This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Sunday, June 24, 2018

We Need Immigrants, Even if Some People Wish We Didn't

The headlines for the past week have all been about the Trump administration's horrific "zero-tolerance" policy at the U.S.-Mexico border that separated children from their parents, seemingly in an attempt to (a) deter potential migrants from coming; and (b) using those children as political pawns. Of course, this was just the latest move in Trump's anti-immigrant agenda, which was a key part of his presidential campaign platform. Donald Trump is not really against immigrants, of course. After all, his grandfather was an immigrant from Germany, his mother an immigrant from Scotland, and two of his three wives were immigrants from Eastern Europe. His is a racist attitude, opposed to immigrants from Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa. And, speaking of Europe, there is of course a lot of anti-immigrant sentiment there, aimed largely at immigrants from the Middle East and Africa. These are moral issues, not just political issues, as noted in this week's Economist.
Take the White House’s approach, which resulted in 2,342 children being separated from their families last month. To use children’s suffering as a deterrent was wrong. It is the sort of thing that will one day be taught in history classes alongside the internment of Japanese-Americans during the second world war. To argue that the administration had to act in this way to uphold the law is false. Neither George W. Bush nor Barack Obama, who deported many more people annually than Mr Trump, resorted to separations. To claim it was necessary to control immigration is dubious. In 2000 the government stopped 1.6m people crossing the southern border; in 2016, when Mr Trump was elected, the numbers had fallen by 75%. Deterrence no doubt played its part, but prosperity and a lower birth rate in Mexico almost certainly mattered more. No wonder, after a public outcry, Mr Trump abandoned the policy.
Other examples of deterrence have fared no better. Britain’s government concluded from the Brexit referendum that it should redouble efforts to create a “hostile environment” for immigrants. It ended up sending notices to people who had arrived in Britain from the Caribbean in the 1950s, ordering them to produce documents to prove they were British. The harassment, detention and deportations that followed resulted in the resignation of the home secretary. Likewise, in 2015 European governments argued that rescuing boats carrying migrants from north Africa merely encouraged more to risk that journey. Then as many as 1,200 people drowned in ten days, and Europeans were horrified at the cruelty being meted out in their name. European leaders concluded that voters were not pro-drowning after all.
The anti-immigrant sentiment is very short-sighted in the United States and throughout Europe. The post-WWII baby booms were followed by declines in fertility that helped create demographic dividends in these areas. Those birth rates are not going to back up to previous levels, even though in Southern and Eastern Europe they probably would climb closer to replacement level is gender equity were more widely practiced. But, most importantly, the demographic dividends were not used wisely. Governments did not save up in order to cope with an aging population. Rather, they lowered taxes to support a growing population of billionaires and exacerbating income and wealth inequality. A lot needs to happen to get things right again, but at least in the short term immigrants provide a ready source of bail-out labor and taxable sources to pay for pensions and health care for the rapidly aging populations. That isn't sufficiently appreciated by people living in places like retirement communities in Florida, as detailed yesterday in a PoliticoMagazine.com story.

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