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Friday, May 19, 2006

How Many Immigrants?

That is the question:

For many, perhaps most Americans, the question is not “Should we welcome immigrants?” but “How many?” A moderate influx may be economically helpful and culturally invigorating; a huge one would be disruptive. It is not easy, however, to look at a proposed law and predict how many newcomers it might let in.

Some estimates are extremely high. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, put it at 100m over 20 years if the Senate bill were enacted. His study, released on the same day as Mr Bush's speech, also included a “maximum” estimate of 193m. That figure—equivalent to 60% of the current population—was seized upon by alarmists such as Rush Limbaugh, a talk-radio host, and Dianne Feinstein, a Democratic senator from California.

But cooler heads queried Mr Rector's methodology. Michael Fix of the Migration Policy Institute, a pro-immigration think-tank, said he doubted that the guest-worker programme would expand as fast as Mr Rector assumes, that immigrants would naturalise as quickly, that so few would die or return home, and that so many would bring their parents. Compounded over decades, small changes in assumptions lead to big changes in results. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that immigration reform would add a more modest 7.8m people to America's population over ten years.

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