What Population Stabilization Requires

Edward Tabash

Restrict annual immigration to the U.S.

The godless, naturalistic worldview of secular humanism does not logically compel us to adopt a left-of-center viewpoint on every political issue. Aside from the nonnegotiables—church-state separation and protecting the freedoms that many religious people do not want us to enjoy—nonbelievers may differ on many social and political questions. Notwithstanding the arguments I shall present in this article, I need to stress that ethical and thoughtful people who reject the supernatural can disagree with one another in good faith as to whether or not restricting immigration is a proper approach to reducing U.S. domestic population growth.

After a lifetime of fighting the religious Right, I now find myself struggling against a faction on the Left that seems no less impervious to reason. Many on the Left insist that no one can maintain a principled commitment to reducing immigration as a means of stabilizing runaway U.S. population growth without being a racist. To make this claim is to commit the same error that religionists do when they assert that no atheist can have a basis for living an ethical life.

I argue that a nation has a right to control the number of people who immigrate to it. If a nation faces massive overpopulation, or if certain regions of that nation face massive overpopulation, national sovereignty allows a government to restrict the number of people who can cross the border. One nation is not required to pay for another’s lack of family planning, corruption, or failure to achieve an equitable distribution of wealth by absorbing millions of citizens from that other country.

Mathematically, the current large-scale immigration—both legal and illegal—to the United States and to California in particular, where I reside, is the factor most responsible for America’s unprecedented population increase.

California continues to experience massive population growth. One out of every eight people in the United States now lives in the state.1 Its population is thirty-six million people and grows by about six hundred thousand per year. Immigration, both legal and illegal, is the single most significant factor in California’s annual population growth.

Between July 2002 and July 2003, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that there was a net migration to the United States from other countries of 1,286,118 people, of which 288,051 came to California.2

The 2000 census estimated that between eight million and eleven million people then lived in the United States illegally; the number can only have increased since. The Border Patrol reported that between September 30, 2003, and March 31, 2004, its agents detained 535,000 people who had entered the United States illegally from Mexico.3 (This of course does not include those who managed to enter the United States illegally without being apprehended.) California has a larger number of persons unlawfully present in the country than any other state.

Since 1972, the fertility rate of native-born Americans has averaged 10 percent below replacement level. But that of immigrants has averaged 30 percent above replacement level over the same period.4 Between 1990 and 2000, the United States endured the greatest census-to-census population increase in the nation’s history. Our population grew by 32.7 million people, an increase of 13.2 percent.5 Almost all of this increase resulted from immigration and the fertility of immigrants. If current levels of immigration continue, the United States could have a population of a billion people by the end of this century.6

A sufficient reduction in birthrate would stabilize population growth. But it is legally impermissible to impose mandatory limits on the number of children someone can bear. Thus, the only remaining option for stabilizing population growth is to restrict the number of persons from other countries who enter the United States each year. Accordingly, I believe that the law can and must seek to stabilize population by restricting immigration.

This position is controversial and frequently misunderstood. There is no question that numerous racists and right-wing nuts favor limiting immigration, for all the wrong reasons. But that does nothing to diminish the legitimacy of favoring restricting the annual number of immigrants because of valid concerns about overpopulation.

Citizens from other nations do not have a constitutional right to immigrate to the United States, however desperate their circumstances. The heart-wrenching spectacle of teeming masses hazarding fearsome hardships in order to leave Mexico speaks in condemnation of the policies of Mexico’s government, not ours. Mexico’s wealth remains concentrated among very, very few. Its government has consistently refused to undertake massive efforts to achieve a more equitable distribution of that nation’s wealth. Given these facts, and given further Mexico’s richness in natural resources, it is Mexico’s president, Vincente Fox, and his predecessors who are clearly the true villains in the lives of desperate Mexicans who understandably seek to escape to California or elsewhere in the United States. President Fox is cynical and irresponsible when he chastises the United States for not accepting an ever-increasing number of his own nationals, for whom his government has so miserably failed to provide. To point this out is not racist; it is rational.

As a moderate liberal Democrat who believes that government should provide a safety net and social services for the needy, I recognize that there must be a limit to the number of people who can receive these services. If an indigent person lawfully present in California needed expensive medical treatment, it would be understandable to provide that person with that needed care, rather than sending the money to cover the treatment of someone in Norway. This shouldn’t change because the person in Norway somehow manages to sneak into the United States. It also shouldn’t change if the person who enters the United States illegally happens to come from Mexico.

Rational thought and commonsense problem-solving cannot occur in a climate in which at the moment a logical argument is put forward, opponents characterize it as too evil even to be the subject of debate. This is true whether those opponents are religionists demonizing nonbelievers or leftists mischaracterizing the motives of those who, on environmental grounds, would limit the number of immigrants who come to the United States.


1. Ralph Z. Hallow, “GOP Strategists Wary of California,” Washington Times, January 25, 2004.

2. U.S. Census Bureau: http://eire.census.gov/popest/data/states/tables/NST EST2003 05.php.

3. CBS News, “Illegal Aliens Rush U.S. Border.” April 27, 200

4. Numbers USA: http://www.numbersusa.com/overpopulation/

5. U.S. Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/prod/2001
pubs/c2kbr01 2.pdf.

6. Carrying Capacity Network, U.S. Population and Resources Facts, May 2003, www.carryingcapacity.org/facts 2003.html.

Edward Tabash, a constitutional lawyer in Beverly Hills, California, is a member of the Board of Directors of the Council for Secular Humanism, chairs the Council’s First Amendment Task Force, and is honorary chair of the Center for Inquiry–West. He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Santa Barbara-based Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS), http://capsweb.org.

Edward Tabash

Edward Tabash is a constitutional lawyer in the Los Angeles area and chair of the board of directors of the Center for Inquiry. He is recognized for his legal expertise pertaining to the separation of church and state. He is also one of the more well-known atheist debaters in the United States.

Restrict annual immigration to the U.S. The godless, naturalistic worldview of secular humanism does not logically compel us to adopt a left-of-center viewpoint on every political issue. Aside from the nonnegotiables—church-state separation and protecting the freedoms that many religious people do not want us to enjoy—nonbelievers may differ on many social and political questions. Notwithstanding …

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