Legal, and Otherwise

The history of the United States and the history of massive immigration are inextricably intertwined.

After the Spanish Conquistadores brought the Old World diseases to the New World[1], subsequent plagues devastated the indigenous populations, killing at least 95 percent within about a century. By the time the English established colonies in Virginia and Massachusetts around 1620, the first wave of smallpox deaths had swept through, leaving a depopulated land. Where once the natives lived in something like harmony with their environment in numbers which could be supported by natural ecological cycles, the natural systems the natives had managed were left uncontrolled, producing new overabundance for the settlers. When the settlers wrote home about the profusion of life and opportunities, the mad rush began.

Nobody is exactly sure of how many natives died in the plagues, but a reasonable estimate is that the present confines of the United States held about 125-millions to 150-millions of people. Many scientists believe that number, about 150-millions of people, is approximately the number of people for which the land can provide on a natural basis. Above that number, the "carrying capacity" of the land is exceeded, and though you can drill new wells, the aquifers which feed the wells cannot recharge faster than water can be withdrawn. In the end, the aquifers are drawn down to their lowest levels, the wells run dry, and either people depend day-to-day on the rains, or die of thirst. Is that any way to run a civilization? We don't think so. Yet in the same way that our growing overpopulation is effectively mining our aquifers, even more quickly is it depleting our topsoils and simplifying a dangerously overloaded ecology.

From the colonies of the 1600s to the 1950s, that is the time that it took for immigration, and very high rates of fertility, to bring the population of North America back to what it was before the Spanish brought the plagues. Between 1950 and 2005, that population doubled.

With the invention of improved birth-control methods in the 1960s, the citizens of the USA, in aggregate, began to reduce their fertility rate to a "replacement rate", of approximately 2.1 children per woman. By the mid-1970s, native-born citizens had achieved a rate of population growth of almost zero, and in the mid-1990s achieved a reproductive rate which would eventually have resulted in a slight and orderly decline in population starting around the year 2020. The native-born citizens, had there been no immigration nor children of immigrants, would have brought the population down to about 150-millions by roughly the year 2250. With that sort of population, parks can be large, wilderness and natural balanced ecologies might return and thrive, scattered small cities are probably the norm, and most importantly, the population would be in balance with what nature can sustainably provide.

Immigration, at present, is the largest driver of population growth in the United States. In recent years, where illegal immigration had been the smaller component of immigration in general, illegal immigration has grown to become the majority component of all immigration-based population increases. Simply stated, since about 1999, more have come here illegally than have come here through legitimate means[2].


1. In 1519 Hernán Cortés landed on the shores of what is now Mexico and was then the Aztec empire. After he landed, one of the most famous coincidences in history took place. The Aztecs were expecting the arrival of a white-skinned god with yellow hair, Quetzalcoatl. Cortes had yellow hair and white skin and thus was received as a god, and was allowed to rule accordingly. In 1520, another group of Spanish came from Cuba and landed in Mexico. Among them was an African slave who had smallpox. When Cortes heard about the other group, he went and defeated them. In this contact, one of Cortes's men contracted the disease. When Cortes returned to Tenochtitlán, he brought the disease with him.

Soon the Aztecs realized that Cortes was not a god and rose up in rebellion. Outnumbered, the Spanish were forced to flee. In the fighting, the Spanish soldier carrying smallpox died. After the battle, the Aztecs evidently looked on the invaders' bodies for riches and contracted the virus. Cortes would not return to the capital until August 1521. In the meantime smallpox was devastating the Aztec population. It killed most of the Aztec army, the emperor, and 25% of the overall population. A Spanish priest left this description: "As the Indians did not know the remedy of the disease...they died in heaps, like bedbugs. In many places it happened that everyone in a house died and, as it was impossible to bury the great number of dead, they pulled down the houses over them so that their homes become their tombs." On Cortes' return, he found the Aztec army's chain of command in ruins. The soldiers who lived were still weak from the disease. Cortes then easily defeated the Aztecs and entered Tenochtitlán, where he found that smallpox had killed more Aztecs than had the cannons. The Aztecs said that they could not walk though the streets without stepping on the bodies of smallpox victims.

The effects of smallpox on Tahuantinsuyu (or Inca empire) were even more devastating. Beginning in Colombia, smallpox spread rapidly before the Spanish invaders first arrived in the empire. The spread was probably aided by the efficient Inca road system. Within months, the disease had killed the Sapa Inca Huayna Capac, his successor, and most of the other leaders. Two of his surviving sons warred for power and, after a bloody and costly war, Atahualpa become the new Sapa Inca. As Atahualpa was returning to the capital Cuzco, Francisco Pizarro arrived and through a series of deceits captured the young leader and his best general. Within a few years smallpox claimed between 60% and 90% of the Inca population, with other waves of European disease weakening them further.

Even after the two mighty empires of the Americas were defeated by the virus, smallpox continued its march of death. North America was next. In 1633 in Plymouth, Massachusetts, the Native Americans were struck by the virus. As it had done elsewhere, the virus wiped out entire population groups of Native Americans. It reached Lake Ontario in 1636, and the lands of the Iroquois by 1679, killing millions. The worst sequence of smallpox attacks took place in Boston, Massachusetts. From 1636 to 1698, Boston endured six epidemics. In 1721 the most severe epidemic occurred. The entire population fled the city, bringing the virus to the rest of the 13 colonies. In the late 1770s, during the American Revolutionary War, smallpox returned once more and killed an estimated 125,000 people. (Fenn, Elizabeth Anne (2001). Pox Americana: The Great Smallpox Epidemic of 1775-82 (1st edition). Hill and Wang. ISBN 0809078201.)

2. Unauthorized Migrants, Numbers and Characteristics, Jeffrey S. Passel, Pew Hispanic Center, 2005.