Resistance to U.S. Immigration Restriction: Echoes of the Opposition to the Fugitive Slave Laws

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the United States enacted laws to facilitate the recapture of escaped slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 required citizens to help recapture slaves and delegated power to federal commissioners to decide whether those arrested would be freed or sent back to slavery. Both this law and its predecessor, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, imposed fines on those who interfered with the recapture process.

There was resistance to the laws in the free states. As notes, “… most Northern states intentionally neglected to enforce” the 1793 law, with some establishing laws making it more difficult for slaveowners to recapture their slaves. There was also resistance to the 1850 law: “States like Vermont and Wisconsin passed new measures intended to bypass and even nullify the law…” At the same time, individuals assisted runaway slaves, including helping slaves migrate to Canada. Groups of activists in the North even physically liberated escaped slaves from federal control.

The current tension between a U.S. government intent on apprehending and deporting large numbers of undocumented immigrants and states, localities, and individuals working to shield these individuals from immigration enforcement is reminiscent of this history.

One parallel is the wide resistance from non-federal governments to both the fugitive slave laws and immigration enforcement. An article in The New York Times reports that five states “limit how much the local police can cooperate with federal immigration agents” and that over six hundred counties across the U.S. “limit how much the local police cooperate with requests from federal authorities to hold immigrants in detention.” Similarly, many big cities “have reaffirmed plans to defy the administration and act as a kind of bulwark against mass deportations.” In an unpublished paper, Allan Colbern cites a scholar who notes that the city of Chicago refused to enforce fugitive slave law in the 1850s and that today it similarly balks at enforcing immigration law. (At the same time, some localities currently resisting immigration enforcement are located in former slave states.)

Another parallel is the financial threat for interfering with federal law. As with the ability to fine those protecting fugitive slaves, the federal government apparently can withhold federal money from localities that restrict local law enforcement from passing along information to immigration authorities about the immigration status of prisoners. The Trump administration has threatened to punish localities in this way for not cooperating with immigration authorities.

A third parallel is the involvement of individuals in protecting those being pursued, whether slaves or immigrants. The New York Times reports that “members of churches and synagogues are again offering their houses of worship as sanctuaries for undocumented people fearing deportation…” Hundreds of houses of worship are either providing refuge for undocumented immigrants in their buildings or are providing resources such as legal aid. Families in various states also are making their homes available as safe havens for undocumented immigrants. Moreover, a “modern-day underground railroad” may be created to help undocumented individuals move “house-to-house or into Canada.” (Similarly, a farmer in southern France has helped smuggle migrants through France without compensation and has criticized the government for blocking the entrance of African migrants from Italy. (See here and here.))

Furthermore, resisting immoral institutions is a likely motivation behind the efforts to assist both runaway slaves and undocumented immigrants, whether the institution is slavery or immigration restrictions (or at least deportation). People generally won’t help murder suspects or convicts on the run, but they might help individuals who are oppressed for reasons beyond their control, such as the color of their skin or their place of birth. (In the case of local governments limiting their cooperation with immigration authorities, the motivation often may be concerns that collaboration with those authorities would interfere with law enforcement because residents fearful of immigration enforcement might be unwilling to report crimes to the local police.)

The Fugitive Slave Laws were eventually repealed during the Civil War, and slavery itself was abolished shortly after the war. Hopefully, immigration restrictions will disappear as well in the not too distant future.

The Muslim Takeover of Europe (According to Christopher Caldwell)

In this post, I would like to dissect another claim in Christopher Caldwell’s book „Reflections on the Revolution In Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West“ which was published in 2009. As I have already explained elsewhere („Enoch Powell’s Secret Formula“), Caldwell’s main technique is to frame the issue early on with some strong images. In this case, it is the Muslim takeover of Europe. If you buy into this scenario, you don’t need proof, all you need is some anecdotal evidence that is not totally at odds with the main storyline. Here is a paragraph where Caldwell explains how the Muslim takeover of Europe is already under way:

„Muslims now either dominate or vie for domination of certain important European cities. A partial list of them would include Amsterdam and Rotterdam in Holland; Strasbourg and Marseille (and many of the Paris suburbs) in France; Duisburg, Cologne, and the Berlin neighborhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukölln in Germany; and Blackburn, Bradford, Dewsbury, Leicester, East London, and the periphery of Manchester in England. Such places may, as immigration continues and the voting power and political savvy of the Muslims already there increases, take on an increasingly Muslim character.“

Those are long sentences. So let me boil the paragraph down to what a casual reader might understand:

Muslims now … dominate … important European cities. A partial list of them would include Amsterdam … in Holland; … Paris … in France; … Berlin … in Germany; and … London … in England. Such places … take on an increasingly Muslim character.“

Of course, Caldwell also knows of many important European cities that you have never heard of: e.g. the metropolis of Blackburn is teeming with 105,085 inhabitants, and the metropolis of Dewsbury boasts 62,945 residents. 153,887 and 167,248 people call the Berlin neighborhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukölln their home. Strasbourg has 276,170, Leicester 337,653 inhabitants. Towns that might qualify as major cities are Rotterdam at 633,471, Duisburg at 491,231, and Bradford at 528,155. Cologne is the only town with slightly more than a million residents, Amsterdam at 838,338 and Marseille at 855,393 at least come close. As for the really big cities, Caldwell carefully speaks of „many of the Paris suburbs“, „East London“, „the periphery of Manchester“, and „Berlin neighborhoods.“

Let me put this in perspective. The impressive list of „important European cities“ would be on a par with the tenth-largest city in the US, San Jose (Cologne), the 14th largest city, Indianapolis (Marseille), the 16th largest city, Fort Worth (Amsterdam), the 29th largest city, Baltimore (Rotterdam), the 33th largest city, Tucson (Bradford), the 35th largest city, Sacramento (Duisburg), the 57th largest city, Santa Ana (Leicester), and the 66th largest city, Cincinnati (Strasbourg). Blackburn and Dewsbury would not even make it into the top 200. And for the really big cities: the metropolitan areas of London and Paris are in the same ballpark as New York, Berlin as Los Angeles, and Manchester as Chicago. But there we are only talking about some suburbs, neighborhoods, or the periphery.

How impressed would you be if I posed as an expert on what is going on in the US and came up with this list of American cities as typical for the US? And remember that Europe has about half a billion inhabitants, the US only somewhat more than 320 million. If I add up only the cities (not the neighborhoods), then all Caldwell is talking about is a population of 5.5 million people, or slightly more than 1 percent of the total population of Europe. As for the neighborhoods in the big cities, I would have to add perhaps a few million, and that might bring it up to 2%. That’s all it takes to conquer Europe. Like after the Normandy landings, the Allied troops stayed on the beach and said to themselves: „That’s good enough, let’s call it V-Day.“

Now, you may object that I am being very unfair with Christopher Caldwell here. He wrote that this is just a „partial list“ and he surely could name lots of other cities with ease. Well, no, I’m not being unfair, I am actually pretty lenient with him. It is is indeed a „partial list“, but only in the sense that “partial” is the opposite of “impartial.” Christopher Caldwell does not give you a random selection from a longer list. For each country, he took the cities that have the highest share of Muslims. Any further examples would either have to be rather small cities, or have a lower share of Muslims, or both. He already had to resort to Dewsbury for this list. No offense to people from Dewsbury who read this, but I had never heard of your metropolis before I read Caldwell’s book.

But then at least those are dominated by Muslims?

Well, how can I say this, I am so sorry. It’s not going well with the Islamization of Europe. Hope you haven’t bet on it yet. I won’t go through all the examples in detail, but will concentrate on the claim for Germany. To this end, I downloaded data from the Federal Statistics Office for 2014.

There are 424 districts in Germany with roughly 200,000 inhabitants on average (technically: “Regierungsbezirke”, “Kreise”, and for small states the whole state) . Most Muslims come from Turkey. The district with the highest share of Turkish citizens was Duisburg with 6.5% of the population. Cologne was the next major city with 4.9%. As I said, Caldwell’s selection is anything but representative.

The percentages are for Turkish citizens only, but there are also German citizens of Turkish descent. On the whole, about half of all those of Turkish descent have German citizenship (roughly a third of the latter have also Turkish citizenship). I don’t know whether those with dual citizenship were also counted as Turkish citizens, but I am on the safe side if I assume they were not. So you would have to double the share of Turkish citizens to get a rough estimate for all those of Turkish descent.

In other words: Even for the two cities with the highest share of Turkish citizens, the share of all those of Turkish descent only amounts to something like 13% and 10%, respectively, a far cry from a majority. You may add a few percent for those who are Muslims, but are from other countries. Strictly speaking, though, you would also have to subtract those who do not consider themselves Muslims although they are of from a Muslim country. No matter how you slice it: There is not a single district in Germany out of 424 where Muslims come even close to a majority.

The list I am working with does not include the neighborhoods of Kreuzberg and Neukölln (only Berlin as whole). However, for both the share of all immigrants and their children (not only from Muslim countries) is well below 50%. No part of Germany of any remarkable size has a Muslim majority, not by a far stretch. None.

As I said, I concentrate on Germany here. But I have also checked the numbers for other cities on Caldwell’s list. Here are the shares for Muslims that I have found: Amsterdam 14%, Rotterdam 13.3%, Strasbourg 19%, Marseilles 23.5%, Blackburn 25.7%, Bradford 24.7%, Leicester 18.6%. I could not find data for Dewsbury which is perhaps not surprising for such a small town. As for East London, Tower Hamlets has a share of 34.5% and Newham of 32% Muslims. The suburb of Paris with the most immigrants is Seine-Saint Denis which has a share of 17.3% immigrants born in non-EU countries (not all of whom are Muslims). Even if you double this percentage to include their descendants, it does not look like you could find a Muslim majority even there.

Literally in no city on Caldwell’s list is there a Muslim majority. Surely, you will find some part of a neighborhood with a Muslim majority if you drill down even further. But that means you are now looking at a fraction of 1% or 2% of the total population of Europe.

But doesn’t Christopher Caldwell only say that: „Such places may, as immigration continues and the voting power and political savvy of the Muslims already there increases, take on an increasingly Muslim character.“ Of course, he does. After selecting the most extreme 1% or 2%, if you can also introduce additional qualifications like “more immigration in the future that only ends up in these locations,” and “increasing political savvy of those already there,” then you are able to construct a case where a tiny sliver of Europe „may take on an increasingly Muslim character.“ Note how carefully worded that is.

It all only works because of framing: You first have to subscribe to Caldwell’s overarching story how this is only a start in an ongoing takeover, and then you can extrapolate to this totally unimpressive result. And on top of this, he tones even this claim down with a further qualification: “Muslims now either dominate or vie for domination of certain important European cities.”

Last defense line: But Europe is dying out, and Muslims have extremely high fertility rates.

Sorry, that doesn’t work either. Fertility for Turkish immigrants in Germany went down to about 2.5 already in the 1980s. For the second generation, it looks like it is already below replacement level. (Cf. footnote [1] below.) And then fertility data for Germany are heavily distorted downwards. With rising age at birth, total fertility rates undercount actual fertility. If you correct for this so-called “tempo effect,” you already had fertility of about 1.65 for Germany a decade ago. (Cf. footnote [2] below.)

And it has gone up a little since then, so the current number should be more like 1.7 or above. But that is not all. Since mean age at birth is about 31 years in Germany, you would have to make this figure comparable with shorter generation lengths for other groups. If you do this for a mean age at birth of 25 years, you can add another 0.05 or so, and you are safely in a range from 1.7 to 1.8 which is actually only marginally lower than for countries like the US, and also for those of Turkish descent in Germany. Just do the math how long it would take to turn a minority of about 6% into a majority with such marginal differences.

Here is the takeaway of my post:

  • Christopher Caldwell selects a list of cities that is presented as if it were a representative sample, but which consists only of extreme cases for what he wants to show. Talk about selection bias.
  • Even in those extreme cases, which make up only 1% or 2% of the total population of Europe, Muslims are not a majority, mostly not even close. For Germany, the assertion is resoundingly false everywhere.
  • Caldwell must know this. That’s why he equivocates between “dominating” and “vying for domination,” and that’s also why he introduces further assumptions like more immigration in the future and increasing political savvy to end up with a lame conclusion that some cities „may take on an increasingly Muslim character.“
  • The fiction of a dying Europe doesn’t save his argument either.
  • All it amounts to is good framing, so you accept on faith that a Muslim takeover is already under way. And then Caldwell throws carefully selected data at you and leaves out relevant information, so a casual reader, especially with little knowledge about Europe, can feel vindicated.
  • There is no ongoing Muslim takeover of Europe.


[1] Katharina Wolf: „Fertility of Turkish migrants in Germany: Duration of stay matters“, MPIDR Working Paper WP 2014-001, 2014, table on page 17. — Werner Haug, Paul Compton, Youssef Courbage: The demographic characteristics of immigrant populations, table on page 227. — Susanne Schmid & Martin Kohls: „Generatives Verhalten und Migration“, 2011, table on page 189, where the fertility for women of Turkish descent around 2007 is estimated as 1.80 or 1.85 depending on the data sets used.

[2] Marc Luy & Olga Pötzsch: „Schätzung der tempobereinigten Geburtenziffer für West- und Ostdeutschland, 1955-2008“, Comparative Population Studies – Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Jahrgang 35, 3/2010, p. 569–604, cf. page 585.

The U.S. and Canada Should Open Their Borders to Syrian Refugees

I had hoped that the Syrian civil war would produce, against the odds, a democracy which protected the diverse ethnic groups who live in the country. Either non-jihadist democratic Syrian rebels would prevail and be charitable towards those who have supported the Assad government, or an agreement between the rebels and the Syrian regime would transition the country toward democracy.

None of this has materialized, Syria is devastated, and with the oppressive Assad regime firmly in control of the western portions of the country, political progress appears impossible. According to David Lesch, writing in The New York Times, most Syrians now live in extreme poverty, the unemployment rate is over 50%, half of Syrian children are not enrolled in school, typhoid, tuberculosis, and other diseases are endemic, hundreds of thousands are dead, and millions are injured. Different forces, including the Islamic State, control different parts of the country, and fighting likely will continue between these groups. Hundreds of billions of dollars would be needed to rebuild the country, and Mr. Lesch believes that other countries will not step up to provide reconstruction money.

Not surprisingly, almost five million Syrians have fled their country, not including millions of others who have been displaced within Syria. Almost a million have migrated to Europe. About 18,000 Syrians have been resettled in the U.S., and about 40,000 Syrians have gone to Canada. Most of the refugees are stranded in Turkey (about 2.5 million), Lebanon (about 1 million), and Jordan (about a half million), with limited opportunities to resettle elsewhere.

It is past time for the U.S. and Canada to allow the millions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to immigrate to their countries. In addition to the fundamental moral reasons that oblige countries to open their borders to almost all immigrants, there are several compelling reasons why there should be swift acceptance of these refugees.

First, while multiple nations and groups have been involved in the Syrian war, the U.S. bears some responsibility for the catastrophe. Since the U.S. has the world’s mightiest military, it always has the option to intervene and have an impact on a conflict. In Syria, the U.S. intervened by providing some support to rebels fighting the Assad regime, but the intervention never was forceful enough to quickly resolve the conflict. According to Philip Gordon, who worked on Middle Eastern affairs at the U.S. National Security Council from 2013 to 2015, the U.S. has only prolonged the Syrian war: “… our policy was to support the opposition to the point that it was strong enough to lead the regime and its backers to come to the table and negotiate away the regime. And that was an unrealistic objective…I think it is fair to say that we ended up doing enough to perpetuate a conflict, but not enough to bring it to a resolution.” The U.S. could have disabled the regime’s air force, as Senator McCain has recently advocated, especially before the Russian military became directly involved in the conflict. That might have saved the lives of many civilians targeted by Syrian aircraft and perhaps led to a settlement between the rebels and the government. (I recognize that direct military action doesn’t always lead to positive outcomes, considering the results in Iraq and Libya.) In addition, other actions short of direct attacks on the Syrian military could have been undertaken to protect civilians, as Nicholas Kristof has noted. These include creating safe zones in Syria protected by the U.S. military and destroying military runways so Syrian warplanes couldn’t be employed. Accepting Syrian refugees would be some compensation for the U.S. failure in Syria to resolve the conflict and protect civilians.

Second, Syrians in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are struggling. (Some refugees are also struggling in Greece.) Many children are not able to go to school, it is difficult for adults to get work, and the refugees are becoming impoverished. (See here and here.) Some Mercy Corps teams “have seen families living in rooms with no heat or running water, in abandoned chicken coops and in storage sheds.” The desperation of the refugees is reflected in the attempt by many of them to reach Europe by making risky sea crossings, during which some have perished.

The host countries are apparently unwilling and/or unable to incorporate the newcomers into their societies. According to Mercy Corps, in Jordan and Lebanon, “weak infrastructure and limited resources are nearing a breaking point under the strain.” As to Turkey, one observer stated: “It remains unclear how the embattled country – which is also dealing with declining GDP, multiple attacks, and a war against Kurdish fighters in the southeast – will be able to accommodate nearly three million refugees, the vast majority of whom are young adults and children seeking jobs and education.”  The U.S. and Canada, with wealthier economies, more political stability, and a tradition of incorporating immigrants, would provide a better refuge for the Syrians than the Middle Eastern countries.

Third, the rapid migration of Syrian refugees to Canada and the U.S. could diminish the threat of terrorism. It is risky to continue the Obama policy of allowing very few Syrian refugees to enter or maintain the Trump policy, which indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from the country. The longer Syrian refugees are stuck in their host Middle Eastern countries, the greater the risk that they will become radicalized. According to a Brookings Institution article, “the risk of radicalization is especially heightened where IDPs and refugees find themselves in protracted situations: marginalized, disenfranchised, and excluded. Finding solutions for displaced populations should be an urgent priority for humanitarian reasons but also as a security issue.” (See also here. )

While ideally the Obama administration’s thorough vetting of refugees for admission into the U.S. would continue, its sluggish nature makes it imprudent to maintain. A faster screening process must be implemented in order to bring the refugees into economically advanced, mostly tolerant North America, where they could thrive and become more immune to radicalization.

In addition to rescuing the refugees from potentially radicalizing conditions in the Middle East, there is another mechanism by which admitting them might prevent terrorism. In a previous post, I suggested how open borders could help protect receiving countries from terrorism, including by freeing up resources for screening immigrants for terrorist threats, by improving government relations with Muslim immigrant communities which could assist with stopping terrorism, and by providing more Muslim immigrants who could join Western intelligence agencies. Similarly, admitting Syrian refugees from the Middle East could generate goodwill among the American and Canadian Muslim communities, perhaps resulting in an increase in the number of Muslims willing to assist in preventing terrorism.

Evidence of this may be found in the German government’s recent admittance of over a million immigrants, many of whom are Syrian refugees. This may have earned Germany more support from its Muslim community in efforts to prevent terrorism, according to Robert Verkaik, writing on CNN‘s website. He notes that

In October last year, two Syrians managed to capture a terror suspect in Leipzig who was planning a bomb attack on German airports… And in November last year, a German Muslim man who had returned from fighting ISIS in Syria provided information to German security services that led to the arrest of a major extremist cell. These examples show that the German security services, in common with agencies across Europe, critically rely on intelligence passed on by members of its Muslim communities.

He also seems to suggest that a Muslim informant warned the security services about the suspect before the attack on the Berlin Christmas market last year.

Many people are concerned that Syrian refugees could commit acts of terrorism in the U.S. However, they should consider that about half of the refugees are children, who “don’t fit the typical profile for terrorists.”  And, as noted elsewhere, most Muslims are peaceful. (Some Syrian refugees are not even Muslim.) Furthermore, Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute has determined, based on historical data, the statistical chance of being killed by a foreigner committing a terrorist act in the U.S.: 1 in 3.6 million per year. For the risk of being killed by such an act by a refugee, the risk is 1 in 3.64 billion per year. If the 9/11 attacks are excluded, “21 foreign-born terrorists succeeded in murdering 41 people from 1975 through 2015.” Nowrasteh’s conclusion is that “foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil is a low-probability event.” Its risks are minuscule when compared to other causes of death.

It is also notable that, as co-blogger Hansjörg points out, the German experience with the recent influx of Muslim refugees belies the predictions by restrictionists that their admittance would result in lots of terrorist acts there. Hansjörg notes that the number of lethal Islamist terrorist attacks in Germany (ever) is in the low single digits. There is minimal risk involved for Canada and the U.S. to accept millions of Syrian refugees, even without consideration for the aforementioned ways their admittance could actually help prevent terrorism.

Furthermore, it might be better for the Syrian refugees to go to North America than to some European countries. Many argue that the U.S. does a better job than European countries at integrating immigrants. One writer notes that “the conditions of Muslims in some European countries can create fertile breeding grounds for extremism, whereas societies with more-integrated Muslim populations like the United States are less susceptible.” (See also herehere, and here.) David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, states: “Europe is coping poorly with its large population of alienated, under-employed, and in some cases radicalized Muslim immigrants and their children. It seems then the zenith of recklessness to make that population larger still.” Another writer even suggests that radical Muslims in Europe will infect Syrian refugees with their ideology, although he proposes vigorous integration efforts rather than exclusion from Europe.

At the same time, some are sanguine about European integration of its Muslim residents.  Shada Islam of Friends of Europe asserts: “Make no mistake; while extremists of all ilk may decry multi-cultural Europe, the process of adaptation, accommodation, integration, of Europe and Islam is already well underway… Europe’s once solely security-focused approach to dealing with Muslims has been replaced with a more balanced view that includes an integration agenda and migrant outreach programmes.” Similarly, co-blogger Hansjörg, who lives in Germany, states that “on the whole, my personal impression is that integration works quite well also in Europe. There is a tendency, especially in the US (but also in Europe from those who are critical), to present this as a story of severe problems, divides that cannot be bridged, etc. I don’t think that is true (not to say there are not some problems).”

Finally, admitting millions of Syrian refugees into the U.S. and Canada may not be very disruptive in other respects. A study for the Centre for European Economic Research on the recent migrant influx into Germany has found that there are “no signs of quick and clear deleterious effects in Germany post ‘migrant crisis’ involving, as the authors conclude, ‘more than a million’ migrants entering Germany in 2014-15 on native employment, crime, or anti-immigrant politics specifically linked to the presence of migrants on the county level.” In the U.S. it is notable that “eleven percent of Syrian immigrants to the U.S. own businesses, according to a new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. That compares to four percent of immigrants overall and three percent of people born in the United States.” According to one Syrian immigrant, self reliance is emphasized in Syrian culture, a trait that is compatible with American culture. Moreover, a research director at the Fiscal Policy Institute states that Syrian immigrants in the U.S. have generally been successful and could help the refugees adapt to life here.

The economic impact on the U.S. actually could be positive. People throughout the U.S. welcome refugees because they know from experience the beneficial effect that refugees have on communities, according to David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee. He writes that “to take one example, over the course of a decade, refugees created at least 38 new businesses in the Cleveland area alone. In turn, these businesses created an additional 175 jobs, and in 2012 provided a $12 million stimulus to the local economy.” In Rutland, Vermont, the mayor has advocated resettling refugees from Syria and Iraq in his city to help address a declining and aging city population. Population loss there could lead employers like General Electric to leave the city. (A 2013 post looks at efforts by various American cities to attract immigrants in order to help their economies.)

In summary, allowing millions of Syrian refugees to enter the U.S. and Canada not only would be morally warranted, it could minimize the risk of future terrorism, relieve the suffering of many, and enrich both countries. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction, with Trump ordering an indefinite stop to the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S. The longer he blocks their entry, the greater the perils for both the refugees and the West.

Deportation Constitutes Cruel and Unusual Punishment

“As Justice Brandeis recognized long ago, deportation is akin to the loss of property or life, or ‘all that makes life worth living.’” (Bender’s Immigration Bulletin, 1997, 2(18), p. 737)

Donald Trump recently suggested that U.S. citizens who burn the American flag should be punished, perhaps by being stripped of their citizenship. This elicited a reminder that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that revoking someone’s citizenship in order to punish that person for a crime is unconstitutional, violating the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.” In that ruling, the court stated that revocation of citizenship

“… subjects the individual to a fate of ever-increasing fear and distress. He knows not what discriminations may be established against him, what proscriptions may be directed against him, and when and for what cause his existence in his native land may be terminated. He may be subject to banishment, a fate universally decried by civilized people.”

For undocumented immigrants and other immigrants vulnerable to deportation from the U.S., the court’s language describes their predicament, especially for those with deep roots in the U.S. They fear losing their work permits (those who have them), apprehension, and deportation, and if expulsion comes, it is devastating. (It is undoubtedly also devastating for those who have spent less time in the U.S., especially if they are sent back to a country where they are endangered, but here I am limiting my focus to those immigrants whose experience is very similar to that of a denationalized citizen.) The ruling thus suggests that the suffering caused by the U.S. deportation regime, which includes both deportation itself and the threat of it, constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment,” let alone being immoral from an open borders perspective. (The term “punishment” is used here because it connects to the Constitution. Punishment of any kind based on immigration status is, in my opinion, immoral.)

Joseph Carens would likely agree that expelling immigrants who have long resided in the U.S. constitutes “cruel and unusual punishment.” In addition to arguing for open borders generally, Carens has emphasized the injustice of deporting immigrants who have established roots in a society:

“Living and working in a society makes immigrants members of that society over time, even if they arrived and settled without permission. This is clearest for those who arrived as young children. Everyone has heard stories about the Dreamers, young people who were raised in the United States and who are now stuck in limbo because they do not have legal status. They are Americans in every respect that should count, and they can’t be blamed for coming here because they were only children when they arrived. So it would be morally wrong to kick them out… when people have been here for a long time, living peacefully and contributing to the community in ordinary ways, the morally right thing to do is to let them stay, regardless of how they arrived.”

The election of Donald Trump has exacerbated immigrant suffering, heightening their anxiety and threatening greater numbers of deportations, although it is unclear what his policy will actually be. At times, he has pledged to deport all undocumented immigrants.  More recently, he has suggested he would focus on immigrants with criminal records. It is also unclear whether he will overturn President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which has protected hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children from deportation and provided them work permits. (It should be remembered that, despite DACA, the deportation regime thrived under Obama.)

Immigrants who are protected under DACA are certainly distressed by the possibility that their protection will disappear under Trump. The New York Times, which has reported on some of these young immigrants, notes that if Trump terminated the program, at first they would lose their work permits, depriving them of sometimes middle class salaries: “…the Dreamers could see the accouterments of middle-class life — a studio apartment in Brooklyn, a driver’s license, a biweekly paycheck with deductions for retirement, a coveted desk in a financial firm — disappear.” A teacher at a middle school said of possibly losing her work permit, “‘I wouldn’t lie to say it won’t devastate me.’”  Moreover, there is the fear of being deported: “Advocacy groups have been inundated with calls from people afraid or despondent,” reports The New York Times. A 27 year old financial consultant stated: “‘The first thought I had is that I have done everything right and it is all going to be taken away from me… It feels a little bit like a betrayal. I’ve been here since I was 4 years old. I’m an American.’” A legal assistant who has been in the U.S. for almost thirty years, said “‘It feels like a step backward, to be back in this insecure place where you don’t know what the next step might be,’ she said, her voice breaking with tears. She has tried not to cry in front of her children and to assure them that she is safe.”

Non-DACA undocumented immigrants who spent many years in the U.S. but who have been deported have suffered immensely, as The New York Times also has shown. Juventino Martin Gonzalez was deported to Mexico after working in the U.S. for 20 years and having three children here. A month after being deported, he came to the border fence separating California from Mexico “for a glimpse of the American side he still considers home. He said, ’I belong over there, not here… this is the closest I can get…’” Miguel Romero was also deported to Mexico:

“For 16 years, he had worked as a glazier in Brooklyn. He married and was raising five children. But earlier this year, immigration officials arrested him while he was installing glass in a storefront in lower Manhattan, Mr. Romero said… His wife, also in the United States illegally, decided not to join him, and he says he does not blame her, since wages here average about $10 a day… He does not dare cross the border illegally again, for fear of getting caught and serving time in jail. ‘My whole life I spent up there, and it’s hard for me to come back,’ he said in perfect English. ‘We have been up there so many years, and most of us don’t commit crimes. People that do nothing but work should get a break.’”

Many additional immigrants who lived in the U.S. for many years have been deported, not because they were undocumented but on account of a criminal record. My opinion is that immigrants (who have not become citizens, in which case they generally are immune from deportation based on their criminal records) who have been convicted of a crime in the U.S. should be punished through the justice system, as would a U.S. citizen, but that they should not face deportation because of the crime, regardless of the offense. Regardless of one’s position on this issue, it is clear that those deported (often for very minor offenses) after living rooted lives in America suffer. The Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School has noted that many Cambodian immigrants to the U.S. have been deported after committing crimes. The center observes that “The U.S. separated them from their homes and families and sent them to a country with which they had little or no connection.” While some individuals eventually accept their life in Cambodia, many struggle to adjust, with some committing suicide. Especially devastating is the separation from loved ones in America: “Deportation destroys these relationships. It forces non-citizens to leave their friends, parents, siblings, and spouses. Furthermore, many must abandon their U.S. citizen children. Of the forty-eight returnees interviewed for this report, twenty-five left behind sons or daughters in the United States. As U.S. law makes it all but impossible for returnees to obtain a tourist visa, most will never see their children again.” One man was deported after forging a $900 check to pay his bills and has never seen his baby girl, who was born while he was in immigration detention before being sent to Cambodia.

Those under the threat of deportation because of their criminal record also are distressed. Lundy Khoy was born in refugee camp in Thailand, arrived in the U.S. thirty five years ago when he was a one year old, and has legal permanent resident status. He is not an American citizen but states “there is no way I am not an American.” In 2000 he pleaded guilty for possessing seven tablets of Ecstasy with intent to sell. His conviction made him deportable, even though he later received a pardon from the governor of Virginia. He has not been deported but has spent almost nine months in immigration detention (he is now released) and is fearful: “If I was deported, I would be sent to Cambodia. But I had never been to Cambodia!”

Another immigrant who faced a similar situation is Qing Hong Wu, who immigrated legally from China when he was five years old. When he was fifteen he pleaded guilty to muggings he had committed. After serving three years at a reformatory for his crimes, Wu worked to become a vice president for Internet technology with a national company. However, almost twenty five years after coming to the U.S., Wu was detained by immigration agents and subject to deportation because of his criminal record. In a telephone interview from detention with The New York Times he said, “’Being permanently banned from the U.S., that’s the biggest stress I’m under… That’s the harshest penalty any person can ever receive.’” Fortunately, after Wu spent four months in detention, the governor of New York pardoned him, which erased the grounds for deportation, unlike in Khoy’s case.

I believe that deportations are immoral, except in extradition cases in which individuals face criminal trials in other countries. However, I am not a lawyer and am not arguing here that the deportation of immigrants with strong roots in the U.S. could be found unconstitutional by a court. Apparently, a legal claim that deportation violates the Eighth Amendment probably would be unsuccessful, since deportation is not legally considered a punishment. The New York Times notes that “under the 19th-century legal doctrine still at the heart of much of modern immigration law, however, neither detention nor deportation counts as punishment, just as administrative remedies for the failure to exclude an undesirable foreigner in the first place, experts say.” It is evident, though, that deportation and the threat of it cause immigrants to suffer the equivalent of what the Supreme Court has deemed to be  cruel and unusual punishment, which is a damning indictment of both the status quo and a possibly even crueler future under Trump.

The US really is a Nation of Immigrants – and Peter Brimelow is wrong

Some time back, I got into a discussion with some commenters on Open Borders. The starting point was a claim by Peter Brimelow who is the editor of the restrictionist website VDARE. In an address to the Philadelphia Society, delivered in 2006, he stated it this way:

„But the last estimate that I saw, when I was researching Alien Nation, was that if there had been no immigration at all after 1790—none at all—the population of the US would still be about half of what it is now, through natural increase.“

This is part of an argument that it is misleading to call the US a “nation of immigrants.”

I was baffled by the claim, and my first reaction was to point out that American population would have grown by a factor of 40 since 1790, while the population of Germany grew only by a factor of less than 4, and world population by a factor of 7. A commenter then supplied an argument that very high fertility in the early US was behind it. This seemed to be an explanation, and so I retracted my criticism, but was still amazed how that could be.

Turns out I gave in too fast because:

The US really is a nation of immigrants, and overwhelmingly so.

I will go into more detail in another post because there are further aspects that are interesting (hint: it’s the momentum effect again). Here I will confine myself to a simple argument that shows why something has to be wrong with Peter Brimelow’s claim. I will also derive a more realistic estimate for the counterfactual.

Let’s first look at where the US population in 1790 had come from: Of the slightly more than 3.9 million inhabitants, about 760,000 were African Americans, mostly slaves. Native Americans were not counted at the time. The rest were of European descent, some 3.2 million people. More than 2.5 million of those of European descent or 78.6% traced their ancestry to Britain (59.7% English, 10.1% Scots-Irish, 5.0% Scottish, and 3.8% Welsh).

The reference year for Peter Brimelow’s claim is 1990, and he asserts that about half of the American population would have been there at that time without any immigration after 1790: 122 million in the counterfactual versus an actual population of 249 million (cf. “Alien Nation – Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster”, page 48).

There were 30 million African Americans in 1990. It is certainly an overestimate that all of them would have been there without any immigration after 1790 where this would have to include also forced “immigration.” That’s so because about half of all new slaves were brought to the US after the founding of the Republic.

Let’s be generous and concede 20 million African Americans in the counterfactual. There were also almost 9 million Native Americans who would have been there in 1990. So the number of all those of European descent in the counterfactual works out as 122-20-9 = 93 million people in 1990.

It is reasonable to assume that 78.6% of those 93 million would have been of British descent in the counterfactual, or about 73 million people. Otherwise you would have to explain why other groups (mostly Germans, Dutch, French, and Irish) had vastly diverging fertility over 200 years. I don’t see how you can make that case.

Now, since the counterfactual is just a part of what really happened with immigration, there should have been also at least 73 million actual people of British descent in 1990, or about 29% of the population. Of course, those would only be the same people as in the counterfactual if there had been complete segregation of later immigrants, which was not the case.

What counts here are surnames which anchor a claim to ancestry. Since half of someone’s descendents (usually sons) keep the surname, and half of them (usually daughters) lose it, the shares do not change a lot across generations. That is barring strongly differential fertility or systematic name changes that I find implausible. So the shares for ancestries should be roughly stable.

But then 29% has to be an underestimate because there were another 3.5 million immigrants from the UK between 1820 and 1930 alone. You can get a rough idea from German immigration for the effect of that later immigration in 1990.

There were only 280,000 Americans of German descent in 1790. They should have grown to about 7 million people in 1990 with the same rate as for those of British decent. But there were another 5 million German immigrants between 1850 and 1930. In 1990, there were 58 million Americans of German descent. So the 5 million later German immigrants should have grown to about 51 million people.

Hence it seems reasonable that the 3.5 million later British immigrants from 1820 to 1930 should have grown to some 35 million people. But that means that the share of those of British descent in 1990 would have been about 43% of the total population (108 million out of 249 million).

However, there were only 18.8% in 1990 who claimed to be of British descent or much less than half of what it should have been if Peter Brimelow were right.

There is one objection, though. There were also 6.2% who declared “American”, “US”, “European”, or “white” ancestry in the 1990 census. Probably some of them should be counted as of British descent, too. But even if you include all of them, you only get to 25%, or somewhat more than half of what is required. So the numbers simply don’t add up for Peter Brimelow’s claim, and that is so by a wide margin.

Now let’s derive a more realistic estimate (which has its limitations, but should be much closer to the truth):

If you take the high estimate of 25% for those of British descent (including all those who checked “American” ancestry, “US” ancestry, and so forth), there were about 62 million people in 1990 that belonged to that group. Subtracting the 35 million resulting from immigration after 1790, yields 27 million people, or only somewhat more than a third of the 73 million in the counterfactual.

But that can only mean that also the number of those of European descent in the counterfactual has to be much lower, not 93 million, but only 34 million people. Add in the 20 million African Americans (probably an overestimate) and the 9 million Native Americans, and you arrive at an estimate for the American population in the counterfactual of 34+20+9 = 63 million people.

Hey, that’s not bad, that’s almost the population of France! It is well below that for Germany, though, and only half the Japanese population. But relax, the US would still be more populous than Canada, admittedly not by a lot.

And a population of 63 million people would have been only 25%, and not almost 50% of actual population in 1990. Or in other words: Roughly 75% of the American population were there because of immigration after 1790!

But there is also a silver lining for Peter Brimelow here: The US was taken over by immigrants long ago, and it worked out so well that he is now defending the result as the status quo. Just imagine: No one would have noticed this massive swamping if I hadn’t written my post. And it is a fine example of how a nation of immigrants could become a great country. Make America great again!

Creative Commons License Resistance to U.S. Immigration Restriction: Echoes of the Opposition to the Fugitive Slave Laws is licensed by Joel Newman under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.