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Immigrants: How Many Is Too Many?

How many immigrants can the United States accommodate? — asks Alan Johnstone (SPGB)

by Alan Johnstone



4 min read

Alan Johnstone (SPGB)

The United States of America is victim of its own propaganda. Since being founded, the USA has always depicted itself as a beacon of democracy and liberty, a land of opportunity and hope where a person can accomplish rags to riches through hard work and initiative. For many the American Dream is viewed as a reality and can we be surprised that the Statue of Liberty’s inscription is taken literally:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

The impoverished peoples in countries south of the United States suffering deprivations unimaginable to the majority of Americans have sought escape from failed nation-states, crime ridden societies and the encroaching effects of climate change to achieve a better life for themselves and their children. 

However, rather than a welcome, they meet with a wall, not just the physical one Trump tried to build but a wall of indifference and outright rejection. Political commentators declare that America can no longer afford to accept any more newcomers, no matter how ‘deserving’ or contrary to international treaties it has signed up to. The present pandemic is even being used as justification to turn away the needy and the vulnerable. The change of president has brought a superficial change of policy at the southern border but it has not departed from being one of deterrence, albeit Biden’s approach is ‘softer’ than Trump’s draconian hard attitude. Biden remains attached to the belief that the solution is better management to slow down and reverse the flow of peoples wishing to make the USA their new home. He still does not treat the migration of hundreds of thousands of Central Americans as a genuine humanitarian crisis where the proper response would be to facilitate and expedite the reception of these desperate people. America has dealt with mass migrations in the past such as the Dustbowl and the Black exodus from the Southern states, not to mention the influx of European migrants arriving at Ellis Island. The United States is now far better placed to allocate the necessary resources.

A common argument made by the likes of Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity, but even by some on the liberal left, is that the United States is full, that it is already an over-crowded country and no longer able to take any extra people. Such claims are providing ‘intellectual’ succor to the mass-murderer, Patrick Crusius, who targeted Hispanics and killed 23 at El Paso in Texas.

But just how many is too many? 

Using 2019 figures and the present migrant bottleneck US state of Texas as an example

There is approximately 7,268,730,000 people on the planet. The land-mass of Texas is 268,820 square miles (7,494,271,488,000 square feet). If we divide 7,494,271,488,000 square feet by 7,268,730,000 people, we get 1,031 square feet per person. This is enough space for everyone on earth to live in a town-house while altogether fitting on a landmass the size of Texas. And we’re not even accounting for the average four-person family who would most likely share a home. 

Of course, there are large tracts of Texas uninhabitable and we have not included the necessary space for the resources to support such a population. This is just to give an idea of how it isn’t actual space that is lacking but to show that America is not running out of room any time soon.

Again, we can compare actual density of the United States by taking the example of New York City which is far and away the most populous city in the U.S., home to an estimated 8.5 million people in 2016. More people live in this one city than in the entire states of Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, New Mexico, Vermont, and the District of Columbia combined. For sure, New York City is rather crammed, but it is certainly not an uncomfortable place to live in terms of space as many New Yorkers would affirm. Besides, many cities in other countries are far more densely populated.

New York City consists of five boroughs spanning five counties, the most densely populated of which is New York County. This county, which consists principally of the island of Manhattan, is far and away the most densely populated county in the U.S., housing 72,000 people per square mile. At that population density, the entire population of the United States could reside in the tiny State of Connecticut. Brooklyn has slightly less than half the population density of Manhattan. The top four most densely populated counties in America are all in New York City.

If all Americans lived at the same population density as the average population density of all five of New York City’s boroughs (approximately 28,000 people per square mile), we’d all fit comfortably in the combined area of Delaware and Maryland.

Or we can take the 10 million plus residents who call Los Angeles County home. If you are familiar with Los Angeles County, you know that life at this level of urbanization is not too uncomfortable nor unbearable, providing ample parks and open spaces. At a similar population density of Los Angeles County, the entire U.S. population could fit inside the state of New Mexico.

Again, in reality we would still need to figure in access to adequate water resources and would need much more land area to account for agricultural purposes, public services, transportation and, of course, sustainability and conservation. But, this is merely another thought experiment to demonstrate that if America has enough room to fit its entire population comfortably into an area the size of New Mexico, the US has enough space for far many more people from outside its borders unlike what the anti-immigration lobby assert. 

If truth is to be said, the USA’s fertility rate is falling below the replacement rate for the existing population and only because of immigration has an actual population decline been avoided and a future demographic problem averted. Rather than US politicians reacting with sanctions to turn away arrivals, for the health and wealth of the nation, they should be welcoming many more newcomers. 

Numbers don’t matter, the type of system matters. It is not overpopulation that is the problem but the chronic underproduction that is a built in feature of capitalism. The ‘overpopulation problem’ is really a misuse of resources problem. Capitalism, as a system of rationing via the market, is justified in people’s minds by a belief in scarcity. ‘There isn’t enough to go round’, so we must be restricted in what we are allowed to consume. It has become a cliché to speak of, ’this overcrowded country.’ 

We should not give the impression that everything is easy, that a massive expansion of available resources is a simple matter. For one thing, there maybe environmental implications. But a socialist society is the best-equipped to handle these implications and to strike a balance. Not only is capitalism in effect a system of artificial scarcity, it is also a system of organised waste. Socialist society will use the resources of the Earth to ensure that every man, woman and child is amply fed, clothed and sheltered. Capitalism cannot do this — it does not exist for this purpose.

I end by quoting the great American socialist Eugene V. Debs:

If Socialism, international, revolutionary Socialism, does not stand staunchly, unflinchingly, and uncompromisingly for the working class and for the exploited and oppressed masses of all lands, then it stands for none and its claim is a false pretense and its profession a delusion and a snare. Let those desert us who will because we refuse to shut the international door in the faces of their own brethren; we will be none the weaker but all the stronger for their going, for they evidently have no clear conception of the international solidarity, are wholly lacking in the revolutionary spirit, and have no proper place in the Socialist movement while they entertain such aristocratic notions of their own assumed superiority.


Texas accommodating the world’s population: Overpopulation Is A Myth | We Are Change

NYC and LA population densities: Overpopulation? Is America Running Out of Space to Live? No. Here’s Why | LifeNews.com

The Debs quotation comes from the July 1910 issue of International Socialist Review. For an account of the development of Debs’ views on immigration, see this blog post.

Alan Johnstone is a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, a companion party of the World Socialist Movement. He contributes to the blogs: Socialism or Your Money Back and Socialist Courier. Alan can be reached at: [email protected].

Tags: Debs, population

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