Unless there's a dramatic change in Washington's attitude toward legal immigration, a half century from now our nation will have to confront the daunting challenges of providing for a population that is at least twice as large as it is today.
The population of the US has almost doubled since the end of World War II, and it is headed for another doubling by the year 2050, when it could exceed half a billion. The engine driving this unprecedented growth is immigration. Natives of other lands who have settled here since the 1970s and their offspring account for half the population increase we have experienced in the last quarter century. And the effects of immigration will be even more dramatic in the future: By 2050, more than 90 percent of our annual growth will be attributable to immigrants who have settled here since the early 1990s.
As recently as 1990, the Census Bureau predicted that US population would peak and then level off a few decades from now. In 1994, however, because of unexpectedly high rates of immigration, the bureau changed its projections and now sees our population growing unabated into the late 21st century, when it could reach 700 million, 800 million, or even 1 billion Americans.
Until just a few months ago, it was widely expected that Congress would pass legislation this year that would reduce the number of legal (as well as illegal) immigrants entering the United States. The Clinton administration had proposed such reductions, and both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees' versions of immigration-reform legislation contained them. All three proposals were based on the well-considered recommendations of the immigration-reform commission headed by the late Barbara Jordan, which had proposed a decrease in legal immigration of about 300,000 a year.
Illegal-immigration reform passed easily in both the House and the Senate. But both chambers, with the Clinton administration's blessing, rejected including new limits on legal immigration in those bills. Although it is not too late for this Congress to consider legal immigration changes on their own, it won't happen without a strong new political push.
Supporters of the status quo on legal immigration say we need and want those who immigrate legally, and that our only real immigration problem is the large number of people who are settling here illegally. But the fact is, both types of immigration determine how many newcomers our communities have to absorb, how fierce the competition for jobs is, and how much our quality of life is …