Depending on what Congress decides to do about immigration—curtail it, expand it—the United States is facing a future population just 45 years away that could vary by more than 135 million residents. Our population is going to be growing in any case, largely because of immigrants who have arrived in the past few generations, but that growth could be limited to about 66 million persons (a 22% increase) if we effectively combat illegal immigration and pare back legal immigration to a moderate level. Alternatively, if current proposals to increase immigration, give legal status to those currently here illegally, and create a new guest worker program were adopted, we likely will be facing the prospect of a population in 2050 of half a billion people. That would be about 200 million more persons than today (a 67% increase). If our policy makers pursue the latter course, our projection is that the country will be on a course to reaching about one billion people by the end of the century.
If Congress should end up ducking the issue of immigration reform and maintaining the status quo of mass legal and illegal immigration, our population is projected to still continue its rapid growth. Our projection is for a population of between 445 and 462 million residents depending on the assumptions used.
The difference between the highest and the lowest of the scenarios represents the population size issue that Congress and the administration should be focused on as the debate on immigration policy develops this year. Depending on the policy decisions that are made, our children and their children could be forced to grapple with the problems caused by a skyrocketing population that is more than 135 million more people than would be the case under a true immigration reform agenda.
The country’s environment will be impacted very differently depending on the immigration decisions made today. The implications are enormous for our dependency on energy imports, the shift from being a net food exporter to a net food importer, the over-consumption and growing constraints of freshwater resources, aggravating urban sprawl and overcrowding, traffic congestion, greenhouse emissions, growing income inequality, and a myriad of other social issues.
We do not attempt in this report to describe in detail all of the implications of adding an additional 135 million people on top of an already fast growing population. That is a challenge for environmental, civic and other groups. But it is clear that those voices need to be heard by Congress, not just the voices of business interests that seek access to additional foreign workers and ethnic advocacy groups that seek to increase the flow of co-ethnic immigrants.
The effects of immigration impact different areas of the country and states differently. To assist our members across the country and their elected representatives in assessing the effects on their state from potential immigration changes, our projections show the different population size that would likely result under the different scenarios for each state.