Committee Of Correspondence

Are We Importing Poverty with Immigrants?

Herb Stein
2:59 p.m.  Friday  8/23/96

For most of our panelists the answer to the initial question, “Are we importing poverty with immigrants?” is clearly yes. And they are in general agreement on what to do about it. Legal immigration should be more based on the expected productivity of the application for immigration and less on family relationship or refugee status. Illegal immigration should be more tightly limited, although there is some disagreements or uncertainty among the panelists about how to achieve that. I cannot say that these are the wrong answers. But, if Chiswick will forgive me, I will say again that they make me feel sad. And accepting these as the right answers and still feeling sad I am led to questions suggested by some things Skerry said. What are the limits of community, responsibility, and sympathy? What responsibilities flow from the fact that the poorest 10 percent of the American population has incomes so far below the median? And what about the fact that 80 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with average per capita incomes below the poorest 10 percent of Americans? Recognizing, as we surely must, that we cannot do anything significant about the second problem by immigration, and that even the little that might be done would come at the cost of the first problem, we are left with the question of extreme inequality in the world. We can say, “Too bad!” I don’t know whether that is a moral position or, in the long run, a tenable one. Maybe feeling sad about it will generate thought about what to do about it. That may be the subject for another panel. Meanwhile, I want to thank the panelists for their serious, thoughtful, well-informed contributions. They have given us much to ponder. Next week we will go on to a less serious subject, The Democratic National Convention. Our panelists are:

  • Karlyn Keene Bowman, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
  • Alan Brinkley, professor of 20th century American history at Columbia University.
  • Christopher Caldwell,senior writer at the Weekly Standard.
  • R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., founder and editor-in-chief of the American Spectator.