- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The latest Census Bureau projections show immigrants will account for 14.8 percent of the U.S. population early in the next decade, setting an all-time record and raising questions about whether the country has the ability to assimilate newcomers at such a torrid pace.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker seemed to step into that debate earlier this week when he broke with GOP orthodoxy and suggested potential limits on future legal immigration, insisting American workers’ wages should be a factor in setting U.S. policy.

Combined with his earlier reversal from pro-legalization to anti-amnesty for illegal immigrants, Mr. Walker’s remarks drew a rebuke from immigrant rights advocates and even some fellow Republicans who said he risks adding to the feeling among Hispanic voters and others that the GOP is anti-immigrant.

But Steven A. Camarota, research director at the Center for Immigration Studies, who has crunched the Census Bureau’s latest numbers, said the size and scope of legal immigration is a critical public policy issue with consequences for education, health care and infrastructure — all of which should be part of the broader debate.

“We incessantly debate how to control the border and what to do about illegal immigrants, but the much larger question is legal immigration and its impact on society, because legal immigration is so much bigger. What’s striking is how little debate we get,” Mr. Camarota said.

The numbers are striking: By 2023 51 million residents will be foreign-born, accounting for 14.8 percent of the U.S. population — matching the previous high recorded in 1890, at the peak of the surge of European immigrants. Over the ensuing decades the foreign-born population will grow four times as fast as the native-born population, reaching 17 percent of the population by 2040 and nearing 19 percent by 2060, according to the Census Bureau’s projections.

Most of those will be legal immigrants who arrive under the color of law rather than the illegal immigrants who draw the most attention in the immigration debate. But some members of Congress have increasingly been arguing the debate needs to be broadened to include the overall immigration picture and particularly its effect on U.S. wages.

“Perhaps no issue more divides a small handful of elites in Washington, D.C., from the American people than the issue of immigration,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican. “The idea that there should be no controls placed on record immigration, or that there should be large increases, is an extreme position rejected by voters of every background, party and political belief.”

Polling shows most Americans want legal immigration either kept at the same levels or reduced from the approximately 1 million or so immigrants who enter the U.S. each year. Less than one in five say they want the level increased.

But in Washington that ratio is reversed, with most lawmakers espousing support for more legal immigration, saying it is beneficial for jobs, the economy and the ability to support social safety net programs such as Medicare and Social Security over the coming decades.

The 2013 Senate immigration bill, which legalized illegal immigrants and created new paths for future legal immigrants, would have increased the U.S. population by about 15 million persons above current law over two decades, according to congressional scorekeepers.

Mr. Walker, who is pondering a bid for the GOP’s 2016 presidential nomination, stirred the debate this week when he told talk-show host Glenn Beck that he supports a revamp of U.S. policy.

“It is a fundamentally lost issue by many in elected positions today,” Mr. Walker said. “What is this doing for American workers looking for jobs? What is this doing to wages? And we need to have that be at the forefront of our discussion going forward.”

Most other announced and potential GOP candidates have gone the other way, saying they welcome more legal immigration — particularly the workers business groups say they need.

Immigrant rights advocates jumped on Mr. Walker’s stances this week.

“Attacking immigration is suicidal for the Republican Party,” said Immigration Daily, an electronic newsletter covering immigration legal issues. “To attack immigration itself is to pander to the basest of human instincts of undisguised blatant racism which has no place in a civilized political discourse.”

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