How Many Is Too Many? The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration into the United States, by Philip Cafaro (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015, ISBN 978-0-226-19065-5). 336 pp. Hardcover, $27.50.
Philip Cafaro is a self-described political progressive and descendant of immigrants. His background may make the arguments he presents in his book How Many Is Too Many? The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration into the United States surprising, but they also add weight.
Cafaro is professor of philosophy and an affiliated faculty member in the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at Colorado State University. He is the author of Thoreau’s Living Ethics: Walden and the Pursuit of Virtue and coeditor of Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation (reviewed in FI, December 2013/January 2014). In this new book, he proposes limits on immigration, because mass immigration is no longer consistent with progressive ideals. “. . . Current immigration levels—the highest in American history—undermine attempts to achieve progressive economic, environmental, and social goals,” he writes. At 320 million people, the United States is the third most-populous country in the world. At present immigration rates, that number will soar to 700 million by 2100.
The title of the first chapter sums up the author’s appreciation for the contributions of immigrants and concern for their need to find better lives: “Good People, Hard Choices, and an Inescapable Question.” But he says that a change in policy that would impose limits is needed because current numbers are already resulting in affronts to progressive values in the areas of human rights, equality, economic justice, and ecological sustainability.
In the four main sections of the book, Cafaro lays out the problem, giving background and solutions. He discusses how immigration is related to progressive political goals, gives a concise history of U.S. immigration policy and population projections for the next one hundred years under different immigration scenarios, and considers the economics of immigration. How to reduce immigration? Reduce numbers, shift enforcement away from border patrols and toward employers who knowingly hire illegals, increase foreign aid to create better conditions for people in their home countries, and tackle America’s love of material growth. He does advocate accepting legitimate political refugees and amnesty for undocumented workers who have already built lives in the United States.
Cafaro is not isolationist or xenophobic; these descriptors can be typically applied to many advocates of immigration limits, which is also often a conservative stance. And for most liberals and progressives, immigration reform means just the opposite of what Cafaro, like some authors in our special section, advocates. But he doesn’t waver from his view that the days of America opening its arms to immigrants are over. Reflecting on his Italian heritage, he quips: “Sometimes when Nana passes the pasta, it’s time to say basta. Enough.”
Andrea Szalanski is the managing editor of Free Inquiry. Her own family roots lie in Poland; they were transplanted in the late 1800s.