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Showing Immigrants Respect

By Rep. Tom Tancredo
Denver and the West, Saturday, October 2, 1999

Colorado is home to more than a quarter-million immigrants, half of whom have arrived during the 1990’s. Most of these newcomers are here legally, working hard to make better lives for themselves and their children. We should embrace these future Americans in our communities, our schools and our workplaces.

But our welcome for immigrants already here should not blind us to the need to examine the level and makeup of future immigration. The United States resettles more than a million immigrants--legal and illegal--each year, the largest sustained waves of immigration in our history. The total number of immigrants has almost tripled since 1970, to 27 million, or 10 percent of the U.S. population.

Immigration has dramatically expanded the number of unskilled workers in our otherwise high-tech economy, with immigrants three times more likely to be high school dropouts than native-born Americans. The Center for Immigration Studies, a Washington think tank, has found that this skills gap has caused the number of people in poor immigrant households to triple over the past 20 years. Amazingly, immigration completely offsets the reduction in the number of people in poverty that results from $64 billion in federal welfare payments each year. Here in Colorado, more than one-third of people in immigrant households are in or near poverty, a rate more than double that for native-born Americans.

The National research council has found that immigration imposes a net burden on native-born taxpayers of $15 billion to $20 billion each year. Each household in California headed by a native-born American pays an extra $1,200 in taxes each year because of immigration. As Colorado’s immigrant population continues to increase, we can expect to see the same trend.

As a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, I struggle with the issue of overcrowding in schools, which is another consequence of today’s mass immigration. The Clinton education department recently released a report claiming that the baby-boom echo was the cause of increasing enrollments, with public-school enrollment increasing by about 8 milliion since the early 1980s (Colorado is projected to see a 6 percent increase in the next decade alone). Interestingly enough, 8 million is also the number of school-age children with immigrant mothers. Though each local school district warehousing children in trailers has unique reasons for this crowding, immigration is the engine that drives this problem nationally. Almost 16 percent of kids in school nationwide have immigrant mothers. The question is not, of course, whether the children of immigrants should be educated, but rather how many new children we should keep adding to already overburdened systems.

What should we do about it? The first thing we must not do is blame the immigrants, who are here only because the federal immigration program admitted them. In fact, the problem with much of the debate over this issue is that we confuse two separate matters: immigration policy (how many people we admit) and immigrant policy (how we treat people who are already here).

What our nation needs is a pro-immigrant policy of low immigration. I have often stated my support for a moratorium on immigration and I still believe that it is necessary while we develop a policy that is fair to both those wanting to immigrate to America and to those already here. At least we should immediately cut the numbers back to traditional levels, offering immigration to the husbands, wives and young children of Americans. We could include genuine refugees who have no chance of ever finding homes and a small number of people with extraordinary skills.

A pro-immigrant policy of low immigration can reconcile America’s traditional welcome for newcomers with the troubling consequences of today’s mass immigration. It would enable use to be faithful and wise stewards of America’s interests while also showing immigrants the respect they deserve as future Americans.

U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., of Littleton ( represents Colorado’s 6th Congressional District.

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