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Is The Country Really 'Full'?

Honduran migrants leave the Metropolitan Center of San Pedro Sula, to travel to the Guatemala border on April 10, 2019.
Honduran migrants leave the Metropolitan Center of San Pedro Sula, to travel to the Guatemala border on April 10, 2019.

With guest host Todd Zwillich.

How much immigration should we allow into the United States? And who should be allowed in?

These two questions are at the crux of conservative writer David Frum’s latest article for The Atlantic:

Under present immigration policies, the U.S. population will exceed 400 million by 2050. Nobody is seriously planning for such population growth—building the schools and hospitals these people will need, planning for the traffic they will generate. Nobody is thinking very hard about the environmental consequences, either. The average American causes the emission of almost 17 tons of carbon dioxide each year, quadruple the annual emissions of the average Mexican and 45 times the emissions of the average Bangladeshi.

Too little immigration, and you freeze your country out of the modern world. Too much, or the wrong kind, and you overstress your social-insurance system—and possibly upend your democracy. Choose well, and you build a stronger, richer country for both newcomers and the long-settled. Choose badly, and you aggravate inequality and inflame intergroup hostility. How we choose will shape the future that will in its turn shape us.

The lengthy article was met with significant criticism.

Paul Blest, writing for Splinter, characterizes Frum’s article as an appeal to nativist tendencies, and suggests that appeasing nativist voters is fruitless.

“With the exception of racists and fascists, no one looks back with fondness on previous efforts to shut down immigration, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act or the Immigration Act of 1924.”

Jordan Weissman, writing for Slate, makes a related point about the political implications of Frum’s argument:

One could also object on political grounds. After all, Frum doesn’t actually provide any evidence that cutting immigration would make white working-class voters less likely to vote for demagogues like Trump in the future. He simply asserts that it might. Yet his own piece offers reasons to think otherwise. Early on, he cites academic evidence showing that white voters become more authoritarian in the face of ethnic change. Later on, he admits that ethnic change is already inevitable, even if we slash how many green cards Washington issues annually.

Frum responded to some of those criticisms here.

We talk with Frum about his Atlantic article “How Much Immigration Is Too Much?” and the reaction to it.

We also bring in Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas, who has written extensively about his experience as an undocumented immigrant to this country, and founded the media and culture organization Define American.

Here’s part of what he wrote for The New York Times in 2011 about his life and career:

There are believed to be 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read. I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.

Produced by Avery Kleinman.


David Frum, Senior editor, The Atlantic; Author, “TRUMPOCRACY: The Corruption of the American Republic”; @davidfrum

Jose Antonio Vargas, Author, “Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen”; Founder, Define American; @joseiswriting

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