Tuesday, 10 January 2006

Immigration (Finger Print Blues)

One of my favourite bits of New York is Ellis Island, I find it both inspiring and moving and I like the buzz about the place as children and adults trace their history. Amazing. Reminds me of what makes America the kind of place it is.

There's a section in the museum dedicated to moments in US history of anti-immigration feeling, a man was reading out a description of some of the darker moments to his partially sighted wife and when he finished he looked at the guy next to him and said: "That could be now, it's coming round again, how quick we forget."

Immigration is always a hot debate, the UK is only just relaxing from a good few years of frankly racist hot air about the perils of 'letting them in'. Xenophobia is never far from the surface in discussions about immigration and even bigger denials of racism, no likes to be a bigot but hey, they come over here and steal our jobs right? Right?

Inspired by Ellis Island I decided to look into immigration in the US and thanks to the excellent US Citizenship and Immigration Services I got some interesting facts. Unfortunately all the latest data is 2004 but it'll do and before I go on can I remind you that the population of the US is 295 million. Thanks.

Total immigration into the US in 2004 was just under 1 million people at 946,142 with the highest amount ever (1.8 million) coming in 1991. The lowest ever it seems was 1976 for some reason, with only 103,677 people deciding to try their luck in America. If anyone knows why or has some idea please share.

What amazed me is that only 75,000 of that 946,142 were refugees/asylum seekers, in other words the rest were economic migrants coming to see if the streets were paved with gold (more on that later). Indeed the most refugees ever admitted was in 92, when 120,000 were let in.

How many of those are willing to go through the 3-5 year naturalisation program? 537,151 became naturalised US citizens in 2004 with the peak being 1 million in 1996 and guess which two States most of them live in? California just pips New York.

I know what you're all thinking, what about all the ones that don't get in? These are split into different groups for some reason but the first group is the number of illegal aliens located (ie: logged but not ejected) and in 2004 that was 1.2 million (the peak being 2000 with 1.8 million) but that doesn't include those that are logged by the Border Patrols, this figure is 1.1 million (giving a total of 2.3 million illegal aliens) but these are ejected straight away. Guess how many of the 1.2 million located illegal aliens were expelled? 1.2 million.

What I'm trying to say is, consider the population of the US, consider the amount of people trying to get in and how many get through (and I'm sure many illegal aliens avoid being located) and see if that makes an immigration problem.

Here's what I think, most nations at some time start to blame immigrants for the social and economic ills of their failed policies, because that person is at the bottom of the pile, they are the easy target; the whipping boy but it's far harder to point the finger at those in power, those that set the economic parameters.

I was curious about how many US citizens emigrated every year to other countries and that info is far harder to come by, the estimate stands at 48,000 people a year leave America for good, for pastures new. The most popular destination? Europe and Canada.

As for streets paved with gold...

"But when they got here, they discovered three important things: First, the streets weren't paved in gold; second, they weren't paved at all; and third, they were expected to pave them!"


  1. excellent post. Thanks for pointing out another one of the Right's straw men.
    Planco's doing a series of posts on Dr. Britt's 14 Defining Characteristics of Fascism, and this is a big one.


  2. This is the best post ive read in a long time, awesome.

  3. Daniel- Just a theory, mind you, but I wonder if the low numbers of people immigrating into the US during 1976 had anything to do with our up and down state of affairs concerning our government. We were a disillusioned country with little to believe in our government after the Watergate scandel. Ford was beaten by Carter in 76 (mostly for pardoning Nixon over Watergate), and our economy was going through a recession. Within a couple of years, we would be suffering our first gas crisis, and told by Carter that we should learn to economize our resources by driving smaller cars (which caused Toyota to become the top selling car during that period), and leave our thermostats at 68 degrees.
    Unemployment was also high during that time.
    Perhaps the immigrants who thought about immigrating here read the "streets paved with gold"
    quote and decided to wait it out a couple of years. We weren't a promising country during that time for sure.

    This was an excellant post, and I feel lucky for stopping by today to read it. You did a fantastic job with your research, and I walk away a little smarter for all your work.

  4. Interesting post today! Thanks! Ellen has an excellent point about 1976.

  5. I thought at first that the problem would have been the rancid state of affairs in America's political structure, but on the whole, immigrants are looking for a better way of life, not accountable government and well-run institutions.

    I think the reason 1976 is so low is partly because of the soiled reputation the States gave itself through its prolonged and illegal war in Vietnam, which basically boils down to propping up Lockheed Martin and other weapons manufacturers as the new corporate welfare superclass.

    But even this doesn't ring completely plausible, because the fact is that war is profitable. You don't move to a country because of your political beliefs, unless you're Lee Harvey Oswald or Gregory Hines--well, his character in White Nights.

    In fact, one would be expected to move toward where the jobs are, and when things are booming (literally) immigration rates should rise.

    However, America had spent its credibility, its youth, its money, and its ability to propone its artificial economy by 1976, after a steady trend toward Third World living conditions. And here is where I think the real reason immigration was so low appears.

    The average American citizen of 1976, while enjoying "rights" and "freedoms" on paper, was materially less well off than the average Nicaraguan, and much less well off than the average Costa Rican.

    Even today, remember the story last year about the guy who walked around with a nail in his head for six weeks, because he couldn't afford the medical bill--and after it almost killed him, they took it out in an emergency procedure, then charged him 100k for the trouble.

    In 1976 things were much grimmer, because in 2004 at least, the military-industrial behemoth was back in full swing, and fake jobs were aplenty.

    The numbers will again sink, once this little cock Bush has spent his load, and of course immigrants will be blamed for Bush's mistakes. Remember that the Caesarsean elites blamed slaves and freedmen for everything from poor harvests to the flooding Tiber.

    Well, that is until those pesky--and convenient--Christians came along to throw to the lions.

    I like the quote at the end, except that the road contracts are all deep "respectable ethnic businessman" territory. You know, Manny's Artificial Fern Initiative Association?

    Immigrants come to Canada because they're looking for jobs, plain and simple. And rather than a military-industrial complex which produces death and pollution, we have a social safety net, through which recombinent spending creates massive wealth across the widest scope of the polity.

    And we're all good looking and have great teeth. :)

  6. Awesome site!

    I always love to read outside views of America. I know this country isn't perfect and far from it right now, but it is an exemption to most of state history.

    Enjoy your time here and I will be checking back.

  7. Good stuff Daniel, very intresting post indeed.

    allow me to add this. I would be interested to know the classification of the entering immigration by social status and education level; a significant number of immigrants to the US are the “cream du la cream” of their societies. Many are very well educated caliber from the third world, and Eastern Europe who have had excellent education and are needed for key positions in the US starting from the High-tech industry to scientific research to medical professionals in the category of “Skilled workers”.

    Since Europe is already building a “green card” like system to accommodate immigrants Check this link http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,13509-1953099,00.html to attract a caliber in the medical and High-Tech sector claiming that 80% (I can’t find the study again, it was on the internet somewhere) of immigrants to the US are skilled workers and that 20% or less is the ratio in Europe. The reason is not just the decline is European population. Actually the study that I read before referred to the competitiveness of European research compared to that of the US. Germany just a few years ago offered a green-card like system on it’s own that started initially for High-Tech workers from few selected countries and was expanded later.

    Personally I know a dozen Egyptian immigrants to the US who are Doctors and PhD level personnel. all brown, all middle eastern and all dearly missed in their country, but they left after the promise of a better life (some of them didn’t think better life meant more money, they just wanted a better scientific environment!!) In Egypt there was and still is a debate about the side effects of the so called “immigration of brains” claiming that the US is getting the lion’s share of the brains needed at home!

    If one immigrant like the Egyptian Ahmed Zewail http://nobelprize.org/chemistry/laureates/1999/ who got the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1999 (After leaving Egypt with a Masters degree) is a bad immigrant then I have nothing to say!
    If you can’t accept 5 or more “assholes” (who are helpless! and are willing to clean toilets and flip burgers!) for every EXTRA bright immigrant, then just do that, kick'em all out! Why only speak about it with endless bla bla and never really do it?

    Now claiming that immigration to the US is causing trouble rather than saying the truth that it is increasing the competitive edge of America is bullshit. I always believed so and always will.

    the shit has already hit the fan on a global scale don't you think? :)

  8. So many amazing Ellis Island stories. Angel Island, the San Francisco equivalent, is another place rife with sadness and awe. Mostly sadness, given the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.


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