Uncovering the Nativism of Population Politics

When anti-immigrant zealots publicize their opposition to policies that they perceive as "pro-immigrant," they often insist that their motives are not racist. The anti-immigrant movement has carefully maintained that it is only opposed to "illegal" immigration, and welcomes immigrants who "follow the rules" and enter the country legally (even though half of all undocumented immigrants actually entered the U.S. through legal channels). Many pundits and presidential candidates similarly embrace this rhetoric. But as numerous immigrant rights organizations and columnist Andres Oppenheimer have pointed out, their assertions are in fact disingenuous.

What's more, immigrant women bear the brunt of these anti-immigrant attacks. Take the issue of birthright citizenship. Since the early 1990s, this 14th Amendment right has been under assault by nativist organizations like the Federation for American Immigration Reform, who successfully lobbied Congress members to introduce legislation that would repeal and replace the Citizenship Clause with a provision that would restrict birthright citizenship to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents. Over the years, restricting birthright citizenship has gained such popularity among conservative circles that the Republican party included it in their 1996 party platform. More recently, current and former Republican presidential candidates Ron Paul and Mitt Romney have voiced their support for ending this birthright. (Last month, Mike Huckabee was also reputed to support the effort to change our birthright citizenship laws, but later withdrew his support.)

What would it mean to end this right? Critics of birthright citizenship remain largely silent about the practical and legal consequences of implementing such a change, but it seems undeniable that eliminating this right would create an underclass of U.S. born children who are "aliens" in their own homeland. Restricting birthright citizenship to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents would mean that children born to undocumented immigrant women or immigrant women with temporary visas would have no status under the law. They will be neither immigrant nor citizen and lack a national identity. In essence, ending birthright citizenship would create a new classification that would only apply to the offspring of mostly immigrant women of color. Moreover, it is an outcome that would put our country hundreds of years back to the slave era, when the status of your birthmother determined your status as a slave or a free man.

Population growth is another issue that fuels anti-immigrant hysteria. News of a "baby boomlet" at the beginning of the year prompted unfair attacks against immigrant women and their child-bearing capacities. While economists lauded the news as a positive indicator for the country's future prosperity, leaders and supporters of the anti-immigrant movement interpreted it as a negative consequence of the country's "liberal" immigration laws. According to conservatives like John Vinson, president of the American Immigration Control Foundation, foreigners migrate to the U.S. because "[a U.S. born] child is an automatic American citizen, thus entitled to all benefits of American citizens. This gives a certain financial incentive for people coming from other countries illegally to have children here." Several conservative blogs and online comment boards similarly exploded with vitriolic attacks against immigrant women, blaming them for a range of social ills from "overpopulation" to the nation's current budget deficit.

Notably, the higher birth rates of Asian and Latina immigrant women are often unfavorably compared to the national average, yet little is mentioned of the high birth rates of certain predominantly-white religious groups, such as Mormons. In 2006, Utah, which is over 70% Mormon, reported an average birth rate of 19.2 births per 1,000 persons compared to the national average of 13.9 per 1,000 persons. The Church also encourages high fertility rates; according to orthodox Mormons, the ideal Mormon family should have about four children. In recent years, white fundamentalist Protestants have also seen a boost in birth rates as part of a little-known movement called "natalism." These suburb-loving families often include four or more children, concentrate in counties that are nearly 100% white and view parenthood as a calling. Yet, why haven't pundits or "population control" theorists called on Mormon or Christian fundamentalist women to control their ovaries?

That's because there's a political correlation between communities with high white fertility rates and the conservative vote. In 2004, George Bush carried the 19 states with the highest birth rates, while John Kerry took the 16 states with the lowest rates. It is not surprising then that conservatives like to detract attention away from their own childbearing patterns by accusing immigrant women of having too many children and burdening everything from the environment to the U.S. health care, tax, and public benefits systems (more myths that anti-immigrants like to promote). In short, the claim that the anti-immigrant movement is not a racist one is false. And it's another reason why the social justice movement must continue to work together to engage in anti-racist and anti-sexist advocacy.

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  • http://www.allaboutmormons.com invalid-0

    While I agree with the general premise of your article, you were so eager to prove your point that you in one instance set the facts asside. While it is true that Mormons have a higher birthrate, the LDS (Mormon) Church in no way dictates family size. Your sentence, “The Church also encourages high fertility rates; according to orthodox Mormons, the ideal Mormon family should have about four children…” is fiction, not news reporting.

  • http://www.bajarat.wordpress.com invalid-0

    Rarely do we encounter “anti-immigrant” activism in this country, but we do see considerable anti-illegal-alien and anti-invasion activism, and that’s a good thing. This is a nation of laws, not a “nation of immigrants.”

    It’s absurd to continue on with the misinterpretation of the 14th amendment that encourages invaders to sneak in, drop an anchor baby, and reap the benefits of having done so. Said babies should be citizens of the country the mother snuck in from, certainly not our country.

    The writer of this loony screed is simply a bald-faced liar and radical left wing kook.

    • invalid-0

      Unless you are an American Indian, you have no right to complain about immigrants. Oh, your ancestors come from Europe? Last time I checked, that group of Pilgrims in 1620 were illegal immigrants.

  • invalid-0

    Ummm… “population control” is overwhelmingly associated with liberal politics. (You know, the whole pro-life movement really doesn’t like that group.) Concerns about immigrant birthrates tend to be adjunct concerns rather than the primary focus of most anti-immigrant groups.

    The problem of immigrants having children that then place a high burden on the taxpayers (either through welfare services- or even through the effect of overcrowded schools), has been around for a long time. I remember the complaints about Puerto Rico immigrants to New York in the 80’s.

    First of all, anti-immigration is not associated with conservatism. Rather it is a form of populism that tends to be more comfortable with conservatives than with liberals. Hence a tendency to associate with Republicans, but there are plenty of Democrats who are furious about lax enforcement of immigration laws.

    Second, this is not direct racism. This is issue is driven by some legitimate concerns about the costs associated with a large influx of immigrants who then need all sorts of government services. When these immigrants tend to be poor and unable to pay sufficient taxes to fully cover the costs, naturally the more affluent natives tend to become upset. They either now have to make do with less in the way of government services, or they have to pay higher taxes. The fact that these poor immigrants are associated with a specific culture and physical appearance (Mexican) means that racist feelings can arise from this- but it is unfair to label all those who have concerns about immigration as racist in motivation.

    Finally, there are plenty of conservatives who support citizenship by birth for the children of illegal immigrants. There is nowhere near the consensus on that issue as you imply.

    • invalid-0

      Since passage of the Jones Act in 1917 Puerto Ricans, whether born on the mainland of the U.S. or in Puerto Rico, are U.S. Citizens.

      Educate yourself before you say something ignorant

  • harry834

    can you tell us why, BajaRat these immigrants shouldn't be afraid of people like you?

    "nation of laws" – yes, in creating these laws we have reevaluate them every so often. Otherwise, Congressman would just write in stone, and go home. Congress meets every year because we expect them to examine and reexamine the legislation they create. If amnesty became the law of the land, would you respect it?

    It should be known that not all pro-immigrant groups call for amnesty. National Council of La Raza, which aggressvely debated Lou Dobbs, has clarified they don't want amnesty, rather they want an earned path to citizenship, but one that is fair and humane, rather than based on irrational fears of "invasion" or "anchor babies".


    La Raza is an org independent of RH Reality Check. I myself am not a member, and don't necessarily endorse their positions, but do feel their positions make sense.


  • invalid-0

    I would imagine that if they came here legally they will have documents. Can anyone believe that this government would have at least one form to fill out before crossing the border legally? Maybe I’m wrong but it seems pretty silly.

    Also I agree that it is also silly to say that Mormons require or recommend a family size. hey do believe however that it is a gift from God to have children and that if you can you should have children. (once you are married that is)


  • invalid-0

    It seems to me that what you are telling the world about me is that I am a racist simply because I do not agree with your point of view. What ever happened to liberals and their being “open minded”. You probably personally know very few people on my side of the argument (anit-illegal immigration) and yet you portray us as hate-mongering racist! How would you know?

  • invalid-0

    Thank you Priscilla for this analysis– to read some of the comments by people like “BajaRat” supports your point exactly. There is a lot of education that needs to happen and unfortunately the xenophobic rhetoric of the right-wing media has worked well in dumbing down this nation. The person (Anonymous) who wrote about “Puerto Rican immigrants” is obviously ignorant and ill-informed b/c Puerto Ricans are NOT immigrants and being born in Puerto Rico means that one is a U.S. Citizen. In addition, Tim Wright has little understanding of the immigration system, as there are visas issued for purposes like school and work, then expire after completion of the purpose (i.e., student has graduated). After expiration and depending on the situation, the individual (who may be Harvard-educated or have worked at a fortunate 500 company) is then considered ‘undocumented’ because they no longer have status in the U.S.
    In addition to the racism that is pervasive in the immigration discourse, there are obvious class biases, and the ignorant assumptions that immigrants are draining our welfare system are ill-informed. In fact, over 51% of women on Medicaid are white and undocumented immigrants are ineligible for most government programs. Most undocumented immigrants work and contribute to our tax system through sales tax and/or a federal tax ID number; the government will take their tax dollars, but they will never see a return on their contribution b/c they are barred from most federally-subsidized programs.

  • invalid-0

    @JD: The Church of LDS may not officially espouse high-fertility rates, but its message of building strong families has been remarkably effective at making it one of the fasting growing religions in the world. Membership size has doubled approx. every 15 years and family-size is higher than average. I think it’s consrvative to call that “encouraging” the building of families.

    @Damon Mills: Your personal attacks do not lend much weight to your viewpoint. The author is not calling you a rascist, but stipulating that the purported arguments that are used by nativist movements are not applied uniformly. I personally agree with you that there has to be legal mechanisms through which migrants can use to come to the US. However, instead of politicizing the womb and altering the foundations of this country, I would recommend that a solution to the illegal immigration be studied and sought. Putting up a fence is not one. Illegal immigrants come here for importants reasons, not the least of which is that there is a demand for their labor.

  • invalid-0

    I take exception that a person living and working and raising children on this or that side of an artificial boundary is an “illegal” human being.

    Thank you Jessica G, I was going to make all the same points. Many undocumented people pay taxes using federal tax ID numbers, yet are so afraid of being detected that they will never go anywhere near a government office offering aid. Studies show that an undocumented family makes an overall POSITIVE contribution to the US economy by spending their money here, paying taxes, but using fewer services than a native-born person.

    And yes, a lot of this “illegal alien” hysteria has plenty to do with racism. That’s why people call it the “brown flood” and whine about the loss of “real” American culture. What do you mean, like the loss of Native culture? If not, shut up.

    Also, there’s a reason why a special Missouri panel convened by racist, sexist Gov. Blunt “found” that abortion of fetuses that would have been future workers is the reason that we have illegal immigration. Crappy reason 1: white workers are preferable to brown ones. Crappy reason 2: slick way to leverage racist anti-immigration types to agree that the solution is restricting women’s reproductive rights. See how nicely that dovetails there?

  • invalid-0

    well at least you have them talking! i think this is a thoughtful and provocative article contributing to one of the most important debates and issues of our generation. thanks for putting the information out there.

  • invalid-0

    “And yes, a lot of this ‘illegal alien’ hysteria has plenty to do with racism. That’s why people call it the ‘brown flood’ and whine about the loss of ‘real’ American culture. What do you mean, like the loss of Native culture? If not, shut up.”

    Don’t forget how they say nothing about illegal immigration by whites either. For an example, see this article: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/03/18/boom_times_crackdown_slow_emerald_wave/

  • invalid-0

    Creating division among populations is a political tool, the argument of egalitarian America with torch bearing icon no longer holds true. The descent into some form of plutocracy, I may even be tempted even to go as far as calling it a true Juristocracy is far from any basic constitutional arguments afforded here. Turning a nation into per capita product is sadly remiss , as would be the eugenics program of the CFR and other elitist type thinktanks. In a world that doesn’t need so many people, the dilemma of the elite need a helping hand. As we are headlong into a world that seeks to balance a future scary prospect, depopulation subtle or otherwise are a priority. In such ventures we need a proxy and known result, with many convincing sideshows, barbarism howsoever legitimized is still barbarism. True statesmen are a little sparse these days as is common sense, but then we need not worry so much. We deserve what we approve of, and with current trends we approve with little foresight. If things are cyclical, we are bound without a doubt to reap what we sow.

  • invalid-0

    This was an excellent article. Thank you.

  • invalid-0

    I say “Ho Hum” to the boredom of worn out pejoratives, like nativism, racism and xenophobic and all gratuitous and basically meaningless slurs on the character of others who the writer doesn’t know. Insults are not arguments and name-calling is an activity engaged in by three year olds in a sandbox, absent instruction in manners by supervising adults.

    Ms Huang, slandering your opponents is not a good option, only the last resort for those who have lost the case for open borders on its merits. So I implore you to stop telling the immigration reductionists why we think the way we do. You can’t read our minds and motives and moreover your statements are rude and presumptuous.

    Of course it is also galling that America, the nation that takes in, and has accepted in the past, more immigrants than the rest of the world combined and today has the fastest population growth rate of any country save India and China is finally agreeing, in a massive grassroots effort that, yes, we have done quite a bit of “welcoming the world,” but maybe now we should stop for a while,. Perhaps indefinitely. That, Ms.Huang, is our decision to make, all of us, not just yours and that of the mass immigration- promotion industry. And all of us get to decide about who to admit and how many. Self- selection by border jumping, visa overstaying and family/clan chain immigration must and will end. And those decisions about policy cannot be made in Mexico, India, or China, but right here in our own community, state and nation.

    Since about 6 billion people in the world’s high poverty areas could improve their lives by coming to the United States, how many of them should we take? How absurd is it to call that common sense question “zealotry!” No matter what our country has done in the past, further growth and overcrowding cannot go on forever. There are eras of plenty and a time for limits and we are now and properly so, in the process of reappraising, such outdated ideas as endless growth and unending resources. This is a time for a “must change” imperative because population doubling time is getting shorter as the numbers that are doubling get larger. If you are even moderately numerate, this kind of information will make your head spin. Time is running out to reverse the momentum and jettison no longer viable population growth policies.

    Be assured that the population reduction community will continue its advocacy of a drastic slowing of immigration in the interests of all prior immigrants and for the benefit of the citizen population. We are going to slow it down to keep our population in balance with available resources and in order to leave something of value for our descendants. Yes, the citizens of this country will continue to advance those ideas and will not be deterred by irresponsible attempts to malign the character of those who deliver this message.

    Illegal immigrants are simply one part of the problem, but also an arrogant challenge to our rights and disrespectful of the nation’s long- time generosity. The decision about who can enter is clearly ours to make and cannot be decided solely by exploiters of cheap labor, ethnic pressure groups, foreign governments, criminal drug syndicates and human smugglers.

    So the population stabilization movement will continue to arrive at its own informed decisions and will never be intimidated by indiscriminate name calling by unscrupulous critics who refuse to argue the issue of how many people is just too many. Please understand, that we will be undeterred by reprehensible attempts at character assassination that has been shamefully pursued by an opposition without any credible arguments.

    And please desist in the parroting of politically correct phrases like “social justice,” an ineffective argument with the historically literate who associate that concept more with the cruelty of the guillotine and the gulag, with 200 million dead Russians rather than with any kind of societal benevolence.

    But most of all, Ms. Huang, please stop claiming to be a reader of minds and other people’s motives and touting your ability to know our thoughts and discern our character. You are entirely ignorant of our backgrounds, what we have accomplished in our lives and our contributions to the welfare of our communities and country. My opinion of your comments is that you are mistaken in your views, long on insults and short on insight. In the vernacular, you are simply “out to lunch” on the over-immigration–overpopulation connection and the disastrous effects this will have on your country and mine.

    Nevertheless, I would never be as arrogant and presumptuous as to malign your motives. I am convinced your ideas are very wrong but that doesn’t mean you are a despicable person with a hidden agenda. So before continuing your destructive approach to understanding differences with immigration reductionists, remember that gratuitous slander, not patriotism, is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

    To the reader of this reply to Priscilla Huang, what you are hearing from her is just one tiny branch of the national slander machine aimed at the heart of the immigration reduction community. That machine is supported by the leftist Ford Foundation, who alone has assets of about 12 billion dollars and there are numerous other major non-profits connected with Ford in this effort. Other hotbeds of opposition to the immigration reduction position are the multiple branches of the cheap labor lobby, from big agriculture to the building trade consortium to the high tech sector, whose Bill Gates is one of the richest and most vociferous objectors to limits on immigration.

    All of these groups, with virtually unlimited assets, are a willing and ready source of financing for those who march in the street, claiming Americans have no right to set policy in these matters because the nation rightfully belongs to them, not to us. If we don’t like it, they tell us, “go back to Plymouth Rock.” This attitude is the height of over-reaching, an outrageously ungrateful nerviness that clearly defies belief.

    But the saddest spectacle of all is to realize the near universal acquiescence and collaboration of population specialists in the academic community, who claim to agree with the theory of inevitable and unstoppable U.S. growth. Yet we also know they have every right to be terrified of having ruined reputations and thwarted promotions as a result of being labeled racists or nativists. As a consequence they seek refuge in issues of global overpopulation, rather than getting involved in this issue at home, where they have a much better chance for success.

    And what will the penalty be for acquiescing to this intimidation? California will have 60 million people by 2060 and the nation will have a billion by the end of this century. Virtually all of that growth is the result of immigration and births to immigrants. Cowardice has a price. So has venality. Think about it.

  • invalid-0

    I see several problems with this article, but will restrict my comments to three:

    1) birthright citizenship is not practiced by most countries, including those in Europe. They seem to be surviving without it.

    2) population growth is a real concern. See the article on high grain prices in the New York Times today (3/8/08), which includes this quote:

    “Everyone wants to eat like an American on this globe,” said Daniel W. Basse
    of the AgResource Company, a Chicago consultancy. “But if they do, we’re
    going to need another two or three globes to grow it all.”

    3) I believe immigration must be controlled. I am not a racist. I would take the same position if we were being flooded with WASPs from Canada. Please do not be so narrow-minded about those who want to limit illegal immigration.