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No, my answer is not “nothing”, as the lyric might suggest. But this is a basic question we seldom grapple with, other than in the most vaporous, cliche-ridden terms.
A comment by Guruforhire in my previous thread made me think of this:
I think first we need to sit down and examine the entire existential purpose of immigration and vicariously immigration policy.
Why do we allow any immigration at all? What’s the point of it?
As for me, I see no grand imperative for immigration — a modern nation doesn’t actually need any at all. (I wrote a whole book on this.) But there are discrete categories of people the case for whose admission is so compelling we should let them in anyway. That would include the following:
1) The foreign spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens (Reason: the nuclear family is the core institution of society.) This is actually a lot of people, 350,000 in 2012, accounting for one-third of legal immigration.
2) Genuine Einsteins, the top people on the planet in their fields. (Reason: They represent a tiny number of people who can nevertheless significantly raise the productive capacity of the nation.) If you pick through the existing immigration categories for such people, you get maybe 25,000 people a year.
3) Some share of real, individual refugees who can’t stay where they are and have literally nowhere else to go. (Reason: International treaty obligations.) Say, maybe another 25,000 people a year.
So that’s about 400,000 immigrants a year, still more than any other country but less than half the 1 million-plus we take now. But in a sense, the number should derive from the rationale. What are your reasons for admitting immigrants, and what level of immigration would those reasons translate to?