No public debate about the impact of immigration on American life is fair or complete without reference to the most recent data from the Center for Immigration Studies.
Let me state for the record, as I always do when writing about this thorny issue, I am the proud granddaughter of a Cuban immigrant. Immigrants, like native-born Americans, are good people hardworking and patriotic. Individual immigrants are not problematic; mass immigration, both legal and illegal, is. Race should not figure into the debate about mass immigration. Quality of life and immigration's impact on the U.S. environment and government resources should drive the debate.
Mass immigration is ruining the quality of life for the children and grandchildren of immigrants already in the United States. It is chewing up and paving over what little open space remains, driving up air- and water-pollution rates, amplifying the crescendo of suburban sprawl and placing a larger burden on already stressed publicly financed institutions such as the public-school system and welfare.
The reason the new CIS data are so important is that most public debate on immigration ignores this central fact: Immigration, both legal and illegal, has ballooned to record levels since the early 1990s.
According to a report by the Population Reference Bureau this September, "New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2006 American Community Survey show that the number of foreign-born people in the United States has reached an all-time high of more than 37 million."
The most recent spate of mass immigration, unlike prior waves, takes place at a time when U.S. population levels already belabor and deplete the nation's natural resources.
So with this in mind, the new CIS data show:
• At least half of the 10.3 million immigrants who have arrived since 2000 are illegal. Immigrants now account for one in eight U.S. residents, the highest level in 80 years.
• 47 percent of all immigrants and their young children are on Medicaid or are uninsured.
• 33 percent of immigrant-headed households use at least one welfare program compared to 19 percent for natives. It is food assistance and Medicaid that explain the numbers.
On the plus side, as noted earlier:
Eighty-two percent of immigrant households nationally have at least one worker in the household, compared to just 73 percent of native households. In fact, 78 percent of immigrant households using one of the major welfare programs have at least one worker.
What the center's information shows is that the public debate over immigration's proper levels ignores the huge bubble of legal and illegal immigration the United States is now experiencing. I would add that it also ignores, for the most part, the environmental impact of mass immigration.
Liberals have been known to deride the center's work. CIS describes its own mission as "animated by a pro-immigrant, low-immigration vision which seeks fewer immigrants but a warmer welcome for those admitted."
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Pro-environment liberals deride the CIS work at their own peril, as do pro-environment conservatives. If we as a nation want the United States to become one nonstop mass of urban sprawl, burning an ever-larger hole in the ozone, we should continue to allow record levels of legal and illegal immigration to take place. If we care about the quality of our environment and the quality of life here, we should take note of the numbers.
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com.