have evaded capture.
If all 1.05 million of those migrants had settled in one place, forming a wholly new city in the process, that new settlement would now be the tenth-largest city in the U.S. Forty-four of the 50 states don’t have a single city that large.
Such huge influxes would make assimilation challenging in the best of circumstances, but it’s even more difficult thanks to the Left’s rejection of assimilation in favor of “integration.” As my former colleague John Fonte writes, “The pillars of the . . . integration project are for immigrants to maintain both their native language and culture. For the first time in American history, the federal government emphasizes these objectives over learning English and cultural assimilation.” Elsewhere, Fonte and the Ethics and Public Policy Center’s Stanley Kurtz observe that “America has been the most successful immigration country in the history of the world precisely because newcomers and their children have assimilated.” This has been a point of emphasis from George Washington until practically yesterday. As Fonte and Kurtz note, “Lincoln remarked that although immigrants were not directly descended from the founding generation, by accepting the American creed as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, they became ‘as though they were the blood of the blood and the flesh of the flesh of the men who wrote the Declaration, and so they are.’”
Not everyone today is willing to embrace the traditional American creed, or even to recognize the existence of the unalienable rights that the Declaration holds as self-evident. As Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson says, “I do not hold a position on whether individuals possess natural rights.” Is it any wonder that an administration that nominated such a jurist isn’t overly enthusiastic about teaching longstanding American ideals to immigrants? The Biden administration seems far more interested in transforming our society in the service of progressive goals than in transmitting the principles and mores that underlie, enrich, and perpetuate the traditional American way of life. Open borders are a central plank of that transformational agenda.
As most Americans intuitively glean, strange things are afoot when it comes to immigration. Its sheer quantity, its frequent illegality, and the de-emphasis of assimilation are all profound departures from our country’s traditional norms. As with other issues, it is not everyday Americans but elites who are denying reality.
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