| In the fight for a stable future, America is its own worst enemy
BY REAGAN RICKER
China’s population stands today at roughly 1.7 billion but according to new census data, in just 30 years, it will stand instead at 850 million.
Other countries like Japan, Greece, Ukraine and Italy all soon face large-scale demographic collapse, as their average age slowly but surely increases, and waning birth rates can’t repopulate fast enough. America is not far off.
But perhaps there is still hope. When it comes to population growth, we have been given a geopolitical cheat code, as co-founder for the Institute for Progress Caleb Watney told the Atlantic. Every day, tens of thousands of immigrants pour into our borders. Our solution practically lines up every year by the millions. But our biggest issue, as our labor force diminishes, appears to not be demographic collapse; instead, it is letting them in.
Kirsten Zittlau, a top immigration lawyer who works with political asylum seekers from all over the world agreed. “The way we’re structurally set up these days, there is no future.”
It was June 28, a particularly hot summer’s day, even for Tijuana, Mexico, where I stood. San Diego was supposedly just on the other side of the wall, inches away, but as far as the eye could see stood only empty coastline.
My next glance up was interrupted by a family of 4: a mother, a father, another older male, and a young girl, who wore a hello kitty backpack and whose hair was braided with chunky pink beads on the end. The father stood proud, chest up, eyes ahead. This girl represented why when so many countries in the future will suffer from declining populations, ours will thrive.
“For the entirety of our history, immigration has always been the only reason we’ve had a population increase,” Lacey Sipsey, an immigration lawyer whose work focuses on representing asylum seekers from mainly Central and South America, said.
However, as the family took their first steps on American soil, an officer stepped out of his ICE truck. I watched the girl as she was placed into handcuffs too large for her wrists.
America has been nearing demographic collapse for quite some time now. Census records show that even from the 1950’s, birth rates have been more than halved, from 2.4 percent to 1.2, as of 2022.
The U.S economy, like many other countries, was built on a pyramid model. The wide base is represented by babies, while the demographics of kids, teens, adults, and retirees thin out as you near the top; it is built off the idea that any successful economy should have more young people — and therefore workers — than older people. Instead, the combination of medical inventions such as hospitals and waning birth rates have thinned out the bottom, and widened the top, leaving a diminishing working class and no base to repopulate it.
“These asylum seekers I represent, they all immediately have jobs,” Zittlau said. “And I think that should really say something about our labor market right now.”
The pyramid our economy — and to a greater extent — our country, is built on has flipped upside down.
Many of America’s established systems face collapse as well. Social Security and Medicare face risk, as relatively fewer workers will be asked to support a growing retiree population. Not only have fertility rates fallen drastically from 1960, but so has the number of beneficiaries expected per retiree, from 5.1 to 2.7 according to the 2022 annual Board of Trustee report. By 2040, America is predicted to have exhausted its Social Security fund, with its cost increasing faster than its income. Millions will face no viable option for retirement.
The impact sounds alarming but there is not much need to worry. America may have a geopolitical cheat code. There are millions of young immigrants to help mitigate this issue.
But if immigration is America’s solution, then we clearly don’t want to be saved. For a country that will soon suffer from demographic collapse, and whose social security is estimated to run out in just two decades, our policies are unnecessarily restrictive.
Sipsey spoke about a 50 year old woman she knew, whose uncle had petitioned her to come to the U.S 25 years ago. She waited every day for 25 years. When he died, her brother had to petition her. The clock started all over again.
The Third Country Transit Bar, only recently removed in February of 2021, barred asylum seekers attempting to enter the U.S through the southern U.S. border after having traveled through a third country prior to entering the United States. Migrants are given NTA’s (Notices to Arrive) for specifics on where and when to go to court, and for the past 30 years, they’ve instead been going out as TBD.
“When I began under Trump, I was telling people don’t come,” Sipsey said. “Don’t try to jump the wall. Because if people did try to, they would go to jail, and they would stay in jail so it could be 6 months or 4 years with no escape. You’re better in Mexico.”
Not only is it confusing and restrictive to the immigrants, but to the lawyers who try to navigate a broken system. Both Sipsey and Zittlau describe an almost dystopian system, one initiated by Clinton, aggravated by Trump Administration Era policy and one that hasn’t ended with Biden — where policies change every single day without notice.
“No other area of the law changes this frequently because you have precedents. There’s no politics behind it. Immigration is all politics, ” Zittlau said. “Every time I win a case I think it’s a glitch in the matrix. It’s not supposed to happen. The vast majority of people seeking asylum have gone through some of the wildest stuff that you and I will never be able to imagine. Do they qualify? No.”
So in the end, no one wins. Asylum seekers don’t win. Immigrants don’t win. And as future demographic collapse of our own doing strikes down, America certainly won’t win. In the battle for a stable future, we are truly our own worst enemy. When asked if there was any hope for the future, Sipsey did not think there was.
“I don’t want to be alarmist and say America is in its demise, but I just don’t see us getting better,” Sipsey said.
I disagree, only slightly. Maybe it’s because I’m young. Or maybe there truly isn’t hope and one day this system will fail. America will fail. And it’ll be our own restrictive immigration policies that will be our downfall.
“But, the good thing about that is maybe something better will rise out of the ashes,” Zittlau added.
Even immigration, our own geopolitical cheat code, isn’t inevitable. But then again, neither is America.