Review Essay

Immigration and the Environment

Making the Right—and Wrong—Arguments About Reducing Migration

In This Review

How Many Is Too Many?: The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration into the United States
How Many Is Too Many?: The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration into the United States
By Philip Cafaro
University of Chicago Press, 2015, 336 pp. $27.50 Purchase

Although supporters of immigration are reluctant to acknowledge it, most in the United States would like to see less immigration than it has at the present. The nation admits roughly one million legal immigrants each year, more than any other country in the world. Over the past decade, polls taken by Gallup consistently show that 35 to 50 percent of Americans say that they would like to see immigration reduced, while the number favoring higher immigration has never exceeded 23 percent. But decreasing the numbers is an issue that is rarely on the agenda in Washington. There are heated—and so far, inconclusive—debates over whether the United States should admit more highly-skilled immigrants, how to further reduce illegal immigration, and whether to legalize the more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants already in the country. Aside from a few lonely exceptions such as Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama who wants a slowdown in what he calls “surging migration beyond any historical precedent,” there are no real champions for lowering immigration.

There should clearly be a market then for a carefully reasoned argument in favor of significant reductions in immigration. Unfortunately, Philip Cafaro’s How Many Is Too Many? is not that book. Cafaro, a philosopher and professor of environmental sustainability at Colorado State University, deals with the right issues: Any immigration policy, he points out, will have winners and losers. No sensible policy can emerge unless some reasonable effort is made to acknowledge and balance the interests of all sides. Cafaro’s prescriptions, however, are no help in getting there, and his vision for the future is one that few Americans would share.

Given the level of popular support for reduced immigration, it is odd that the restrictionist movement has yet to find a coherent philosophy. Instead, it seems to serve up what can only be described as a series of conjectures about the nature of modern immigration: Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington notes correctly that immigration from Mexico today is still smaller proportionally

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