Legal Immigration Into the United States: Introduction (Part 1 of 6)

This an essay about legal immigration. It includes a theoretical framework, essential facts, and subjective opinions. In this old-fashioned piece, there is no pretense of scholarly detachment. It’s a personal endeavor that I hope will be useful to others. I don’t have a hidden agenda but topical preferences I think I make clear. Footnote 1 describes my qualifications to discuss immigration. You might surmise that I have a more pro-immigration bias than most small-government conservatives but not than most libertarians (but who knows about them?). I deal with American immigration, specifically. I present rough figures only, trying to add some orders of magnitudes to the current complicated media narrative, and to establish distinctions that don’t always occur naturally. I don’t aim at precision. If mistakes of fact slip into my story, I hope readers will draw attention to them and thus, perhaps, start a conversation here. My few policy recommendations are all tentative but I hope they are logically linked both to orders of magnitudes and to conceptual distinctions.

I choose to address legal immigration specifically for two categories of reasons. First, there are reasonably good, trustworthy figures regarding legal immigration, while numbers for illegal immigration are largely estimated from data gathered for other purposes and often according to wobbly rules. Second, the relationship between legal immigration and illegal immigration is complicated enough to justify an essay all of its own. Here is a sample: Many illegal immigrants, especially many Mexicans, argue that there would be less illegal immigration into the US if there were more doors open through legal immigration. Yet, as I show below, to a considerable extent legal immigration facilitates illegal immigration and thus increases the numbers of illegal immigrants. So the numerical relationship between the two appears both negative and positive. In a co-authored article (referenced in Footnote 2) I examined the complex links between legal and illegal immigration in the special and numerically important case of Mexicans. Though that article dates back to 2009, it remains remarkably current in some respect. In the present essay I only refer tangentially to illegal immigration and only insofar as it serves my main object.

There are serious proposals to legalize (to amnesty) most or all of the many millions of illegal aliens present in the US. I think this will happen to some extent. The corresponding transformation of illegals into de facto legal immigrants would alter drastically the relevance of all reasonings based on current legal immigration figures, including mine below. Nevertheless, it’s worth discussing these current numbers and the processes that produced them. This, for two reasons. First, to perceive change properly we need a quantitative baseline. Second, an understanding of what numbers of what kinds of immigrants the current legislation produced would be useful in designing future, post-legalization immigration rules.

The public debate about immigration in the US is fraught with factual mistakes, misconceptions, and large zones of silence. That’s nothing new. There is hardly a subject that combines, so thoroughly, informational breakdowns with passionate belief. In the intensely emotional debate, or battle, of June 2018, centering on the forceful separation of children from their illegal immigrant parents, both sides, or perhaps, all sides, gave hourly proof online of a lack of understanding of the then-current laws. Conceptual confusion has policy consequences. I fear the party for which I vote most often is about to formulate new and different immigration laws on a shaky basis. Aside from its immediate policy aspects, immigration is an important theoretical topic for all who are interested in nation-states in general. The latter should include everyone of more or less libertarian inclination.

Saint Augustine is said to have prayed to God, “Please, my God, make me chaste but not right away.” That’s how I feel about the nation-state. I want it to go away, along with its cortege of both routine and extraordinary oppression, but I am afraid of worse oppression on the way to the stateless society. While I wait, I will settle for a state in which political power is limited and is gained only through honest elections, and where the rule of law prevails most of the time. I know that’s already a tall order. But, right now, as I see it, “no nation-state” = Somalia, and historic Afghanistan, and the Congo (formerly Zaire).  It’s paradoxical to make this statement in a blog of libertarian orientation, but I am referring only to the present and to the near future. Tomorrow may be different.  (By the way, the idea I record here was made more strongly and in abundant detail by Stephen Pinker in The Better Nature of Our Angels: Why Violence Has Declined, 2011.)

Human migrations – emigration from and immigration into – occur both domestically and internationally. I am discussing here only international migrations. They are simply the act of crossing an international boundary with the intention of staying on its far side permanently. (For a thorough, global and historical view of migrations with a libertarian slant, see Vargas Llosa’s new book: Global Crossings: Immigration, Civilization, and America.) International boundaries are the boundaries of nation-states. No nation-states, no international migrations. The US is an example of a nation-state; so is Canada, so is (more or less) Mexico, so is Luxembourg, so is the People’s Republic of China, so is Singapore.

The Nation-State

Nation-states, because of their dual nature, shape migrations in two conceptually related but subtly different ways. First, nation-states historically have borders that are comparatively impermeable to human flows. That’s the “state” part of nation-states; it’s based squarely on force. These borders oppose resistance to entry and sometimes to exit. The fact that sets of nation-states – such as the European Union – sometimes enter into compacts to minimize the obstacles they oppose to the movement of capital, or of things, or even of people, only proves (tests) this definition. Nation-states use violence or the threat of violence to limit both ingress and egress, and all kinds of cross-border movements. They don’t usually allow for negotiations at the gate, or elsewhere.

In the elegantly minimalist definition of Max Weber, a state is an entity that exercises (or claims) a monopoly of legitimate violence over a territory and the population that occupies it. Of course, the monopoly may be imperfect and often is. Still, in theory, this monopoly clearly demarcates conceptually any state from any other sort of social organization, be it a corporation, a tribe, a family, or a sports club. States frequently go to war to defend their monopoly. In daily reality, the borders of nation-states are clearly based on coercion and routinely defended by force. You know that you approach a state boundary because the visible gun density increases.

Modern states, perhaps since the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), and at least since the French Revolution (1789-1815), tend to be based on nations. A nation is a group of people, usually a large group – excluding generalized face-to-face contact – who think somehow that they have a common destiny. The basis for this belief is often a more or less common, more or less mythical history. The myth can be transparently contrary to literal reality without losing its force, as several immigration-based nations such as the US, Canada, Israel, and Singapore demonstrate. Nations are also often based, but far from always, on a common language. The French language is usually thought to be central to the French view of their nation, though the French don’t have a monopoly on French. Switzerland has four official languages, though no one doubts it’s a nation. But the Belgians, with two languages (two-and-a-half, counting German), have perennial trouble thinking of themselves as a single nation.

States may expand resources to meld and forge a nation from disparate elements, or simply to maintain a pre-existing nation. Public schools always play an important role in modern nation-building, as is the case in the US, with its large intake of immigrants, and in France, with its historical absorption of heterogeneous regions. Schools are central institutions to nations and everyone knows it. Aspirations toward a state when one does not exist are also a defining feature of a nation. The Kurds are a perennial example.

A fair to high degree of sacredness is associated with the idea of nation. It’s usually manifested in symbols such as flags and anthems. It once took a court decision – in spite of the First Amendment to the US Constitution – to establish as legal the burning a piece of fabric, the American flag. Notwithstanding the currently common linkage in the real world between state and nation, there have been exceptions – multinational states, some quite durable. The Austro-Hungarian Empire was one. But most seem fragile, kept together by internal force and breaking down along the lines of nations when the force subsides, the associated formal, subordinate, more or less national entities disintegrating in the process, and the component nations going their politically separate ways if they can. This happened in my lifetime with both the Soviet Union and Communist Yugoslavia, in both cases spectacularly.

There is a certain circularity in the definition of the nation-state, I realize; it’s unavoidable: You must be familiar with the state to understand nations well; nations don’t make much sense in a stateless context. Still, the concept it embodies and the distinctions it makes are useful. To complicate matters, though, everyday language, often among politicians, encourages a return to confusion. When politicians and even journalists, who ought to know better, refer to “nations,” they usually mean “nation-states.” I am a bit guilty of this myself: When I refer to “national boundaries,” I mean the “boundaries of nation-states,” as I do in this essay.

National Boundaries

National boundaries – the boundaries of nation-states – serve several purposes, most associated with some form of self-defense. Much of what is being defended is quite concrete, such as territory and natural resources; some is difficult to define, or even to describe. This does not mean it’s not important. The defense of such intangibles, in the cultural realm for instance, regularly gives rise to fierce fighting. The equally intangible loyalty of sports fans is a parallel example. National boundaries are not like the walls of a steel container. Rather, they act as somewhat porous limits containing to varying degrees specific government traditions, laws and legal systems, cultures– including, sometimes but not always, language—and, surprisingly, specific demographic dynamics. (The 2016 fertility rate in France is 1.92; it’s only 1.60 in Germany, next door, and only 1.34 in Spain, also next door – differences of 32% and 43% respectively. Demographics of the European Union – Wikipedia)

Importantly, labor markets are also often well circumscribed by national boundaries. As I write, it’s still common for a car mechanic to earn 30 dollars an hour while his equally competent cousin, a mile away, but separated by a national boundary, earns only 30 dollars a day. Pay gradients thus invariably play a large role in attachment to national boundaries. Much of the resistance in the western European Union countries to achieving a border-free single market in 1994 was expressed in the form of the specter of the “Polish plumber,” a trained journeyman expecting only three-quarters of the current wage, or less. In an orderly world, blue-collar organizations are anti-immigration. American unions used to be frankly and often rabidly anti-immigrant. Now that their strength and likely their future lies with government workers, the concern with competition has been much reduced. Some unions may see in unskilled immigrant workers a solution to the problem of quickly declining number of blue-collar potential members.

Some would also argue that national boundaries circumscribe national economies. I hesitate to take this path because I think that the concept of national economy is, today, overused and often reified in political discourse in a way that induces bad thinking habits. (Paul Krugman, of all people, has a good academic article somewhere on why nation-states are not really economic competitors in spite of hundreds of political speeches to the contrary.) Nevertheless, most individual countries have central banks that matter because they largely determine the cost of  money and the abundance of currency, and thus, the magnitude of inflation in a given country. They also handle the national debt, usually a brake on economic expansion and thus, indirectly, and obstacle to immigration. The (national) central banks usually channel the local availability of credit.

All the same, a broad variety of economic flows routinely cross national boundaries with little attention or scrutiny. They include merchandise, services, and money, in various guises. A “little attention” is the default option; it can be replaced quickly by temporarily intense attention, as in the first Trump administration. Some of these flows are quite large in relation to the size of the relevant domestic facts. Thus, foreign trade as a percentage of GDP varies from less than the US 25%, to near 100% for Singapore. In addition, there are a few very important national institutions that shape economic events much beyond the borders of the nation-states to which they formally belong. So, the interest rates the US Federal Reserve Bank place a de facto rough floor on the mortgage rates paid by borrowers in many countries, at least in the long run.

National boundaries remain very concrete  in spite of the so-called recent “globalization.” (See, maybe: Jacques Delacroix, “Another monkey on our backs: falsehoods and truth about globalization,” Strategic Organization [Sage Publications](2004) 2-3:313.) Perhaps this is because history weighs heavily in in multiple ways on the social structure and on the culture of countries. Even after 50 years without real borders between the two countries, you can easily tell when you are in France and when you are in Belgium. The food is better, the beer is worse, the service is bad. (Guess in which!) In summary: usually there are more homogeneities (plural) within national boundaries than across them. That’s true, even if citizens often overestimate homogeneity within their nation-state. National boundaries contribute to the self-perpetuation of those same systems. In fact, perceived danger to the self-perpetuation of national cultures specifically is often a powerful reason to oppose immigration. It’s right alongside the fear of incoming labor lowering living standards. The two are often mixed in the same hostile sentence. (Again, my credentials: I listen to talk show radio pretty much five mornings a week.)

It’s useful to keep conceptually separate what pertains to the state and what has to do with the nation, because the two may generate different kinds of claims, both in general and with particular respect to immigration. I mean different claims such as this: You may not come into my house and you may not dance with my sister!

The nation-states of Europe and their direct colonial outposts such as Australia are at once the seats of long lasting prosperity and the main repositories of conventionally and broadly defined democracy. The same nation-states are currently subjected to intense demographic pressure from without. It’s not foolhardy to speculate that their high standard of living makes them attractive, as their political traditions gives hope to migrants  that they might, in fact, gain admission (as many do). Remarkably, other prosperous countries situated outside this Western political tradition seem largely immune from immigration pressure. I am thinking of Japan, of course, but also of South Korea and even of Singapore. They avoid the pressure by restricting firmly the length of stay of foreign labor and by specifying with brutal clarity that they have little or zero chance to become citizens. It’s useful to keep in mind that among the countries of Western tradition, the US is not the worst pressured.

Why Control National Boundaries?

As I write, currents of opinion are rather suddenly surfacing in the US that are both anti-state and, ultimately, anti-nation. They want the state’s capacity to control its borders with respect to the movement of people to be cut drastically. They seem to assign little value to the specific content of American culture, at least, or especially, as pertains to political  institutions. Some appear frankly hostile. People in the libertarian tradition are almost doctrinally forced to detest national boundaries although they are not always clear about what immigration policies they desire. Just to be clear, I must declare that I, personally, believe that the United States must at present vigilantly control its borders, including who and how many come in, and for how long.

There are two conceptually distinct categories of reasons why I believe it must be so. First, there is the issue of sovereignty; the so-called “lifeboat argument” gives us the second reason.

Americans who have given it any thought probably overwhelmingly want the US to remain more or less itself: a constitutional republic with separation of religion and government, with comparatively clean elections held at predictable intervals; a country where the rule of law is common if not universal; a society that actively nourishes certain values, among which is individual self-reliance; a country where initiative, for example, is prized over discipline. I think they prefer a country where the reach of government is explicitly limited, though they may vary about how limited. Contrast with the current French constitution, for example, which explicitly declares France a social republic, that is, a polity that actively takes care of its citizens’ needs. Incidentally, the sister Republic that is France, born at about the same time as the United States, is down to its fifteenth constitution, while the US is still on its first. An appreciation of continuity is also one of the distinguishing features of American political culture.

A large influx of culturally alien populations could dilute or even swamp this model of society within a couple of generations. It’s worrisome that no one knows where the tipping point is, but it does not mean that there is no tipping point. Take France, with only a small Muslim minority (much less than 10% of the population, I think, of which only about one third declare themselves observant. (I lost the reference to this French source for this figure, unfortunately. It’s shored up by a statement in Wikipedia in French, which reports that 49% of French Muslims say they never visit a mosque. – Islam en France.)

This is a tough topic because it’s against French law to gather statistics about  religious affiliation. No reason to trust anyone’s figure in particular. Many people there think that the declarative secularism of the republic is endangered because of the Muslim presence. I don’t know if this is a realistic fear, I think not, but it’s real in its direct political consequences. A large French political party – formerly the Front National – exists mostly, though not entirely, because of this belief. A victory of this anti-immigrant party would, in itself, transform the French Republic in several unpredictable ways. In the last election (2017), for instance, the party campaigned less with an anti-immigrant message  than with with an extreme, primitively protectionist economic program that leaves me perplexed. (It perplexes me because it reads as an attempt to return to the 1950s, when nearly everyone in France was poor.)

The placement of the putative tipping point in the US may depend on the degree of similarity between American culture and that of the immigrants. It has to do in part with the legibility of American culture to the immigrants. I think this is especially true with respect to political culture. All despotisms are more or less alike, whereas political democracy depends on the robustness of a tiny number of fragile and improbable arrangements of parts. The US may be lucky, in this connection, to have the compatible Mexicans figure prominently among its candidates for immigration, legal and illegal. I develop this view below. Under the influence of too many immigrants, or simply through their indifference to existing organizing principles of society, the US could become a different kind of society, even if it were not necessarily a worse kind of society. Few Americans have anything crushing to say about Canada next door, but few Americans want their country to become like Canada, for example. If they did, it would be reflected in figures pertaining to American emigration to Canada, even discounting for climate.

Apart from concerns with political swamping, broadly defined, there is the view that the US – together with several other developed countries, comprising together no more than 10 % of the world’s population – is like a lifeboat in a sea of poverty and barbarism. (I am old and retired; I don’t care about political correctness; so let me say that this is what I believe. It is not an arrogant statement of American exceptionalism. I would make a similar statement if the issue were Finland admitting numerous American immigrants, for example.) American society provides many with a civilized life largely free of physical wants. If all the people worldwide who are attracted to some feature of this way of life were allowed to immigrate unchecked, its resource system would tank. The failure of economic infrastructure would constitute a second, indirect, way in which American society’s institutional foundation would be damaged. The damage thus inflicted would occur in addition to damage resulting for cultural incompatibility and hostility. The logical implication is this: even culturally compatible immigrants, in numbers large enough, would eventually destroy American institutional arrangements. Incompatible immigrants would do it faster.

To repeat myself: Institutional erosion could happen through immigrants’ innocent ignorance alone. The admission of immigrants actively hostile to some American institutional arrangements – the separation of religion and government, for example – would hasten the process, of course. An unchecked large influx of very poor people simply unable to support themselves might destroy for good, forever, the material foundation of the country’s institutions, as well as simply destroying its economy. In this scenario, the crowding swimmers would sink the lifeboat, to no advantage of anyone, including the swimmers. Many philosophical advocates of open borders and tender-heated partisans of lax border enforcement – including some Christian advocates – appear not to have thought this through. Our collective ability to do good in the world, as their hearts require we do, might be obliterated forever by the same hearts’ unchecked generosity. And no Western ethics system requires suicide.

Standing in an Imaginary Line

Often, daily, I hear bitterness expressed in the media and, especially, in the social media about the estimated 10-plus million foreigners illegally in the US. The hostile remarks often come from the mouths of conservative politicians. Fairly frequently, liberals echo the same alleged facts but without the bitterness. I refer to the same  liberals who call illegal aliens “undocumented immigrants” as if they had just failed to comply with some absurd formalities required by the fussy United States as conditions of admission. I hear the same anger also daily on talk radio. The lament is all over Facebook. Illegal aliens are frequently described as disorderly or unfair, or even as rude people who did not wait their turn to enter the US. For several months, in 2018, the conservative Fox commentator Laura Ingraham referred almost daily to doing it legally as an alternative to illegal immigration. Her guests never corrected her, or even coughed discretely. Other networks do not much discuss illegal aliens – just, defensively, the amalgam “immigrants,” the better to tar the Trump administration, and President Trump himself, with inchoate xenophobia. I hear liberal politicians accepting the idea of legal immigration as a simple orderly process more or less open to all, although they would better serve their objectives if they did not. This is an extraordinary misconception, an almost incredible display of ignorance of regulatory reality related to a hot political topic.

Here is the truth: There is currently no way for the average adult from, for instance, Norway, to immigrate into the US in a manner that is both planned and legal. The same is true for the average Mexican, in spite of the huge number of legal Mexican immigrants in the country (See below.) (2) So, it does not make sense to contrast illegal immigrants (the “undocumented”) with legal immigrants, as if the former were queue jumpers and the latter sedate law abiding types waiting patiently for their turn to come at the window. There is no queue; there is no line. There is no ticket to determines one’s place in the line, since there is no line. There is no window, zero window, for the general public of foreign countries. (On June 29, 2018, at 7:30 pm., I heard on Fox News the President of the American Conservative Union use explicitly – but falsely – the vocabulary of cutting in line, and thus cheating, to the detriment of foreigners who have applied for legal immigration. So clearly was the error expressed that I might have prompted him myself, just to make my point!)

If you are Norwegian and you want to move to the US for good and you want to do it legally, you can marry an American if you are single and sentimentally adventurous. Or you can try to take advantage of one of a few investors’ visas, bringing in a significant amount of money and promising to create so many new jobs in a given span of time. (More on investors visas below.) That’s about it. Marriage is quick, but it may entail divorcing your current beloved spouse or giving up on true love altogether. Besides, fraudulent marriages contracted only to obtain entry into the US are illegal. (I doubt, however, that the Citizenship and Immigration Services currently have many resources today to devote to this minor irritant. In the past, agents used to interview couples and observe how they sat in relation to each other, or if they touched – personal experience.) Incidentally, the investor’s visa looks like a sort of self-destructive proposition: How does one create and preserve a successful business in a country one does not know, I wonder? Interestingly, this category of visa is periodically under attack as a source of corrupt money for American politicians. (See: John Vecchione and Ann Weisman’s OpEd “No More Pay-to-Play Green CardsThe Wall Street Journal  9/19/18, p. 19.)

And then, there is a variety of temporary workers’ visas intended to compensate for a shortages of native-born workers which may, under some circumstances be turned into permanent residency. Under none of those can a person be sure that he or she is actually emigrating to the US, only trying. I describe these below.

The Legal Gateways into the US, with Figures

Now that I may have your attention, let’s review together the several gates of legal immigration into the US and the numbers passing through those gates recently. I deal here with immigration properly defined, the entry of people who intend to stay in the country indefinitely. Below are the several ways a foreigner can gain full admission to the US with an unrestricted right to work. It’s known colloquially as getting a “green card.” Note that this is different from citizenship, which includes full political rights, although admission – a green card – is a necessary step toward citizenship. I give the main corresponding numbers for the most recent year that is available (2016, unless otherwise stated), because there seems to be widespread ignorance about the orders of magnitude involved.

Technical note: All my figures are from Homeland Security: US Immigration and Statistics. They are rounded off for clarity. In general, the numbers may vary a little, year-to-year, but that does not much affect the orders of magnitude I present below. The exception is refugee figures, which may change suddenly. Note also that the number of persons physically arriving in the US is much larger than the sum of figures given below, because the former includes tourists, students, temporary workers, short-term resident executives of foreign firms, and others who are supposed to be visitors staying only for a stated length of time. Temporary visitors are a major source of illegal immigration. They simply overstay their visas. They are so numerous that catching and processing them for deportation overwhelms federal agencies.

Total admissions to permanent resident status that is, real immigrants:


Categories 1 through 5  below are discrete categories. There is no numerical overlap between them, no double counting.

1  Permanent admissions, based on a variety of occupational or business qualifications, to fill jobs needed in the US economy, plus individuals of extraordinary talent in any field, plus all their dependents:


That’s the near totality of current merit based final immigration. This figure includes 10,000 investors, people admitted with their capital under the promise that they will create a stated number of new jobs, and their dependents.

2  Now to total admissions based on family relationships. (This includes relatives of US citizens and others, namely relatives of lawfully admitted immigrants, who have not achieved citizenship.) I am aggregating here two official categories separated by some sort of bureaucratic process that needs not concern us. As before, I focus on the general grounds for admission.


That’s the bulk of the “chain migration” of which Pres. Trump complains. But look: of those, 300,000 are spouses of US citizens, and 170,000 are direct parents (fathers and mothers) of adult US citizens. Adult brothers and sisters of US citizens and their children -– probably one of the most problematic categories for many Trump voters and for other conservatives – only account for 37,000. The people admitted on the basis of their family relationship to someone legally in the US (citizens and legal immigrants) constituted a full 67% of the total entering the country in 2016.

Note: Immigrants within this broad category are admitted according to a complex set of priorities I don’t want to learn unless someone pays me to do it. I advise you to do the same unless you have a strong reason to do otherwise.

This is a good place to correct a widespread misapprehension. The US is one of many countries of jus solis. Any child born on American soil is automatically a US citizen. There is evidence I have seen that some foreign women practice “birth tourism,” that they travel to the US on a tourist visa for the purpose of delivering in the US. But the resulting “anchor babies,” contrary to a common perception do not procure for their parents automatic US citizenship, or even immigrant admission. The babies put their parents in the order of priority for such admission based on family status, in the crowd of those waiting rather than outside of the crowd. The deportation of citizen babies whose parents are not legally on American soil is common practice. (I mean deportation in the company of their parents.)

3   The next portal of permanent admission is the so-called diversity lottery. This is actually a real lottery, with no entry fees, that an individual foreigner can play as often as he likes. It exists only for areas of the globe deemed to provide currently very small numbers of immigrants.  (There is a formula but it’s boring.) Currently, for example, Norway, Morocco, Zimbabwe, and Indonesia belong to eligible areas. How it is decided that an area is so under-served seems to correspond to complex but rigorous and transparent rules. The status of under-served areas is revisited periodically. Diversity lottery winners are allowed immediately to take with them their spouse and their unmarried minor children. They are all eligible for citizenship down the road. Contrary to some rumors, lottery winners are vetted on the same security grounds as all other immigrants. They must also fulfill some modest criteria of literacy in their own language. Their numbers are:


That’s 4% of all immigrants for 2016. I mention this so we keep things in perspective in the context of President Trump’s oft-voiced dislike of this lottery. Lottery winners in 2016 included people from more than one hundred countries. Only six under-served countries passed the bar of 2,000 lottery immigrants admitted. As I write, all but eighteen countries in the world belong to under-served, areas eligible for the diversity lottery. The purpose of the lottery is to insure that a diversity of immigrants in an undefined sense. I speculate retroactively that it may have been instituted at the initiative of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, and as a compromise between those in Congress who wanted more Europeans (especially Irish) and those who wanted more black people of all origins. (Again, this is a speculation.)

The historical American immigration core of Western Europe– Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Norway, together sent a grand total of 1217 individuals to the US under this diversity qualification. That’s fewer than Cameroon, with 1664. These Western Europeans make up between 2% and 3% of the total admitted through the lottery. As a way to remember this order of magnitude, make it 4% of 4% of all immigrants in 2016, from Western Europe, through the diversity lottery. In view of these numbers, anybody who calls current American immigration racist is out of his mind, probably dishonest, as well as ignorant. (I am trying to stay moderate.)

Note: The diversity lottery should not be confused with another lottery, used to distribute H-1B visas, described below.

4    The next access to the US is the statuses of refugees and asylees. Refugees and Asylees (the juridical difference between the two categories probably does not concern us here):


That’s practically all the people admitted on solely humanitarian grounds in 2016. There are a few others under a miscellaneous category called “Others” that accounts probably for a small fraction of 35,000 people (see below). In 2016, about 50,000 of all refugees and asylees, or around one-third, were Cubans. The number of arrivals in this admission category and the number of admissions are different because in 2016, for example, about half the admissions were of people already on US soil, people “arrived” possibly many years earlier. The relevant processing may take several years. Not surprisingly, the number of refugees arriving on American shores – landing there – varies from year to year as a function of events in the wider world and of Congress’s responsiveness to those events. In 2016, there were 85,000 arrivals of refugees (narrowly defined); in 2002, there were only 27,000; in 1980, 207,000. Keep in mind that, in a given year, there may few arrivals but one hundred thousand admissions, because it takes time to process new arrivals into admissions.



It’s a mixed category of no great interest. It includes many corrections of previous mistakes, including former mis-classifications.

Appendix One

Cultural Arguments in Defense of the Diversity Lottery

The existence of the visa lottery may seem to proceed from a naive sense of fairness toward people with respect to whom the US has no obligations. I think that’s not all in spite of the unfortunate “diversity” appellation. First, there is a historical issue. Given the large weight of family relationships in admission entire historically important groups would be practically excluded absent the lottery. So, in 2016, only 1,760 Irish immigrants were admitted to a country that must have been at least 20% Irish for several decades. (My estimation.) Compare, for the same year, with 174,000 immigrants from Mexico and 90,000 from the three Chinese entities. Incidentally, also in 2016, 362 people came into the US from Norway. That’s only slightly more than arrived from tiny Antigua and Barbuda alone (324).The US immigration system should probably not be in the business of guaranteeing that national groups that historically contributed much to the settlement of the country should be barred forever.

The second argument in favor of the immigration lottery concerns the rights, pleasure and convenience of American citizens. In 2016, only 78 persons came in from (admittedly small) Botswana. The lottery improves the chance that more will come or, at least, that the number will not go down to zero. This matters to me, an American citizen, for subtle intellectual reasons residing entirely in my imagination. It’s part of my pursuit of happiness if you will. I do not wish for my government to vouch that I will never bump into a Botswanan, nor my children, without traveling to southern Africa. It seems to me that the small lottery (50,000 admissions out of 1,200,000) is a reasonable burden to impose on my fellow citizens in the name of my interest in diversity as the word was understood before it was kidnapped to serve grotesque partisan purposes. This is a difficult position to defend, of course. I just suspect many other Americans feel similarly once the idea is explained to them (although not necessarily in connection with Botswanans).


1   I am a sociologist by training; I have an earned doctorate from a good American university. For 25 years, I taught in an MBA program located in the middle of Silicon Valley. My scholarly record is not stellar but it is well respected. I have written, in addition, non-academic essays, short stories, and two very different books of memoirs, one in English and one in French. I am an immigrant from France. I have lived in the US for about fifty years.

In addition to my own personal interactions, I have considerable experience dealing with the US immigration authorities. That’s mainly in connection with my foreign-born wife and with my two adopted children, also born overseas. (My family is thus a good example of “chain migration.”) I am a merit immigrant myself.

I seldom lose contact with immigration issues because I am endemically in touch with members of the wider francophone community that provides many recent and current immigrants, from Africa, in particular. I live in a part of California with many residents originating in Mexico and my Spanish is good. I read that language with ease and I listen often to the several Spanish language radio stations in my area. I pay attention to the advertising they carry. Of course, my frequent and varied, and usually positive interactions with Mexican immigrants and with their children influence my current views on American immigration policies. I spite of my long sojourn in academia, I am a conservative, a small government conservative of the libertarian-leaning variety. (It wasn’t easy, believe me!)

A link to my vita is on the front page of my blog:

2   Several years ago, a co-author, a fellow immigrant, and I argued in detail in the Independent Review that a special favored treatment should be afforded to our neighbors to the south and to the north. We pointed to a possible two-way open door policy that would exclude access to American citizenship. (“If Mexicans and Americans could cross the border freely”  – Formerly: “Thinking the unthinkable: illegal immigration; The bold remedy.” Delacroix, Jacques and Sergey Nikiforov, The Independent Review, 14-1: 101-133 (Summer) 2009. This piece is linked to my blog:

5 thoughts on “Legal Immigration Into the United States: Introduction (Part 1 of 6)

  1. “numbers for illegal immigration are largely estimated from data gathered for other purposes and often according to wobbly rules”

    I can give you exact numbers for illegal immigration based on irrefutable fact.

    The exact number for illegal immigration is zero.

    Since the US Constitution 1) enumerates no federal power to regulate immigration and 2) clearly and unambiguously denied the federal government a power to regulate immigration prior to 1808, after which an amendment would have been required to create such a power, there’s no such thing as “illegal immigration.” Per Madison v. Marbury, any laws claiming there is are void.

    • I read this. Not my topic. I should have written ” so-called, ‘illegal immigration'” but that would have been tedious. The implications of your constitutional interpretation is that the fed government may not limit immigration. This would have all kinds of interesting implications. I hope you will pursue them.

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