The issue of legal immigration tends to get lost because the discussion is always focused on illegal immigration, but many of the same problems apply.

Probably most important is just the sheer volume of new arrivals. For most of our history, immigration has been very limited. The exception was 1905 to 1914 when America admitted about 900,000 people per year. Even though it was a very short period of time out of the entire century, many people assume that “Ellis Island” period defines our immigration history. It doesn’t. In fact, starting in 1915 America cut immigration in half for the next 70 years! One benefit we’ve seen from this period of lower immigration is that those who came had time to assimilate and succeed because they had less competition from other immigrants. In addition, it assured that American workers were not being displaced or their wages depressed by a surplus of new immigrant workers. Continued low levels of immigration after the Depression and World War II helped grow the American middle class which prospered while our economy flourished.

But then, starting in about 2000, America started admitting over one million immigrants annually. That’s like adding a new city the size of Dallas, Texas, every year. As a result, we’ve had large population increases and heavy demands placed on water, energy, schools, health care and overall mounting urban sprawl.

One important consideration is that legal immigrants coming in nowadays face a much different job market than existed 100 years ago. Our present economy demands high-tech skills, yet our admissions process continues to grant green cards based mostly on one family member petitioning for another family member. This is called “chain migration” and because it does not emphasize needed job skills, it creates a flow of poorly skilled immigrants who are often dependent on government.

Excessive levels of legal immigration strains limited resources and puts poor, elderly, disabled and minority Americans in stiff competition for scarce public benefits. And of course, all those immigrants need jobs so they compete with native-born workers who by any standard of fairness should have the first shot at any opportunity. Even if immigrants do find jobs, many don’t pay taxes. Since many are poor, they are eligible to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit which exempts them from paying taxes and in some instances the IRS writes them a check. With a high unemployment, a bad economy, and massive federal, state and local government debt, how many more people can America subsidize before the entire country sinks under its own weight?

The fact is that America’s immigration policy used to be adjustable; we turned the tap on when we needed workers and slowed the flow when times were tough. Unfortunately for the past 40 years, someone forget to turn off the faucet. A careful consideration of what the right levels of immigration really should be and how it helps or hurts us is long overdue. That is, after all, the purpose of immigration – to serve our country’s broad national interests.

We can have legal immigration – and should always welcome immigrants – but we need more sustainable and sensible levels so we better serve the needs and interests of those already here.