In a Nov. 12 article about immigration’s looming presence in the Gallatin Valley, Chronicle reporter Gail Schontzler quoted Montana State University sociology Professor Leah Schmalzbauer and me. Most of what was attributed to Schmalzbauer is contradicted by the facts, as I will outline.
This enormous subject deserves continued exposure because, although not yet highly visible in Montana, mass immigration is causing burgeoning distress to citizens in much of the rest of our country. As Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo has said, “We are facing a situation, where if we don’t control immigration, legal and illegal, we will eventually reach the point where it won’t be what kind of a nation we are, balkanized or united, we will actually have to face the fact that we are no longer a nation at all.”
Montanans may bear the impacts in two ways. Impacts can be direct, with large influxes of immigrants and illegal aliens imposing public costs and, instead of assimilating to us, expecting us to serve them in their native languages. Indeed, that was an underlying thread in the Chronicle’s article: Local public agencies are preparing for a surge in Spanish-speaking clients. The trajectory of such developments is well known from experiences in other states. Ultimately, Americans come to feel like strangers in their own country.
Mass immigration may also indirectly affect Montana. Example, for some years now, California’s net population growth of 500,000 people per year has been entirely due to foreign immigration and births to foreign-born women. With the state’s population now at 37 million, native-born Americans are moving to Idaho, Montana, and other states to escape California’s metastasizing congestion and concomitant dysfunction, becoming, in a sense, internal refugees within the United States. In the interest of full disclosure, I am among California’s “Class of 2005” refugees. (Of course, the “refugees” trope shouldn’t be taken too far — most of us escape with substantially more than the clothes on our backs! But the operative word is still “escape.”) If this surge out of California continues, Montana’s glorious open spaces will fill up.
According to Prof. Schmalzbauer, “Immigrant workers pay a lot of taxes.” In fact, many illegal aliens pay zero income and payroll taxes, since they work off the books (i.e. for cash), so their sole contributions to public budgets are sales taxes and the real estate taxes incorporated in their rents. Illegal aliens who do have taxes withheld from paychecks are typically paid poorly enough that the taxes they remit are quite modest. And a large fraction of today’s legal immigrants also fall into that “poorly paid” category.
Robert Rector, a formidable public policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation explains why: “Today’s immigrants differ greatly from historic immigrant populations. Prior to 1960, immigrants to the U.S. had education levels that were similar to those of the non-immigrant workforce and earned wages that were, on average, higher than those of non-immigrant workers. Since the mid-1960s, however, the education levels of new immigrants have plunged relative to non-immigrants. Consequently, the average wages of immigrants are now well below those of the non-immigrant population. Recent immigrants increasingly occupy the low end of the U.S. socioeconomic spectrum.”
Professor Schmalzbauer also claimed that, following the 1996 federal Welfare Reform Act, very few immigrants and illegal aliens can receive public assistance, and “There’s a myth out there they’re tapping into public coffers.”
Actually, it’s no myth. In his 1999 book Heaven’s Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy, Harvard economist George Borjas (himself an immigrant from Cuba) wrote: “By the 1990s, immigrants received a disproportionately large share of the welfare benefits distributed, and had a severe fiscal impact on some immigrant-receiving states, particularly California.” Borjas noted that most of the 1996 reforms intended to exclude non-citizens from welfare programs were never enforced. He concluded that, counting both cash and non-cash benefits, “[I]n 1998, almost a quarter of immigrant households received some type of assistance, as compared to 15 percent of native households.”
In short, Rector, Borjas, and others have conclusively shown that, with current mass immigration, the United States is importing poverty.
Finally, Schmalzbauer is quoted saying, “I always tell my students that unless you’re Native American, you’re an immigrant.” Nope. For example, I was born in Chicago and have no other country to return to. The same is true for most of the people living in Montana and, indeed, in the rest of the U.S.. Americans such as myself aren’t immigrants.
Paul Nachman of Bozeman is a retired laser physicist who lived for 10 years in southern California, where he witnessed mass immigration and overpopulation.