With low birth rate, America needs future migrants

With low birth rate, America needs future migrants
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpNASA exec leading moon mission quits weeks after appointment The Hill's Morning Report — After contentious week, Trump heads for Japan Frustration boils over with Senate's 'legislative graveyard' MORE, not happy with $1.38 billion for his border wall, has declared a national emergency so that he can use other appropriated funds. However, the real national emergency is not keeping people out with a wall; rather, it is getting the right people to come to America to counter its very low fertility rate of 1.76, which is well below the required population-replacement rate.

America’s challenge — if it wants to remain a superpower — is not to build walls and restrict migrant flow excessively, as the Trump administration insists, but rather to manage properly a more generous migrant flow so that its population continues to grow, with all the attendant benefits.

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In November, the Pew Research Center released data on migration to the United States. The U.S. has more immigrants than any country — about 40 million, making up 13.5 percent of the U.S. population. Among those immigrants, 10.7 million are unauthorized or illegal (23.7 percent of U.S. immigrants). Since 2010, more Asian than Hispanic migrants have arrived each year. Regarding refugees, in fiscal 2017, almost 54,000 were resettled here. The largest number of these immigrants came from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, followed by Iraq, Syria, Somalia and Myanmar.

Several factors suggest that migrant flow to U.S. borders will increase in the future. Just beyond Mexico lie the three countries from which highly publicized “caravans” originated in recent months. Stephanie Leutert, writing in Foreign Affairs, indicated that over the past five years, 875,000 migrants from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador have come to the U.S. border, driven mainly by gang violence and economic hardship. Until those factors are dealt with, we can expect this flow from Central America to continue. 

A second factor which eventually will impact migrant flow to the U.S., what New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman calls the “zone of order,” is climate change. More than three years ago in a commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy, then-President Barack Obama sketched the risks ahead: "Around the world, climate change increases the risk of instability and conflict. Rising seas are already swallowing low-lying lands, from Bangladesh to Pacific islands, forcing people from their homes. Caribbean islands and Central American coasts are vulnerable, as well."  

"Globally, we could see a rise in climate change refugees," Obama added. "And I guarantee you the Coast Guard will have to respond. Elsewhere, more intense droughts will exacerbate shortages of water and food, increase competition for resources, and create the potential for mass migrations and new tensions. All of which is why the Pentagon calls climate change a 'threat multiplier.'"

The Trump administration has disallowed the Department of Defense from addressing the impact of climate change in any meaningful way, deleting it from the official list of national security threats. However, a recent DOD report maintains that it is, stating: “The effects of a changing climate are a national security issue with potential impacts to Department of Defense missions, operational plans, and installations.”

The effects of climate change were addressed at the two-week UN climate conference in Paris in December 2015. New York Times reporting on the conference indicated that warming, in addition to other effects, can cause violence leading to the large-scale displacement of people. The accord called for developing recommendations “to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change.”

William Lacy Swing, a retired American ambassador who now leads the International Organization for Migration, said that climate change was adding to a “perfect storm” of “unprecedented human mobility,” a result of the quadrupling of the world’s population over the last century and wars, conflicts and persecution.

And in the journal Science, in December 2017, a team of scientists, studying weather variations from 2000 to 2014 in 103 countries and the effects on asylum applications to the European Union, concluded: “Our findings support the assessment that climate change, especially continued warming, will add another ‘threat multiplier’ that induces people to seek refuge abroad.”

The final factor relevant to U.S. immigration policy is the dramatic fall in the U.S. total fertility rate. This rate has dropped since the Great Recession of 2008 to 1.76 births per woman in 2017, well below the replacement rate of 2.1 needed to keep a population stable.

This trend has significant negative implications for our Social Security and Medicare programs. As medical experts John Rowe, Dana Goldman, and S. Jay Olshansky have indicated: “The significant reduction in fertility in the U.S., if not offset by enhanced immigration or greater worker productivity, puts these programs at risk.”

The white population has a very low fertility rate among all groups within the U.S. population. Therefore, it is the minority groups who are contributing the most to the U.S. population. Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution has demonstrated the impact: “The likely source of future gains among the nation’s population of children, teenagers, and young working adults is minorities — Hispanics, Asians, blacks, and others.” 

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Military might, economic prowess and natural resources have always been measures of a state’s power. Today, we can add such things as technological capability and innovation, entrepreneurial talent, cybersecurity and cyber-strength. It is surprising that, in an administration filled with so many “realists,” including Trump and national security adviser John Bolton, there is such a lack of concern with one of the most fundamental sources of a state’s power — population.

The trends discussed above suggest that the U.S. will continue to be a magnet for immigrants, pulled to our borders by order and economic opportunity, and pushed by violence and climate change in their home countries. With the dramatic drop in the U.S. fertility rate over the past decade, it would be wise for the United States — rather than overly restricting immigration — to streamline its immigration policies to accept the right combination of skilled and unskilled workers, innovative entrepreneurs and families who can give us young Americans.

Fred Zilian, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor of history and politics at Salve Regina University, Newport, Rhode Island. He is the author of “From Confrontation to Cooperation: The Takeover of the National People’s Army by the Bundeswehr.” Follow him on Twitter @FredZilian.