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The overwhelming majority of immigration to the United States is the result of our visa policies. Each year, millions of visas are issued to temporary workers, foreign students, refugees, asylees, and permanent immigrants for admission into the United States. The lion’s share of these visas are for lesser-skilled and lower-paid workers and their dependents who, because they are here on work-authorized visas, are added directly to the same labor pool occupied by current unemployed jobseekers. Expressly because they arrive on legal immigrant visas, most will be able to draw a wide range of taxpayer-funded benefits, and corporations will be allowed to directly substitute these workers for Americans. Improved border security would have no effect on the continued arrival of these foreign workers, refugees, and permanent immigrants–because they are all invited here by the federal government.

The most significant of all immigration documents issued by the U.S. is, by far, the “green card.” When a foreign citizen is issued a green card it guarantees them the following benefits inside the United States: lifetime work authorization, access to federal welfare, access to Social Security and Medicare, the ability to obtain citizenship and voting privileges, and the immigration of their family members and elderly relatives.

Under current federal policy, the U.S. issues green cards to approximately 1 million new Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs) every single year. For instance, Department of Homeland Security statistics show that the U.S. issued 5.25 million green cards in the last five years, for an average of 1.05 million new legal permanent immigrants annually.

These ongoing visa issuances are the result of federal law, and their number can be adjusted at any time. However, unlike other autopilot policies–such as tax rates or spending programs–there is virtually no national discussion or media coverage over how many visas we issue, to whom we issue them and on what basis, or how the issuance of these visas to individuals living in foreign countries impacts the interests of people already living in this country.

If Congress does not pass legislation to reduce the number of green cards issued each year, the U.S. will legally add 10 million or more new permanent immigrants over the next 10 years–a bloc of new permanent residents larger than populations of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina combined.

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Legislation enacted in 1965, among other factors, substantially increased low-skilled immigration. Since 1970, the foreign-born population in the United States has increased more than four-fold–to a record 42.1 million today. The foreign-born share of the population has risen from fewer than 1 in 21 in 1970, to presently approaching 1 in 7. As the supply of available labor has increased, so too has downward pressure on wages.

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It is worth observing that the 10 million grants of new permanent residency under current law is not an estimate of total immigration. In fact, the increased distribution of legal immigrant visas tend to correlate with increased flows of immigration illegally: the former helps provide networks and pull factors for the latter. Most of the countries who send the largest numbers of citizens with green cards are also the countries who send the most citizens illegally. The Census Bureau estimates 13 million new immigrants will arrive, on net, between now and 2024–hurtling the U.S. past all recorded figures in terms of the foreign-born share of total population, quickly eclipsing the watermark recorded 105 years ago during the 1880–1920 immigration wave before immigration rates were lowered. Absent new legislation to reduce unprecedented levels of future immigration, the Census Bureau projects immigration as a share of population will continue setting new records each year, for all time.

Yet the immigration “reform” considered by Congress most recently–the 2013 Senate “Gang of Eight” comprehensive immigration bill–would have tripled the number of green cards issued over the next 10 years. Instead of issuing 10 million green cards, the Gang of Eight proposal would have issued at least 30 million green cards during the next decade (or more than 11 times the population of the City of Chicago).

Polling from Gallup and Fox shows that Americans want lawmakers to reduce, not increase, immigration rates by a stark 2:1 margin. Reuters puts it at a 3:1 margin. And polling from GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway shows that by the huge margin of nearly 10:1 people of all backgrounds are united in their belief that U.S. companies seeking workers should raise wages for those already living here–instead of bringing in new labor from abroad.

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