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Peter Brimelow
Peter Brimelow
Alien Nation:  Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster
ISBN: 0060976918
Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster
Mr. Brimelow discussed his book Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster, published by Random House. The book focuses on U.S. immigration policy and cycles of control on immigration. Mr. Brimelow argues that legislation passed in 1965 has resulted in negative trends in immigration to the United States, including an influx of immigrants from a very few countries that he says are engulfing America. The author says that the latest immigration wave consists of immigrants who are less educated, less skilled, and less likely to share American ideals, which he argues is a detriment to American culture.
Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster
Program Air Date: June 11, 1995

BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Peter Brimelow, author of "Alien Nation," what's the general thesis of your book?
PETER BRIMELOW: Just that immigration is out of control. Mass immigration was triggered again by the 1965 act. Nobody expected the numbers would be as large. They didn't expect that it would be dominated by just 15 countries, which is what's happened. They didn't expect that the skill level would deteriorate sharply because the perverse level the act works. They just had no idea this was going to happen, but of course once it happened it's become a sacrosanct subject and people are afraid to discuss it. The country is being transformed against its will by accident in a way that's unprecedented in the history of the world, to no visible economic gain, incidentally. You're not supposed to talk about this, so of course I couldn't resist.
LAMB: When did you first get the idea to do this book?
BRIMELOW: I've been interested in immigration forever. Most immigrants are, you know, because they actually know something about the way the system works. The book itself stems from a cover story I did in National Review in about 1992, in which National Review basically broke with the conservative consensus that immigration was a good thing and more immigration is a better thing and so on. We started to ask questions about it, and that really provoked quite a civil war in the conservative communities. Actually that goes across political lines.
LAMB: Why did National Review break with the general conservative principle on this subject?
BRIMELOW: I guess we'd just been having a lot of internal discussions on that, and it happens that the editor of National Review, John O'Sullivan, is also a British immigrant, and so like most immigrants immigration appears to him to be an interesting issue. Opinion polls are showing we can truly worry about immigration, in fact, even more than the native born.
LAMB: When you take this position in public, what's the general reaction in this country?
BRIMELOW: It depends where you take it. It's an issue where there's a chasm between the political leadership and the intellectual leadership of the country and the people at large. Immigration's massively and fantastically unpopular in the country at large. It's not at all unusual for me to be on a talk show and have 100 percent supportive calls. But with the media elite it's become sort of an icon, so I get very savage reviews. If it wasn't for electronic media, I would probably be in quite serious trouble.
LAMB: What would happen if I wanted to immigrate to China?
BRIMELOW: Can't. In "Alien Nation" we've called up all the major immigrant-sending countries and said, "We're an American citizen. How do we go about emigrating to you?" The Chinese just flatly said, "You couldn't do it." The Mexicans said, "You have to get a tourist visa for which you have to show financial assets. You go in person to the ministry in Mexico City; you apply. If it has not been granted in six months you have to go out and start all over again." The Indians said, "Are you of Indian heritage?" They mean race. When we said we weren't, they just hung the phone up on us. Apparently, it is technically possible to immigrate to India. Fifty thousand Indians a year come here. It's technically possible to immigrate to India as an American citizen, but it's extraordinarily difficult because there's a lot of hoops you've got to go through.
LAMB: What if I want to be a German citizen?
BRIMELOW: It's quite difficult, but it does happen. It can be done. There aren't the total barriers that there are in most of these Third World countries.
LAMB: What have the Germans done with their 1.5 million Turks?
BRIMELOW: They had a lot of guest workers. They brought them in and they were supposed to go back eventually and of course they didn't and they've started a fairly large population in Germany which is still essentially Turkish, and it's a problem for them. Their biggest problem is asylum, though. They started having people showing up at the borders asking for asylum, and it was the greatest asylum disaster in the world actually. They eventually got up to something like 60,000 a month coming in before they cut it off. Now, that happens here too. There's about 100,000 asylum applicants here, and there's a parade to come out to watch them arrive, never to throw them out.
LAMB: think I heard a statistic that there are 500,000 Koreans in Los Angeles alone. What if I want to become a Korean?
BRIMELOW: Can't do it. They'll just say, "No, you can't immigrate." The same with Taiwan and the same with mainland China. The Japanese don't even keep official statistics on immigrants; they don't recognize the concept of an immigrant in their statistics. When we asked them about it, they said, "We get one or two boat people or something, but they don't stay. They go off to someplace else like the U.S." So there was no reciprocity at all here. It's not like free trade where people insist that you've got to drop your tariff barrier if we drop our tariff barriers. It just doesn't apply.
LAMB: France.
BRIMELOW: I haven't checked the French, but my impression is it can be done but is relatively difficult.
LAMB: How about Great Britain?
BRIMELOW: Same thing. I haven't checked Europe because Europe was choked off by the 65 act. The Europeans are not major settlers or immigrants anymore. They could be. There are people who want to leave, for example, Eastern Europe, but the system is so inflexible they won't let it happen, unless of course they were to come here illegally. We have 3- to 500,000 net illegals every year, but by and large people from the First World don't seem to want to do that. There are a few illegal Italians and so on, but three-quarters of all the illegals here are Hispanics.
LAMB: What's the 65 act?
BRIMELOW: The 1965 immigration act really kicked off mass immigration after a 40-year lull. It was put through by Senator Kennedy. What they did was, they tried to abolish the previous system which had been set up in the 1920s which favored the countries from which most Americans had come and also cut their levels down. So they said they were going to treat all countries in the world equally. That was the purpose of it -- the foolish purpose in my view, because immigration policy is inherently discriminatory. You have to make choices. Even if you go to open borders, the country next door is going to benefit. But what we found, because they also included family reunification as a principle, this allowed the first few countries to get an immigration chain going. So it didn't work in any way like anybody expected.
LAMB: How long have you been in the States?
BRIMELOW: I came here in 1970 to go to Stanford to business school, and then in 72 I graduated and the INS told me I had to leave, so I obediently did. Then I came back again from Canada in 1979.
LAMB: Your wife, Maggy, is from Canada.
BRIMELOW: That's right.
LAMB: Did you meet her there?
BRIMELOW: Yes, I did, although I was living in Washington when I married her, and she had to come from Paris where she was then living, and she felt it was a step down.
LAMB: What was a step down? Coming to the States?
BRIMELOW: Moving her from Paris to Washington -- she's a Francophile. No, she's very happy here, like most Canadians.
LAMB: Are you a citizen?
LAMB: Why did you become a citizen and how hard was it?
BRIMELOW: I was actually very slow about becoming a citizen, partly because just inertia and partly because I didn't want to brave the news to my mother and all kinds of things. I became a citizen after my son was born, three years ago.
LAMB: Alexander. Born here.
BRIMELOW: Yes. He's a citizen by virtue of the 14th Amendment even though we weren't citizens when he was born.
LAMB: What's the 14th Amendment?
BRIMELOW: The 14th Amendment was originally passed to prevent Southern states from disenfranchising the blacks after the Civil War, but it's been interpreted to mean that anybody who's here and has a child, even if they're here illegally, that child is automatically a citizen. It's created a real minor industry on the Southern border because people do cross the border to have children here because those children are citizens and they're eligible for welfare. That's a point I bring up in "Alien Nation.z' There are some surveys which show this irrefutably.
LAMB: What was your mother's reaction when you became a citizen?
BRIMELOW: She was sort of resigned to it. I guess I'd been here a long time by now.
LAMB: Where is she now?
BRIMELOW: She's in the north of England. She lives in Birkenhead, sort of the Brooklyn of Liverpool.
LAMB: Where did you go to school in Great Britain?
BRIMELOW: In the north, what are here called public schools. In other words, I didn't go to a private school, which, as you know, in Britain are called public schools, so . . .
LAMB: What did you study?
BRIMELOW: I was fundamentally arts type, and we did economics and history at university in England, my brother and I. I'm an identical twin. Then we went to business school at Stanford to convert two essentially useless literary intellectuals into something useful. In his case, it took and he became a real person. He's now a stockbroker on Wall Street.
LAMB: Is he a citizen?
BRIMELOW: Yes. But in my case it didn't take, and I reverted to this half-world of financial journalism.
LAMB: Identical twins?
LAMB: Did you become citizens at the same time?
LAMB: How did he do it?
BRIMELOW: He's done it more recently.
LAMB: Why did he do it?
BRIMELOW: I think there's a point to which you realize you're going to spend your life here. The problem with the English is that they don't feel themselves to be foreign here, so they're actually quite slow to naturalize.
LAMB: Is Maggy, a Canadian, a citizen?
BRIMELOW: No, we have real resistance there. The Canadians are reluctant to do it, but we'll see.
LAMB: Can I become a Canadian citizen?
BRIMELOW: It's actually more difficult than it was some years ago for Americans to get in, but you could get into Canada because they have a much more flexible immigration system than the Americans do. They award potential immigrants points on the basis of whether they speak the national language, which of course is not a consideration here at all, and on skills. There is a steady trickle of American immigration into Canada. Actually one of the tragedies of the current situation both in the U.S. and in Canada is that it's cut back on reciprocal immigration between the two countries. There were 40,000 Canadians a year coming in prior to 1965, but it was choked off by the 65 act, and I think that's a really serious problem. I lived in Canada for years; I think the relationship between the Americans and the Canadians is the most important for both countries. The better the Americans and the Canadians get on, the less they have to worry about the rest of the world.
LAMB: If you could do exactly what you think ought to be done with immigration in this country today, what would you do?
BRIMELOW: Right now we have no good options, no pleasant options. I think there should be a moratorium for five, 10, 15 years until the situation's gotten under control. I think illegal immigration should be absolutely stopped. I actually think the illegals here should be deported as they were in the 1950s; the Eisenhower administration did that. Then there should be a national debate and immigration should be designed in some rational way, maybe lower levels, maybe higher skills. But the question is, What do Americans want? We shouldn't allow it to just happen by accident, and of course we shouldn't beat down all discussion with the usual cries of racist and xenophobe and nativist and all this nonsense.
LAMB: Why not?
BRIMELOW: Why what?
LAMB: Why shouldn't we beat it down with cries of xenophobia and things like that?
BRIMELOW: Because there's a real issue here. Because of the peculiar way the 65 act has worked, the U.S. has embarked on a demographic transformation without precedence in the history of the world, on the one hand. On the other hand, you can't show it's of any particular economic benefit to the U.S. The best academic work on this subject shows that having 9 percent of the work force foreign is probably worth about one-tenth of 1 percent of GDP to the native-born Americans. It's wiped out actually by the welfare loss.
LAMB: Hold on a second with that statistic. Nine percent of the 260 million people living in the U.S. are foreign born. Are they citizens?
BRIMELOW: Not all of them, no. I think about a third are citizens. As a matter of fact, half of them have told the census that they can't speak English -- 45 percent, I think.
LAMB: Why should they speak English?
BRIMELOW: It goes to the question of, are they creating enclaves and are they assimilating to the national community? A nation-state essentially requires a common culture and a common language. I don't see how it's going to work without it. The Census Bureau's just found that there's a new category of native born Americans, 2 percent of native-born Americans who can't speak English -- not bilingual, they can't speak English. That goes to the creation of enclaves by this great surge of immigration since 1965. Most immigrants go to six states, so it's heavily concentrated.
LAMB: Which six?
BRIMELOW: California, Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois.
LAMB: Why do they pick those states?
BRIMELOW: Who knows?
LAMB: What is this map in your book?
BRIMELOW: This from the 1990 census, and what it shows is -- it's difficult to show in black and white -- that first of all immigrants are creating these great enclaves right through the country.
LAMB: What are the dark areas?
BRIMELOW: The dark area on the left-hand side, California and Texas, that's the great Hispanic arc of settlement. The very darkest area in there is areas where Hispanics are over 50 percent. There are several counties in south Texas now where Hispanics are over 99 percent. There's a dotted area around the Bay area of San Francisco and around Orange County -- Asians go there. Those are counties that are more than 10 percent Asian, although Asians are only like 3 percent of the population.
LAMB: What does all that light gray area mean?
BRIMELOW: The gray area and the very lightest gray area, whites are above 75 percent, and in the lightest areas above 95 percent of the population. The arrows are the other interesting thing. Those arrows are native-born Americans moving away from the areas of immigrant impact. It's a trend that was picked up in the 1990 census by Bill Frey at the University of Michigan. He calls it the "the flight from diversity." They're going to completely separate areas of the country. The whites go up to the white heartland, the blacks to the great black metropolis in the South, so the country's coming apart ethnically under the impact of this great wave of immigration. It's an amazing spectacle.
LAMB: What's wrong with that?
BRIMELOW: My general take on that is what's right with it. This has all been done by public policy so the people in favor of it have got to show what the purpose of it is. But to make a suggestion, is this "one nation indivisible"? We are creating here societies which are going to be as different as any on the face of the earth. They are going to be different racially. They are going to be different culturally, because we have multiculturalism now; we don't have Americanization now as we had in 1900. They are going to be different linguistically because we now educate in different languages, and language retention is very high among some groups, particularly the Mexicans. So is this going to hold together?
LAMB: You're criticized for being the last man in, and now you want to shut the gates. What do you say to that?
BRIMELOW: I say, the question is, is the fortress going to fall, is the boat going to capsize? In other words, just because I'm the last onto the lifeboat, does that mean I'm not supposed to point out it's going to capsize? There are important factual issues here. Alien Nation is basically a book about facts. It's a book about the census data, it's a book about economic literature, which I translate into English, and about immigration history, which people don't know anything about -- immigration is not continuous to this country; there are long pauses, things like that. My attitude is, truth is an absolute defense in these things. You've got to show there's something wrong with the book to affect my equanimity. Nobody's been able to do that yet, thank goodness.
LAMB: Before we started the interview, you said that you had been in a couple of debates today -- actually shouting matches. Why are you creating an atmosphere in which people shout at each other?
BRIMELOW: I think the facts create an atmosphere, really. People don't want to recognize that this transformation is under way and is caused by public policy. There's a tremendous emotional commitment to immigration on the part of American intellectuals and some categories of them, and they just don't like being disturbed. The typical print review of this book is, "What a horrible man, what a horrible book." Of course, we all know there's something wrong with immigration. For example, the Business Week review by Chris Farrell, "ugly jeremiad," he called this book. Then he said, "Of course, we all know there's a skill-level problem because skills have been skewed downwards by the 65 act, the funny way it works." He did a cover story in Business Week three years ago. He never said anything about the skill-level problem then, although I know that he talked to the man who identified it, and he told him about it. It was a typical rah-rah immigration story. So you see, I'm forcing the debate although I don't get credit for it. The definition of a pioneer: a guy on a covered wagon with an arrow in his back.
LAMB: What do you do for full-time work?
BRIMELOW: I'm a senior editor at Forbes magazine, and I'm also a senior editor at National Review. That's kind of moonlighting.
LAMB: Where do you live?
BRIMELOW: I live in the New York area.
LAMB: You say that as if you don't want somebody to know specifically where you live.
BRIMELOW: Of course, I don't want people to know specifically.
LAMB: Why?
BRIMELOW: Because this is a rough subject, and I have a young family.
LAMB: How many children do you have?
BRIMELOW: I have one little boy who's 3 who's on the back of the book there. I go on endlessly about him in the book, partly because it's a way of humanizing the concept of 2050 -- he'll be 59 in 2050 when the country will be changed out of recognition -- partly because I just felt like writing about him. I'm a middle-aged father, so I'm very doting.
LAMB: What will life be like for him when he's your age?
BRIMELOW: It's a very interesting question. The Census Bureau is projecting that, first of all, if he's left to Americans of all races -- they're all bringing their families down so that the population will stabilize around 250-, 260 million. But it's not being left to Americans; in fact, the Americans are being second-guessed really by the government which is going to drive the population up through immigration to 390 million in 2050. A hundred thirty million of those people will be post-1970 immigrants and their descendants. Actually, the highest estimate is 500 million, so his life will be a lot more crowded, for one thing. I don't know if the aquifers are going to be depleted and the water table polluted like the environmentalists say. It's been very educational to me, doing this book, because it makes me think twice about the environmentalists, but I do know is the minute issue -- California is going to stop being the golden state and will become the golden subdivision.
LAMB: Are you surprised about the reaction to this book?
BRIMELOW: No. I'm surprised in one way, Brian. This book has been very widely reviewed. It was the lead review in the Washington Post; it was reviewed twice in the New York Times, once very intelligently by Richard Bernstein. We have a tremendous amount of print reviews. I didn't expect that. I thought it would be marginalized, so that tells me that this sort of political age is concerned about immigration or they're concerned about public reaction to it. I think that's probably due to Proposition 187 in California, which was the referendum designed to cut off illegal immigrants from welfare. They hit that thing with everything they could, left and right, and they couldn't stop it. They outspent it 30-1 but it still won overwhelmingly, so I think that's really shaken the political elite's faith in their ability to keep control of the situation.
LAMB: Is there a position on immigration by conservatives and liberals? Is there a difference?
BRIMELOW: It goes right across the spectrum is the short answer. There's a real civil war on the right on the question, and there are deep differences on the left, although they're not as openly expressed. The bravest group in the last 10 years on immigration has been the environmentalists, who are very concerned just because of population growth. They are normally thought of as a liberal constituency. I used to think of the environmentalists -- I'm a typical financial journalist, I guess -- I used to think of them as just a species of refugee socialists looking for another excuse to push people around, but in fact it turns out there really are people out there at the grass roots who are genuinely interested in trees and prefer trees to people.

They're not really political people, a lot of these grass-roots environmentalists, so their point is, if you increase the numbers there are going to be fewer trees, and they're right. Immigration is a class issue in this country. You can't show that it benefits Americans overall, but you can show that within the native-born community, because of redistribution of income, basically about 2 percent of GDP is redistributed from labor to capital. So disadvantaged poor and particularly unskilled workers, because a high proportion of the influx has been unskilled, so there's a real class effect about immigration, and that's another reason why in the past it's been a progressive issue. It used to be a liberal issue, immigration restriction in the 1920s.

LAMB: Name two liberals and two conservatives that would be at each other's throat on this issue. Try to define how its split.
BRIMELOW: On the conservative side there's somebody like Jack Kemp, if he's still considered conservative, or the editor of the Wall Street Journal, Bob Bartley, who basically take the position that economic growth is essential good, and they just basically haven't gotten the message that immigration doesn't actually benefit economic growth very much. Now, what am I looking for on the liberal side? I'm looking for liberals who don't like immigration.
LAMB: Split it, like a liberal that doesn't like immigration and one that does.
BRIMELOW: OK, I should give you a conservative who doesn't like immigration, for example, Paul Craig Roberts, who is at the Cato Institute.
LAMB: Where does Pat Buchanan come in?
BRIMELOW: Pat has just come out in favor of a moratorium on immigration -- a very brave thing to do. Unless somebody else moves on this question, I think it could well carry him a long way, much further than people in this town think.
LAMB: How about a liberal who's against it?
BRIMELOW: Liberals are much quieter on this issue, but my book is endorsed, as you know, by Gene McCarthy, who very kindly compares me to Tom Paine, who'd only been here less than a year actually when he wrote "Common Sense."
LAMB: You say early in the book that Bob Bartley helped get you in this country.
LAMB: Now you're on opposite sides of the issue.
BRIMELOW: I'm afraid so.
LAMB: How did he help you come?
BRIMELOW: In 1978 he brought me down from Canada where I was then working to help on the editorial pages for the summer. It was a kind of a summer deal that he used to have. It never occurred to me to come illegally, and so I needed a temporary work permit to do that, and he organized that.
LAMB: Have you argued about this issue? What does he say now that you're on the other side?
BRIMELOW: I don't think Bob is talking to me at the moment, but it's hard to tell. It's hard to tell whether Bob's talking to you or not. He's not very sociable. He's not a very gregarious fellow.
LAMB: So silence is punishment?
BRIMELOW: It's probably a bad sign, yes.
LAMB: You talk about Julian Simon quite a bit in the book. Who is he and what side is he on and why do you disagree?
BRIMELOW: Julian Simon is perhaps the leading economist on the immigration enthusiast side just as George Borjas is a leading economist on the other side. He crawls out of the same intellectual hole that I do. He's sort of a libertarian, but he just has taken a very pro-immigration line. My basic disagreement with him is over the numbers. He just hasn't got his data right. He isn't reflecting the recent inflow of immigrants.
LAMB: Thomas Paine, whom you mentioned earlier.
BRIMELOW: Paine, of course, was the author of "Common Sense," the great pamphlet that significantly shaped the direction of the Revolution, but he was an Englishman. He was here only a few months when he wrote this thing. He was an English radical.
LAMB: A liberal.
BRIMELOW: I guess you'd have to call him a liberal. In some respects those categories are sort of outdated now. It's anachronistic.
LAMB: Academics are only pro-immigration, you say in your book.
BRIMELOW: It's a very odd thing. This is a subject which has not been sufficiently studied, frankly. We don't know a great deal about immigration simply because people have taken it for granted that it's a good thing. There is a great sea change in the debate among economists. It's becoming clear that there are serious problems with the way the act is working and the way these immigrants are failing in the work place. In softer areas, for example, academic philosophy, I don't believe there's even been one discussion of the moral right that a nation has to defend its borders and in fact to protect its family, because a nation is an extended family. That's why I feel this idea that we should just push the blacks aside and import a better class of minority, harder working minorities, which is a common thing lately you hear people say, it bothers me.
LAMB: How many immigrants come to this country every year now?
BRIMELOW: Legal, it's just below a million. Last year I believe it was about 880,000. Illegally, it's 2- to 3 million gross, 3- to 500,000 net, about 4.5 million illegals in the country, and the stock is increasing by 3- to 500,000 net. Net legal immigration is very much higher now. It's about 90 percent than it was at the turn of the century. It's often forgotten that the last great wave of immigration, 40 percent of those people went back.
LAMB: Where are people coming from?
BRIMELOW: Oh, 85 percent from the Third World, about half and half Asia and the Hispanic world.
LAMB: Is everybody still working off the 1965 immigration act?
BRIMELOW: It's been amended in 86 and 1990, but the system is still basically the same.
LAMB: What did they do to change in 85 and 91?
BRIMELOW: In 86 there was an amnesty of illegals. They were trying to get the illegal situation under control, so the amnesty, about 3 million illegals who'd been here since before 82. In 1990 there was a particular problem because basically Sen. Kennedy needed to legalize a number of illegal Irish who were in the country, so in order to basically do that he had to increase categories all across the board, so they basically increased the quotas enormously and allowed a larger influx and one or two other minor changes. They tried to get to the skill-level problem by increasing the skill level of immigrants who come here without family connections, but those numbers are still relatively very low because they also increase the family inflow.
LAMB: You say there ought to be a moratorium of five to 10 years. What does that do for someone that's here seeking political asylum who wants to bring their families here?
BRIMELOW: It's very bad for them. We don't have good options here. When I say a moratorium, I mean no net immigration. About 200,000 legal residents leave a year, so you could have no net immigration with 200,000 immigrants. That should take care of hardship cases and of any needed skills that there might be required, but there's no doubt that this is a very unpleasant option and it's been forced upon the country by 30 years of total irresponsibility on the part of the political elite.
LAMB: You say in your book that you went out to the San Diego border between this country and Mexico. For what reason?
BRIMELOW: That Chula Vista sector is where a very large proportion of all the illegals come across. It's hard to cross the Southern border; it's only about 250 miles that are at all passable. Most of it is desert and mountain, which is why it would be easy to seal. So I went to see this ridiculous performance every night where literally thousands of illegals are streaming across at night and the border patrol chasing them up and down through the bushes. It's hopeless; it's ludicrous, really a spectacle.
LAMB: What did you find when you got there?
BRIMELOW: I found all the illegals standing at the border, actually over the border because the U.S. has fallen back from the border to a more defensible line waiting for dark and shouting insults at the Border Patrol, and then as soon as it becomes dark you can see them on the infrared scopes start to swarm across. The early part of the night they catch quite a few, but by the end of the night it's just completely out of control. We could show it on network news actually because it happens with absolute clockwork regularity.
LAMB: What would you do to stop it?
BRIMELOW: I think there should be a physical barrier, for one thing. There was no fence at all there until quite recently. The citizens of San Diego took to driving down to the border and lighting it with their headlights so that the Border Patrol could see these people. It's a scandalous situation, and it's scandalous in a very particular way, Brian. That border is dangerous. There are bandits preying on these people. When I was down there, one of the Border Patrol said what really upsets him is when he catches these people and he finds that they've already been hit by the bandits and they've stolen the children. I said stupidly, "Steal the children?" He said, "They sell them to child prostitution rings." This is an open sore morally, that border, because it's not been efficiently policed. Good fences make good neighbors. It's amazing to me that you hear people say that the compassionate thing is to let this flow over the border continue when in fact it's causing tragedies every night.
LAMB: What's the history of immigration in the country? You talk about great waves.
BRIMELOW: Right. It's not continuous is the critical point. Immigration actually was quite low in the 18th century. The country was growing very fast from natural increase. There were two great lulls in America history, really. After the Revolution to about 1840 and between 1924 and 1965 there was very, very little immigration, but in between there were lots of other pauses, and those pauses are critical to the process of assimilation. You often hear people say, "All this was said before about the Irish and the Germans and goodness knows what." And of course it was, but in every case where it was said before there was always a pause, and that pause, usually spontaneous, allowed assimilation to take place.
LAMB: Why did it change? Why is it up and down?
BRIMELOW: Because it was very closely linked to economic conditions in the U.S. for one thing, and secondly very often because of wars in Europe and so on.
LAMB: Are there certain countries you would not let anybody in at all?
BRIMELOW: One of the embarrassing things that's emerged from the experience in 65 is that there actually are systematic differences in the performance of immigrants according to their national origins. Generally speaking, First World immigrants do much better in the economy than Third World immigrants.
LAMB: What's a First World immigrant?
BRIMELOW: First World is like Austria, for example. Their welfare participation rate is like 2 percent, whereas a Third World country like the Dominican Republic, the welfare participation is 30 percent. In some cases it goes much higher than that, the Cambodians, for example -- 50 percent; Vietnamese, 25 percent. Even groups we think of as being successful like the mainland Chinese is over 10 percent; Koreans are over 10 percent. That seems to be because they form the habit of bringing their elderly parents in and dumping them on SSI. But in any case there's a real pattern here, and it can't be ignored. You could control the performance of the immigrant inflow by controlling the national origins; it's not irrational economically. Of course, I don't imagine that our political system could ever do that which is one reason why I think we may be at the end of the mass immigration era. The frontier may really have closed.
LAMB: Can you paint a picture of the makeup of this country?
LAMB: Yes.
BRIMELOW: It's 75 percent white, about 11 percent black, 3 percent Asian, the balance Hispanic. Both Asian and Hispanic are very difficult categories because it can include so many different types of people. It's not really a homogenous category. It something the Hispanic politicians have forced upon the Census Bureau. It's not a linguistic category because they don't all speak Spanish, not a racial category because of all races, it's not a cultural category because they come from First World and Third World societies, but they want it because it defines Hispanic as broadly as possible. That's very important for them in terms of organizing their constituency, putting pressure on the political system. That in itself is evidence of how this immigration is producing division in this society. About 30, 35 percent of all Hispanics, I believe, are foreign born. It's a minority that's really created by immigration.
LAMB: Of the 75 percent that you say is white, where do they come from?
BRIMELOW: In the U.S.? We're talking about the population that's here already?
LAMB: Yes, in other words, what countries did they descend from?
BRIMELOW: The largest single one is Germany, and the second one is probably Britain, and then Ireland and Italy are very high up. If you include Ireland in the British Isles category, it's still the largest component. I think there are about 40- or 50 million people of German origin in the country.
LAMB: How did you go about writing the book?
BRIMELOW: I just sat in front of the word processor until blood came out of my ears. I wrote it while I was still working at Forbes, and so it's a lot of weekends and evenings and stuff. They were very good about it, particularly considering that the official editorial line of the paper is directly opposed to what I'm saying.
LAMB: It's directly opposed?
LAMB: Have you had a discussion with Steve Forbes about this, and what does he say?
BRIMELOW: He says he doesn't agree with me.
LAMB: Does he care that . . .
BRIMELOW: He's been very nice about it. I do certain things that he likes, so he's prepared to tolerate this.
LAMB: He normally recommends a book in each issue of the magazine. Did he recommend your book?
BRIMELOW: That's a very interesting question. I must look back and see. I haven't checked up on that.
LAMB: Random House published your book. How did that happen?
BRIMELOW: There was an auction of course, but it happened I think because Harry Evans, who is the head of Random House, is also a British immigrant. I think in Harry's case he recognized that immigration was a hot issue because he was editor of the Sunday Times in England, probably the most successful editor of that paper in its history when immigration was very hot in Britain, at a time of the speeches made by Enoch Powell. He knows what a powerful issue it is. This is a profoundly powerful issue once it gets into politics. Here's a party breaker. If the parties don't respond to it, people will form new parties which is what they did in the 1840s. There's no more powerful issue in democratic politics than immigration.
LAMB: Where does this country stand in the history of the world on immigration, the numbers of people that have come here from other countries? Is there any other country like it?
BRIMELOW: Yes, there is actually, although it's often forgotten. Obviously, Canada and Australia are made up of immigrants too, and in fact the Canadian immigration flow right now is actually higher than the U.S. relative to the population and birthrates, but it's much more controlled. The Canadians have a much more flexible system which enables them to control the quality of the immigrants in terms of their ability to succeed and support themselves, and also they can vary the numbers year by year. That would actually be a good thing to adopt here. The point is, the system is broke -- it's indefensible rationally -- so something has to be done.
LAMB: Is there a total figure of what it costs this country to deal with the immigrants or the illegal immigrants?
BRIMELOW: There's a heated academic debate on this subject but it's been resolved recently by a Cuban immigrant economist called George Borjas at UC San Diego, and he's been able to demonstrate, I think conclusively, that there is from immigration a fiscal loss. In other words, immigrants cost the government more than they're paying in taxes by about $20 billion a year. Now, he's not counting education in that because he makes the very conservative assumption that education pays for itself when the people get out and earn more. That's probably untrue, but we like to be moderate.
LAMB: What are the rights of a person who is here illegally?
BRIMELOW: For practical purposes, they have a lot of rights that Americans have, virtually all of them. It's quite clear, in fact, that there's a great deal of welfare fraud and they do get onto welfare. For that matter, it's illegal for most purposes for legal immigrants to take welfare within their first five years, but the Census Bureau data makes it clear that they are taking welfare.
LAMB: If somebody comes here illegally, applies for welfare and gets it, are we not catching them or we know they're illegal?
BRIMELOW: There's this thing called the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is basically a refund to low-income earners. Every year the Internal Revenue Service's computer chokes because it's picked up fake Social Security numbers, because these people who apply for this thing are illegal, and so it's been programmed to issue dummy Social Security numbers so they can get these checks in the mail. The system's collapsed. There's no serious effort made to enforce it. One of the most amazing statistics I came across in Alien Nation is that the Census Bureau says that of the immigrants who came in since 1980 and became citizens, about a third of them say they can't speak English, although until 1990 it was normally a condition of becoming a citizen. They had to speak English. There's no serious effort made to enforce this kind of thing anymore.
LAMB: Do you think that people who live here ought to speak English?
BRIMELOW: Yes, I do, at least as far as their public relations go, in other words, their public interactions. I think that the government should work in English, and I think people should be educated in English. Now, what they do on their time, of course, traditionally in America was left up to them. But, you see, there's a real serious problem with creeping bilingualism or to introducing bilingualism into government offices which people don't recognize. What it does is -- it in fact discriminates in favor of the minority language community in terms of people who are hired for jobs, because they are typically the ones who are bilingual. They come and speak in this foreign language and then they learn English in the American system. So it has powerful consequences in redistributing employment to our government posts and so on towards the minority-language community. People don't recognize that. It can be very effective. That is how the Afrikaaners basically displaced the English from government posts in South Africa once they got control in the late 1940s, just insisted on bilingualism. De facto we're discriminating against one group and in favor of another.
LAMB: You point out that in the early years of this country the number of black Americans was 19 percent versus 11 or 12 percent today.
BRIMELOW: That's right.
LAMB: What happened?
BRIMELOW: What happened was, first of all, the birth rates of the whites were extraordinarily high and, second, there was white immigrant to the country, and that brought down the black share of the population by the beginning of this century to about 10 percent, and then it was stable right through the middle of the century.
LAMB: How has immigration affected black Americans?
BRIMELOW: This is one of the most interesting things, I think, that I was able to sort out in "Alien Nation." There is clearly displacement. We can tell that because the people who are leaving California, for example, are the lower-skilled workers, exactly what you would predict if they were facing increased competition in the low-skill labor market. It's actually the third time it's happened to the blacks in American history. It happened in the 1840s when the Irish pushed them out of domestic work in New York. It happened in the 1880s when the new immigrants stopped them entering the jobs in the industrial North. Conversely, Simon Kuznets, who was a Nobel Prize winning economist in the 1970s, he used to argue that there was this pause between 1924 and 1965 that was responsible for allowing the blacks to enter the work force, integrate economically into the society in the North, because they were able to come up and take jobs which immigrants were no longer taking. It's a real problem. It's not the only problem that the blacks have, of course, in this community, but it is a problem, increased worker competition.
LAMB: What is your reaction when people say that "Alien Nation" is to immigration what "The Bell Curve" is to the subject of the different segments of our society and their intelligence level?
BRIMELOW: I guess I feel good about it because I think Murray and Herrnstein's book "The Bell Curve" was actually very scrupulously scholared, and nobody else seems to think this in the print media, but I believe it was and I believe my book is scrupulously scholared too. I don't believe there's anything there that anybody's going to be able to refute; we're dealing here with facts and with technical economic arguments which are just not made properly elsewhere.
LAMB: How about those people who say that in this book you hand the racists everything they ever wanted?
BRIMELOW: In that case what they're saying is what the racists want is truth, because this book is factual. It's not something people are going to be able to refute. My attitude is truth is an absolute defense. I don't believe we should be suppressing truth just because we think it is politically correct, frankly, and in the last 30 years they've done a great deal of that. You know, Brian, you can't get good data on immigrant participation in crime. The fragmentary data indicates that immigrant participation in crime is high, but you can't get good data because the local government agencies often instruct their police not to cooperate with the INS, not to tell the INS or not to find out how many of these people are immigrants and illegal immigrants. I think this is a scandalous situation because, in fact, the Justice Department says that the rise of immigrant crime gangs is its major law enforcement problem right now.
LAMB: Someone that we talk about a lot on this show -- he's quoted more than anyone else -- is Alexis de Tocqueville. Once again in your book, there he is. "This also was the America described by Alexis de Tocqueville in "Democracy in America," 1835, an irony given that his name has now been adopted by an immigration economic think tank in Washington, D.C. That de Tocqueville's analysis still has relevance is a tribute to America's power of assimilation and cultural transmission." Why did the think tank name itself Tocqueville?
BRIMELOW: Oh, ignorance. I don't think they realize what de Tocqueville thought about immigrants; he was very skeptical about the value of immigrants to the U.S. Of course, there weren't very many then. The America that he looked at was still what it had been in the Revolution; in other words, 60 percent English, 80 percent British, 98 percent Protestant. I'm talking about the white component, which of course was the only component that was engaged in political life. The fact that what he says we think still has relevance is really a tribute to that community's powers of assimilation, because it has assimilated and successfully assimilated and remarkably assimilated subsequent waves of immigrants. The problem is that you can't ask it to do miracles, this assimilation process. It will not work without a pause.
LAMB: Another politician that we've seen a lot of in the last few years is Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming. How would you define his position on immigration and what do you think of it?
BRIMELOW: Simpson in a curious way strikes me as not really a politician. He's approached this issue in a sort of sense of good government, and he's tried to get the inflow under control and he's basically tried to improve things, but the result of that is in this kind of environment that existed prior to 187, and prior, frankly, to this book I think to a certain extent, was that it was very difficult to discuss immigration without being accused of racism and bigotry and so on, and that was a problem for Simpson. He had a very rough ride, so I think he's done the best in the circumstances that were available to him. He's thinking now about further legislation, so we'll have to see what happens. As you know, the immigration commission is reporting; this is going to change the debate here.
LAMB: What was the primary source of information for your book?
BRIMELOW: Intellectually my greatest debt is probably to George Borjas at UC San Diego who I believe is a remarkable scholar. In terms of information, census data is very important. There are a number of studies of immigration and the history and the economics; for example, I'm very fond of the Harvard Encyclopedia of American Ethnic Groups, which is a tremendous compendium of scholarship on the subject, edited by Stephan Thernstrom, who nevertheless totally missed the demographic point I was trying to make in the review he gave me in the Washington Post. Still he said the assimilative mechanism are broken down, so that's progress.
LAMB: You analyze the political race of 1992. The Democrats won because the white vote was split by the third-party candidate, Ross Perot. According to the New York Times, Bill Clinton won with an astonishingly low 39 percent of the white vote, which was 87 percent of the total vote.
LAMB: George Bush got 41 percent and Ross Perot 20 percent. Looking to 1996, what role do you think the immigration issue will play?
BRIMELOW: Let me answer that question two-fold. What I was saying there, as you know, Brian, is that voting patterns in this country are determined by ethnicity. In the book I say, and I got in trouble for saying, that race is destiny in American politics. This is no more or less than the political science reality, that ethnicity is more important here than class which is important in Europe.
LAMB: Let me read this line. It might help our audience understand. After you analyze the vote, you say, "The Clinton administration is a black-Hispanic-Jewish-minority white (Southerners used to be call them scalawags') coalition."
BRIMELOW: That's literally true. That's what the exit data seems to suggest about the way the vote goes. The only white group that votes heavily for Clinton is the Jews. A minority of the whites vote for Clinton, but he does carry a majority of all minority groups with the arguable exception of the Asians, but their voting is so low that it's hard to tell what's going on. This is a profound division in American politics. The Republicans carried the Congress this last time basically because they were able to become the party of the white majority. This is the reality. What's happened is that the whites seem to have tipped and blue-collar workers and so on have migrated out of the Democratic camp and into the Republican camp. It's a very disturbing thing. Parties do operate on racial lines in this country which is why if you muck about with the racial balance you are altering the political future of the country.
LAMB: You say this: "If the immigration pinchers continue to close on America, the Clinton administration's electoral coalition may be a harbinger of politics to come."
BRIMELOW: Sure. The only way in which Jesse Jackson is ever going to become president here is if the Rainbow Coalition grows to the point where it can out-vote the whites. That's basically what it comes down to.
LAMB: What's wrong with that?
BRIMELOW: In my view, is what's right with it? You'd have to go to the whites and tell them, "This is going to happen because of public policy. It's not going to bring you any economic benefits in particular. You're also going to lose political power. Are you in favor of this?"
LAMB: Hasn't everyone played this game for years?
BRIMELOW: I should say, by the way, Brian, this isn't set in stone. Groups do change sides, so it's a question of how well this assimilative mechanism works. It's also not clear to me that this Rainbow Coalition is going to hold together because there are deep antagonisms between the various components of it.
LAMB: Give us more on that.
BRIMELOW: I'm very intrigued recently with the conversations that have going on in the black community about setting up a separate black political party. I think in some senses that might be a rational strategy for them because it's a better way of exerting influence. It isn't clear that the Asian -- Asians again is a big category because it's not just what we used to call Orientals, it goes all the way to the Mediterranean, so it's a very heterogeneous category, but it's not clear that they're going to identify with the minority as opposed to the white majority.
LAMB: Do you get any sense that people play politics with the immigration issue in order to get votes for their side?
BRIMELOW: I think there's a clear what economists call public-choice explanation for what's going on here. What happens is, it's a classic political science issue. Immigration affects some people a great deal and the vast majority of Americans only slightly, so the policy's been driven by special interest groups. That's certainly true of the 1990 act which was basically written by special interest groups, all of them expanding their own coalitions here, their own presence here.
LAMB: How is your life different living here versus living in Great Britain?
BRIMELOW: It's much more interesting, for one thing. I'm much less crowded; of course, that's going to change.
LAMB: How?
BRIMELOW: It will change because there will be more people here unless immigration policy is altered.
LAMB: Isn't there an awful lot of land for people to live on?
BRIMELOW: But do you remember how concentrated the immigrant inflow is? It goes into these six states and these six areas, so, in fact, in these areas we're going to see a tremendous intensity. I came down with Steve Forbes on helicopter recently from New York to Washington, and it's amazing. It's almost continuous now this Bos-Wash corridor, and when you consider that it's not clear not what the benefits to the native born are from immigration it's very surprising.
LAMB: If people like that, what's wrong with it?
BRIMELOW: People like what?
LAMB: Living in this kind of megalopolis that we do here on the East Coast.
BRIMELOW: Do people like having the population of their cities increased by large numbers of immigrants? The opinion polls say overwhelmingly not, but the issue has not been frankly discussed because of what I call in the book Hitler's revenge. The 65 act was really Hitler's revenge. The American elites emerged from World War II so traumatized by party Nazis they set about extirpating discrimination everywhere they could find it. When it backfired on them in the 65 immigration act, when it didn't work -- which is a highly discriminatory act because it focused immigration on just 15 countries. They just announced you weren't allowed to discuss it because if you do you were called a racist, and that's been able to keep the issue out of politics for a long time. See, I'm an immigrant doing a dirty job here.
LAMB: Do you think there will ever be a non-white elected president of the United States?
BRIMELOW: Oh, yes. Sure.
LAMB: Is that a good or a bad thing?
BRIMELOW: It depends who he is. I don't think this is a racist country. I flatly don't think it is. I think Americans are remarkably tolerant. The problem with this kind of public policy of course is that it's driving their tolerance too far. In Florida at the moment -- because Castro's been able to force the Clinton administration to swallow 20,000 Guantnamo refugees and to also, not noticed generally, to accept a floor on Cuban immigration of 20,000 a year -- the Americans are going to stop these rafters on the high seas. The problem is, of course, 20,000 is not a high number for America to accept, except they all go to southern Florida. But the country's so overwrought by immigration, particularly in Florida, which is a major impacted state, that people just want an absolute cutoff. That's what happened in the 1920s. The concept was so absolutely ruthless because the country was so overwrought because the politicians would not respond to their complaints that it became impossible to let even the Jews from Hitler's Germany in who were the ultimate victims of this tremendous irresponsibility on the part of the political elite and the media elite.
LAMB: Since this book has been out, has anybody said anything about you that you really didn't like?
BRIMELOW: I'm not particularly keen on people reading from Mein Kampf and trying to show parallels between my book and Mein Kampf, which has happened. Although it was something that I was prepared for because I know how hysterical immigration enthusiasts can get. I haven't found anybody who's broken through the factual side, but that's not surprising because it was read by all kinds of academic readers before we went to press.
LAMB: What do you think the motive is of someone who really likes immigration?
BRIMELOW: You can think of all kinds of motives, and they may themselves be immigrants who want to see more of their own people in here, and that's a commonly and widely accepted thing, apparently, that immigrants can advocate more immigrants coming in. Just don't let them advocate less immigrants coming in. The opposite of nativism is alienism. There are some people who are deeply alienated from American society and they look to immigration as a way of transforming our society.

I often trap people into this because I say to them, "There's no economic motive for this immigration, so what's your motive?" They'll say things like, "I didn't like you when it was an all-white society." I quote Earl Raab, the columnist, in this book saying that the great thing about immigration is it makes impossible the rise of a Nazi party in America because it's introduced so many minorities into the society. I like this explanation because it is rational. There is a rational explanation as to why we should have immigration. My only further point is we should now go to the American people and ask them is that OK with them.

LAMB: What does your wife think of the reaction to this book?
BRIMELOW: I think a personal concern is that I not be murdered while I'm on the book tour, but at the moment I'm doing OK.
LAMB: Does she work?
BRIMELOW: She's about to have, thank God, a second baby which is much more important than the book.
LAMB: Do you think she'll ever become an American citizen?
BRIMELOW: You can never tell with Canadians, but Pat Buckley did, so there's hope.
LAMB: Are you writing a second book?
BRIMELOW: I will be murdered by my wife if I do another book. This is my third book, actually my fourth book. I was helping Rupert Murdoch write a book some years ago and it was finished, but it was never published.
LAMB: Why did he not publish it?
BRIMELOW: Basically he got cold feet, but that's OK. He paid me.
LAMB: What was the book about?
BRIMELOW: It was about him. It was sort an as-told-to autobiography.
LAMB: Is it still there possibly to be published later?
BRIMELOW: I'll have to ask him sometime. We see him from time to time. I've also done, as you know, Brian, a book on Canadian politics and a book on investment letters. That was a very technical investment book.
LAMB: The book is called "Alien Nation," and our guest Peter Brimelow. Thank you for joining us.
BRIMELOW: Thank you, Brian.

Copyright National Cable Satellite Corporation 1995. Personal, noncommercial use of this transcript is permitted. No commercial, political or other use may be made of this transcript without the express permission of National Cable Satellite Corporation.