August 2, 2017 12:51PM

Senators Propose Great Depression Era Legal Immigration Rates — Claim It’s the “Historical Norm”

Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR) and David Perdue (R-GA) are promoting their legislation titled “the RAISE Act" at the White House today. It would reduce immigration by 50 percent over 10 years by eliminating several categories of legal immigration. The legislation would reduce the per capita rate of immigration to the lowest amount since just after the Great Depression. Immigration would fall to a rate three times less than the historical average and 11 times less than the historical high.

Yet the senators claim that the RAISE Act would “restor[e] legal immigration levels to their historical norms.” This statement is so misleading that it borders on outright deception. The “level” is just the absolute number of immigrants each year. But this treats the number of immigrants in 1900 the same as the number of immigrants in 2017, despite the fact that the U.S. population quadrupled during that time. You have to control for the size of the country. It’s like saying a million immigrants to China is the same as a million immigrants to Estonia—despite the fact that China is 1,000 times more populous.

The figure below provides the true picture of the amount of immigration to the United States: the number of new legal permanent residents divided by the number of people in the United States (the per capita immigration rate). From 1820 to 2017, the immigration rate averaged 0.45 percent of the population annually. In 2017, that rate was 0.32 percent. In other words: 28 percent below the average historical rate. If the United States were to adopt the “historical norm,” it would need to raise immigration quotas by about the amount that RAISE lowers them: 411,000. By contrast, under the senators’ proposal, immigration would fall to 0.14 percent—more than three times less than the “historical norm.”

The figure below graphs the annual legal immigration rate from 1820—the first year that the U.S. recorded immigrant arrivals—to 2017. It assumes that the RAISE Act will actually be implemented in 2018 and uses the Census population projections to forecast the impact of the legislation through 2030. As it shows, the rate of immigration would dramatically drop in the first year and continue to fall until it reached a level not seen since just after World War II and far below the tradition of immigration prior to the progressive movement in the 1920s.

U.S. Per Capita Immigration Rates and Projected Rates Under the RAISE Act, 1820-2030

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Sources: 1820–2017: Department of Homeland Security; 2018–2030: Tom Cotton and Census Bureau (Census population figures reduced by immigrants denied under RAISE Act minus the number who would’ve emigrated from the U.S. after initial entry in any case, using Borjas; the rate of decline in immigration for 2028–2030 based on Cotton’s projections for 2018–2027)

Below is a table of the immigration rates for every year from 1820 to 2030. If the RAISE Act becomes law, 2030 would have the lowest rate of immigration since 1954, and of the 30 years out of 211 with lower rates, 18 of them occurred during the Great Depression or World Wars, and seven were in the 1820s before steam power transformed the Atlantic crossing. Are these periods what the senators consider normal?

Immigration Rates Ranked Lowest to Highest

Rank Immigration Rate Year

1


0.02%


1943


2


0.02%


1933


3


0.02%


1944


4


0.02%


1942


5


0.02%


1934


6


0.03%


1945


7


0.03%


1935


8


0.03%


1936


9


0.03%


1932


10


0.04%


1941


11


0.04%


1937


12


0.05%


1938


13


0.05%


1940


14


0.06%


1823


15


0.06%


1939


16


0.07%


1822


17


0.07%


1824


18


0.08%


1946


19


0.08%


1931


20


0.09%


1820


21


0.09%


1825


22


0.09%


1821


23


0.09%


1826


24


0.10%


1947


25


0.11%


1953


26


0.11%


1918


27


0.12%


1948


28


0.13%


1949


29


0.13%


1954


30


0.13%


1951


31


0.14%


1919


32


0.14%


2030


33


0.14%


1955


34


0.14%


1958


35


0.15%


2029


36


0.15%


1959


37


0.15%


1960


38


0.15%


1961


39


0.15%


2028


40


0.15%


1962


41


0.15%


1964


42


0.15%


1965


43


0.15%


2027


44


0.16%


1827


45


0.16%


2026


46


0.16%


1963


47


0.16%


2025


48


0.16%


1950


49


0.16%


1966


50


0.17%


2024


51


0.17%


1952


52


0.17%


1831


53


0.17%


2023


54


0.18%


1979


55


0.18%


2022


56


0.18%


1969


57


0.18%


1971


58


0.18%


1975


59


0.18%


1829


60


0.18%


2021


61


0.18%


1830


62


0.18%


1970


63


0.18%


1967


64


0.18%


1972


65


0.18%


1974


66


0.18%


2020


67


0.19%


1973


68


0.19%


2019


69


0.19%


1957


70


0.19%


1956


71


0.19%


2018


72


0.20%


1930


73


0.21%


1977


74


0.22%


1828


75


0.23%


1968


76


0.23%


1976


77


0.23%


1929


78


0.23%


1984


79


0.23%


1982


80


0.23%


1980


81


0.24%


1983


82


0.24%


1999


83


0.24%


1985


84


0.24%


1838


85


0.24%


1998


86


0.24%


2003


87


0.25%


1987


88


0.25%


1986


89


0.25%


1925


90


0.25%


1928


91


0.26%


1981


92


0.26%


1926


93


0.26%


1988


94


0.26%


1978


95


0.27%


1995


96


0.28%


1843


97


0.28%


1862


98


0.28%


1922


99


0.28%


1927


100


0.28%


1861


101


0.29%


1917


102


0.29%


1878


103


0.29%


1916


104


0.30%


1997


105


0.30%


2000


106


0.30%


1877


107


0.30%


1835


108


0.31%


1994


109


0.31%


1898


110


0.32%


2013


111


0.32%


1897


112


0.32%


2017


113


0.32%


2014


114


0.32%


2016


115


0.32%


1915


116


0.33%


2015


117


0.33%


2004


118


0.33%


2012


119


0.34%


2010


120


0.34%


2011


121


0.35%


1996


122


0.35%


1993


123


0.35%


2007


124


0.36%


1879


125


0.36%


1868


126


0.37%


2008


127


0.37%


1876


128


0.37%


2002


129


0.37%


2009


130


0.37%


1895


131


0.38%


2001


132


0.38%


1992


133


0.38%


2005


134


0.40%


1859


135


0.40%


1844


136


0.40%


1920


137


0.41%


1839


138


0.41%


1858


139


0.41%


1833


140


0.42%


1899


141


0.42%


1894


142


0.43%


2006


143


0.44%


1832


144


0.44%


1989


145


0.45%


1834


146


0.45%


1841


147


0.47%


1923


148


0.48%


1896


149


0.49%


1860


150


0.49%


1840


151


0.49%


1836


152


0.50%


1837


153


0.51%


1875


154


0.52%


1863


155


0.55%


1864


156


0.57%


1845


157


0.57%


1842


158


0.58%


1886


159


0.59%


1900


160


0.62%


1990


161


0.62%


1924


162


0.63%


1901


163


0.66%


1893


164


0.69%


1865


165


0.70%


1885


166


0.71%


1874


167


0.72%


1889


168


0.72%


1890


169


0.72%


1991


170


0.73%


1856


171


0.74%


1921


172


0.74%


1846


173


0.76%


1855


174


0.79%


1871


175


0.82%


1902


176


0.83%


1887


177


0.83%


1909


178


0.84%


1867


179


0.87%


1866


180


0.87%


1891


181


0.88%


1912


182


0.88%


1908


183


0.88%


1892


184


0.89%


1857


185


0.90%


1869


186


0.91%


1888


187


0.91%


1880


188


0.94%


1911


189


0.94%


1884


190


0.97%


1872


191


0.97%


1870


192


0.99%


1904


193


1.03%


1848


194


1.06%


1903


195


1.07%


1873


196


1.10%


1847


197


1.12%


1883


198


1.13%


1910


199


1.22%


1905


200


1.23%


1914


201


1.23%


1913


202


1.29%


1906


203


1.30%


1881


204


1.31%


1849


205


1.43%


1853


206


1.48%


1907


207


1.49%


1852


208


1.50%


1882


209


1.58%


1851


210


1.59%


1850


211


1.61%


1854

Average

0.43%