June 18, 2012
As the American economy sags, the race for the presidency gets tighter–except in one dimension. Hispanic Americans continue to support Barack Obama by an astonishing 61%-to-27% margin. Were Obama to win, it might well be because of his attitudes on one issue: immigration. But it is an issue on which he will be unable to enact any of his preferences, let alone those policies that many Latinos support. The Republican Party has taken a tough stand on the topic. Democrats have their own bright lines. That means America’s immigration system is likely to stay as it is right now–utterly broken.
We think of ourselves as the world’s great immigrant society, and of course, for most of the country’s history, that has been true. But something fascinating has happened over the past two decades. Other countries have been transforming themselves into immigrant societies, adopting many of America’s best ideas and even improving on them. The result: the U.S. is not as exceptional as it once was, and its immigration advantage is lessening.
Would you have guessed that Canada and Australia both have a higher percentage of foreign-born citizens than the U.S.? In fact, in this respect, America–which once led the world–increasingly looks like many other Western countries. France, Germany and the U.K. have only slightly fewer foreign-born residents than America (as a percentage of the population). And some of these countries have managed to take in immigrants mostly based on their skills, giving a big boost to their economies.