Limit and Regulate Immigration

By Gary Whittenberger

What should be the humanist position with respect to U.S. immigration policy? It should favor limited and regulated immigration.

The world and our country are already overpopulated. Some experts think that the Earth has a reasonable “carrying capacity” of 3-4 billion persons, and yet world population recently exceeded seven billion and is not expected to level off until it reaches about nine billion. The U.S. itself is overpopulated, although not as much as other countries. We are already the biggest polluter in the world, and so increasing our population at too fast a rate is likely to exacerbate this problem. It is in the best interests of our country and the world that we lower our birthrate and limit immigration.

If we limit immigration at all, and we should, then this means that everyone throughout the world who wants to live in our country cannot do so. Can you imagine what the flood of immigration would be like if we simply had no laws to limit and control it? It would be overwhelming. It would not only be disruptive to our way of life but would have significant consequences on the countries from which the people came.

While we have our problems in the U.S., by and large, we have established a way of life that is highly desired, and we have worked hard to bring this about. Our nation is a community of persons united by boundaries, government, laws, rights and responsibilities, language, employment opportunities, social benefits, history, and customs. People who are not citizens but who want to become citizens or permanent residents of our country have a moral duty to ask for approval to enter our country and live here. To become citizens or permanent residents, they should also sign a contract wherein their rights and responsibilities are spelled out.

At the present time millions of people have immigrated to our country without permission and without committing to any agreement to abide by the rules governing our way of life. In my opinion, this is a travesty. Important components of humanism are personal responsibility and respect for others, and the illegal immigrants to our country have disregarded these ideals.

Here is a thought experiment which I think will help to explain the difficult situation in which we now find ourselves. Imagine that you and your spouse have one child living at home, that you both work outside the home, and that you live in a typical three-bedroom, two-bath house in suburbia. One day when you and your spouse return home from work you find that your house is occupied by twenty strangers who say that they are going to live in your house. You did not invite them and they are not there with your approval. Thirty days go by, and the twenty strangers are still living in your house.  They are using your resources (food from the fridge, electricity, sleeping space, etc.), and they are not following the rules and customs which you, your spouse, and child have followed. What should you do?  Leave your house and go live elsewhere? Politely ask the strangers to leave? Tell fifteen of them to leave but ask five to stay? Assertively insist that all leave and call the police to evict them if they do not leave? In my opinion, you should do the latter, and this is the action required by a humanist perspective.  Now, just generalize from your house to our country and you will understand why we should limit and control immigration.

Every year our country should decide on the number of persons, coming from outside the country, that we will allow to become citizens or permanent residents. I think it best that we allow four-year trial periods, i.e. when a person from another country files an application to become a citizen or permanent resident, we give them up to four years to live in our country to “prove themselves” and work towards meeting certain criteria. At the end of the trial period, our government should give a prompt and clear answer: “You are now a citizen,” or “You must now leave.” If the person is rejected for citizenship and they do not leave voluntarily, then they should be forcibly deported. Part of the regulation of immigration should be taking away the incentives to illegally enter the country and live here. Probably the greatest incentive of all for illegal immigration is getting a job, and so we must make it illegal for any employer in our country to hire an illegal immigrant and require employers to check the status of all job applicants. If they are unable to get a job and secure other benefits, persons from other countries will be less likely to enter our country to live without our approval or without their explicit commitment to our rules. We already see that illegal immigration from Mexico has recently declined since the economy has fallen on hard times and jobs are harder to get in the U.S. This trend would be facilitated by merely making it against the law for a native employer to hire a person who has entered the country without approval.

I am a secular humanist, and I realize that others with my worldview do not share my position on immigration policy. Some want an open-border policy in which anyone from any other country can enter, work, and live here without permission and without signing any agreement. Of course, I think they are mistaken, and I believe they suffer from a “savior complex.” They wish to save all the poor downtrodden peoples of the world. But just as we cannot be the policeman of the world (we tried that, and it failed), we cannot be the savior of the world either. We just don’t have the resources to do this. Furthermore, if we were to have an open gate, allowing anyone and everyone to come and live here who wanted to, then we would be “enabling” the governments of other countries to continue bad policies for their peoples.  Imagine what the Arab Spring would have been like if we had just invited all the suffering rebels to come to live in the U.S. That would have been a bad outcome all the way around.

Gary Whittenberger, a retired psychologist living in Tallahassee, Florida, may be reached at