The Atlantic

Faith, Reason, and Immigration

The intensity of the debate makes it hard to formulate sound public policy.
Source: Adrees Latif / Reuters

Immigration is a large and complex subject. My recent story in The Atlantic tried to do justice to that complexity. But that attempt of course came with a cost: The article was long and often highly detailed. It became easily possible to lose track of the piece’s argument.

So before replying to some of the article’s notable critics, let me recapitulate the argument as briefly as I can:

(1) The economic benefits to Americans of America’s present immigration policies are very small. Almost all of those benefits are captured by the most affluent Americans.

(2) The fiscal costs of present immigration policies are high. The argument that immigrants strengthen Social Security and Medicare is false. America’s bias in favor of low-skilled immigrants, legal and illegal, means that immigrants pay relatively little in taxes, while requiring a lot by way of services.

(3) The most important costs and benefits of immigration are neither economic nor fiscal, but social and political.

(4) Among those social and political costs: the radicalization of politics that we see in so many developed countries. Brexit, the rise of the French National Front, the triumph of authoritarian populists in Italy and other European Union countries, and America’s own election of Donald Trump—all were fueled by many causes, but high levels of immigration provided the spark.

(5) The pressures of immigration are not going away on their own. Over the coming decades, more and more people

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