Immigration Policy: The Big Picture

Two questions I thought I’d ask readers:

(1) How many people in the world do you think would like to move to the U.S. over the next, say, 30 years, if it were legal for them to move here and work here?

Assume that in that time the U.S. will sometimes be booming and sometimes in economic trouble; many other countries will be, too; but many countries will be chronic economic disaster areas, and some others will have longish economic troughs, largely as a result of political problems. Likewise, many countries will be chronic political disaster areas, and some others will have longish political troughs. And of course there will be periodic wars, civil or transnational.

(2) Given your answer to question one, what would be the best American immigration policy, either from (a) a moral perspective (if that is your approach) or from (b) a perspective of what’s best for the current residents of the U.S. and their descendants?

(3) Please indicate whether you are giving a category (a) answer or a category (b) answer, and why you think that’s the right category of answer to give. [UPDATE: Of course, if your answer is a mix of category (a) and (b), that's just fine, but please explain your thinking on that as well.]

Here’s my tentative thinking: I think the answer to question 1 is “a vast amount,” quite likely an amount comparable to the current population of the U.S. Given this, I am skeptical that open immigration is a good category (b) answer, which is the category of answer I’m inclined to look for. (I see the moral case for taking a category (a) approach, though I’m not persuaded by it.)

I think that the U.S. should be looking to substantially expand its population, for reasons I discussed in this September 2011 post. But I suspect that a take-all-comers approach will not be optimal, however well it worked for the U.S. given the economic, political, transportation, and family growth environment of the 1700s and 1800s.

At the same time, my thinking really is very tentative on this. I know how little I know about this subject, and I suspect the questions are hard even for people who know a lot more than I do.

The one thing I think I do know is that the answer to question (2) should be influenced by what we think is the answer to question (1).