A Review of ‘“A Progressive Argument to Reduce Immigration into the United States” a speech given by Professor Philip Cafaro – by Rebecca Smith. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

A Review of ‘“A Progressive Argument to Reduce Immigration into the United States” a speech given by Professor Philip Cafaro – by Rebecca Smith. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports


On February 9th, 2017, I attended the lecture “A Progressive Argument to Reduce Immigration into the United States” by Professor Philip Cafaro at The College of St. Scholastica, which was sponsored by the Alworth Center. As someone who knows little about immigration and its true impact, I felt compelled to attend this lecture and the lecture on March 7th – Justice and the U.S. Immigration Policy with Aviva Chomsky. When I first learned about the topic of the lecture, I bristled at the prospect. Most of my experience with hearing about immigration consisted of hopeful stories of people coming and making better lives for themselves and their families, so the prospect of reducing this opportunity for people didn’t seem like a good option. Philip Cafaro cited economic inequality and an unsustainable society as the two main concerns of immigration and noted the problems that it can create.

The first of the problems that was addressed was the economic inequality that the current immigration policy of the U.S. is to blame for. Cafaro interviewed many people in the hard labor or small business field, immigrant and non-immigrant, and used stories to show how immigration has an effect on the middle and lower classes. For example, one of the people he interviewed, Tom Kinney, owned his own business that is now failing. He attributed the failing to two reasons. First, bigger companies that did the same type of work exploit immigrants and pay them a non-living wage because they can get away with it, thus making the bigger companies rates lower. Secondly, not all immigrants pay taxes like he did for his business, so they could work for lower rates, but do the same work. Cafaro also pointed out the fallacy that U.S. citizens refuse to do hard labor, so immigrants are stepping up and doing those jobs. Kinney and Cafaro believe that it isn’t that U.S. citizens are refusing the work, they are refusing the pay that goes along with the work. In his interview, Kinney stated that because a lot of people don’t like those kinds of jobs, they used to pay well. At least, they used to pay a living wage. Now, because of big companies and the lower/no tax rate, these positions generally aren’t paying a living wage.

Cafaro also noted that immigration is often looked in oversimplified terms. There will be winners and losers in any immigration policy, but he argued that that shouldn’t stop the government from changing things. Cafaro argued that wealthy, better educated workers are less impacted than the working class. Legal fields have fewer immigrants (7%) in the job pools than farming/fishing fields (36%). While people who earn higher wages support immigration because goods and services are less expensive, the current immigration policy, or an open boarder, will not help working class citizens. This argument was surprising to me, as I had grown up in a middle class household and had parents whose positions and careers that were not impacted by immigration, but benefited off of the lower priced goods and services. In the question/answer section of the lecture, Cafaro did acknowledge that it is possible that technology has impacted farming/fishing fields, and others like it, but that the fact that technology has had an impact should show why job pools should not be flooded. He argued that tightening up the labor market created the Golden Age post WWII, and that the U.S. should be doing the same thing now. A tightened labor market isn’t the only reason Cafaro believes that the U.S. should create a lower immigration policy.

The environmental impact of overpopulation is vast, and Cafaro believes that we could consider the U.S. to be the most overpopulated country, based on consumption. It is no secret that our society is largely not being created in a sustainable way. If we want to have an ecological and sustainable society, which Cafaro believes we need to have, we need to reduce population. An obvious solution may be to suggest and promote having fewer children, but Cafaro argues that U.S. citizens are already doing that. Instead of larger families, like we have seen in the past, many parents are only having two children. However, at the same time, Congress is raising immigration limits. A question from the audience member brought up the point of making efforts to consume less, so there doesn’t have to be a reduction of immigration. Cafaro responded by saying that the resources that we save should not be making room for more people to come in and use them. If a city was to reduce its water usage by 20%, Cafaro argues that that remaining water should be left in rivers and for the environment. It should not be used for 20% more people to use it. Cafaro believes that it’s selfish to take land and water away from ecosystems and animals and in doing so we will see harmful repercussions to humans.

Sprawl is also detrimental to ecosystems and species. When sprawl occurs, there is an increase in water and land consumption, and a loss of habitat. Cafaro believes that we have a responsibility to save species from extinction, when their populations are rapidly decreasing because of humans. We do not have the right to take a species’ right to live. While he notes that sprawl can certainly happen without immigration, it happens much more rapidly when immigration is a factor. With Cafaro’s education and activism background, he doesn’t believe that we can create a sustainable society with the population we have now, let alone what the population would be in 2100. The chance for a sustainable society gets slimmer with a larger population.

So what is the U.S. to do about it? Cafaro proposed four ideas that would not only reduce immigration, but would also help other nations. Firstly, he proposed to cut immigration to 300,000/year. Currently, immigration limits are over 1 million per year. Cafaro broke down the different subsections of immigration, from families to refugees/asylum seekers. The largest cut would be to family immigration. Cafaro suggests that letting a nuclear family immigrate is not the problem, but when someone brings much of their extended family with. It is important to note that he only wants to make a sliver of a cut to refugees/asylum seekers immigration numbers. We have a moral responsibility to help and assist those in need. The second idea Cafaro proposed is to implement a national employee verification program, where there would be strict sanctions against employers who exploit immigrants. Next, he proposed to pass carefully targeted amnesties. A story of an immigrant who worked and paid taxes in the U.S. for 25 years was discussed, and Cafaro believes that people who have worked hard like that immigrant should be given amnesty and citizenship. Finally, Cafaro proposed reworking trade agreements and helping people live better lives in their own countries.

Before this lecture, I would not have considered a reduced immigration policy for the purpose of economics beneficial. The lecture opened my eyes to the fact that I might be viewing immigration policies in a position of privilege. However, if the government acts to reduce immigration, but the greed of many corporations and big businesses stay the same, it is possible that the prices of goods and services will go up, causing me, and people like me, to reconfigure budgets. On the other hand, people should be able to live on the wage that they are being paid and not struggle to pay for things like water, nutritious food, and heat. Cafaro recognizes that there will be choices that need to be made – should there be cheaper housing prices or good wages for construction workers? While having both might be an obvious choice, Cafaro believes that there will need to be a choice because of immigration.

The impression I got was that Cafaro was basing his lecture off of how the country is moving – not off of idealistic theories of how the country should be moving. However, if Cafaro really looked at how the government functioned, he would see that it has trouble making decisions and rarely does things to help people in other countries if there is no benefit for itself. He also didn’t take into consideration the culture of the U.S. and what we consider a good life, may create trouble in other countries. Just because the government considers certain things and values to be a good life does not mean that the citizens of the country where the program would be implemented feel the same. There would have to be communication between the U.S. government and other country’s government and citizens in order to determine what would be best for the country. While I would hope that the U.S. government would be able to do so, it does not have a history of successfully doing this. A question brought up by a student asked about the responsibility that we have to people in other countries because of bad U.S. policies that have caused them to immigrate to the U.S. Cafaro believes that we do have a responsibility to help people, especially because of U.S. action, but it should be helping them within their own countries. It was suggested that the students who come to the U.S. to study should then go back to their own countries to help improve them, which makes sense on the surface, but on a deeper and realistic level, is not always that simple or easy.

The general sense of Cafaro’s arguments was that while his lecture was a response to how the country was moving and based his argument off of that, he did not necessarily offer realistic ways to change it. His ideas in response were also idealistic. Cutting immigration to a third of what it is now is unlikely to happen soon. We have seen that big businesses often have their interests valued higher in the government due to their ability to “donate” to campaigns, so how do we change the government and big business culture? Change is going to have to happen on multiple levels and in multiple ways if we want to a) create an ecological and sustainable society and b) seriously make efforts to create economic equality within the U.S.

Rebecca serves as an editor for The North Star Reports.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

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27 responses to “A Review of ‘“A Progressive Argument to Reduce Immigration into the United States” a speech given by Professor Philip Cafaro – by Rebecca Smith. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

    • Marissa Mikrot

      I found this article very interesting to read. Like you, I also stood on the side of pro-immigration and an open policy of immigration at the border, which I also think is because I’m viewing it from a privileged point of view. I thought the points that the speaker made were good, and really make me want to look into what would actually happen if immigrants continued to move in at the current pace, or even faster, then they are right now. Additionally, I believe that basing his argument on the current movement of the government and country is much better than how it should be moving. I think it would be interesting to hear this presentation this year or in a couple years to see how much of his ideas have adapted.

  1. Nouqouja Yang

    Thank you for sharing what you thought were the key points and you opinions on this. I totally agree on you with your conclusions. Also, I’ve never really thought about it from his points and the benefits and negatives that he listed. I guess I have always just thought about it more from personal experiences and favoring immigration more because of where my family came from. What he talked about was interesting and I think overall, we need a balance. It will be hard and will definitely not happen overnight but I feel like immigration is what made this country so we should be proud and try not to shove it away. The political times have always been hard but I think that the issues now will definitely be one of the biggest also. This article made me realize that I should also realize other people’s perspective rather than just thinking I’m right first. Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

  2. Kalahan Larson

    I think this article had an interesting topic. We hear about immigration all the time, especially now with our new president. But do we really know what they are talking about when they discuss limiting immigration? I know that I personally do not consider my own life when thinking about immigration, but I think that this was the main piece of this article. I also was from a middle/lower class, single parent home, and I do not feel that I have ever thought about that income as being affected by immigration, but we often had a lot of the same benefits as immigrants. This article to me made immigration more comparable and relatble.

  3. Matthew Breeze

    Thank you for writing this up I really enjoy seeing something like this on NSR. I also attended the talk and had mixed feelings about his theories and plans as it seems that you did. One thing that you mentioned and he talked about was that corporations benefit from illegal immigration and large businesses can and do hire illegal workers who they pay very little. They are also often not punished for doing this. His point that I did agree with was that organizations that hire illegal immigrants and do not provide them with healthcare or living wages should be punished. I like your point that if we consumers could suffer most if Mr. Cafaro’s ideas were implemented. The cost of many things, especially food, would rise and the average American consumer would have to pay more for their stuff. I am glad that his talk made you think about immigration and reevaluate some of your ideas as I know that his talk has made me think deeper about my own beliefs and opinions on immigration in the U.S.

  4. Elaina Wald

    Thank you for this very well written review. I consider myself in the same position you started in before this talk; I can’t imagine anyone but a villain being opposed to helping people. I suppose that is because I associate allowing immigrants with helping people. I approached this article with a small amount of disdain and hopes that I could keep an open mind. To my surprise, I found some of Cafaro’s points to be valid. I agree with the points he makes about the environment to some degree. He seems to be very set in the ecological school of thought, which is not always realistic. All in all, I was surprised at how little I disliked his points and I think that you are correct in saying it would be difficult to implement the suggested changes.

  5. Paige Perreira

    I went to a Dignitas lab the other week that spoke about immigration as well, but from an undocumented person’s perspective. Often times, immigration officers can show up unexpectedly and tear families away from each other. Reading this summary of the talk you went to offered a more economical approach to immigration and its impacts on our country. Like you, I never thought about the way our economy was affected by immigration. I do agree, however, that we have a moral responsibility to help those in need and protect those in danger. It would be inhumane to just reject all who are seeking asylum from a dangerous place.

  6. Dylan Brovick

    I was happy to be able to read this because I didn’t have the chance to attend the talk. When i first heard that the presentation i questioned it a little bit because it says a progressive look at limiting immigration. I agree completely with what you say at one point that Cafaro is basing his ideas on the way the country is moving and not off the ideology that progressives want. For me a change would need to be seen at the economic side before i would take any of this into consideration because if people aren’t cutting back on what they are consuming and producing the slow down of immigration won’t matter. Also I think it is interesting that at the beginning it seems like the issues are being caused by businesses not paying the right wages and that is something that should be dealt with, not limiting the people who need the money. He also has the idea that the United States is the most over populated because of our consumption. Again this is an issue that is one of those progressive ideals that could be worked on to better our society without the need to limit immigration. Lastly, his talk is very interesting and it is nice to be able to hear other peoples perspectives and perspectives on their perspectives.

  7. Sheila Iteghete

    I agree with you Rebecca that I had the same thoughts going through my mind when I heard about this speech, but I was not able to attend. For that I am glad you can share this with me today. Although that sound like a great explanation as to why the job is failing or a deficient economy, I would like to add that some of this big corporations are also based on a systematic bias where immigrants are only hired for certain jobs while the big bucks go to people who are not doing much for it. So, blaming immigrants would not be a best just as blaming him for the loss of his company would not help anybody. I believe people should be allowed to do what is best for their family because I believe some inventions of today would not have been made possible if there was a limitation to the number of people that can move their lives through chaos for a better future.

  8. Joel J Scheuerlein

    This paper was very well written and conceived. I do applaud you on taking the time to go and learn about ones views and why one may appose immigration. This is something I feel that has been lost in todays society, people have become so quick to argue about politics and where we should go as a country that they do not truly take the time to listen to the opposing views. As for me, I do think of myself as an independent (Not Democrat nor Republican). I do this because I feel as if both sides make excellent points as well as both sides make points I disagree with, and when one starts to define themselves as Democrat or Republican they start to ignore the faulty points and over glorify the good ones for their party, and do vice versa to the apposing party. I am happy you took the time to listen to this brief, even though, as most readers will be able to tell, you may have been apposed to what he was trying to say. Now I believe that is derived from your lifestyle and how you grew up, but for me, immigration had a direct effect on my family, and made life rather hard well growing up. So I do see positive and negatives to immigration, as I’m sure you do, but our finally beliefs on it will be different, because immigration effected us both in different ways, you not so much, and it had a direct impact on me.

  9. Ashley Kittelson

    I also attended the talk by Dr. Cafaro. I enjoyed this presentation because Cafaro presented a new perspective. I had never heard immigration discussed with the lens of environmentalism before. It’s important for people to hear different perspectives such as this because you can’t have a well-informed opinion on an issue without hearing all sides of that issue. Unfortunately, I had multiple friends who didn’t attend the talk because they already had an opinion on immigration. My opinion on the immigration debate didn’t change because of this talk, but I found value in hearing a new perspective.

  10. Alexa Lee

    First and foremost, I commend you for attending an event to learn more about something you don’t know much about. I think a lot of people could do more of this so we can discuss important ideas, and, more importantly, listen to others about them. It sounds like you got a lot from this lecture, and he was persuasive in his ideas about immigration and proposed solutions. However, I think it is so wonderful that you were critical of his ideas and did not just take his ideas and run with them thinking they were the only option. I think you make valid arguments, especially about the difference between the government’s values and citizens’. While you may not have agreed with his ideas, I still think it’s important that you took the time to listen to them and then form your opinions. When a conversation like this continues, change happens.

  11. Mariah Koenig

    Thank you for sharing this information! I was unable to attend the lecture but am happy to get the information about what was said on here. As for immigration, I think I had the same previous mind set that you did about the impacts of immigration. Immigration has never really impacted my family in any way based off of the jobs that my parents have. I also have never really went as far as to think of the environmental consequences of immigration. Based on this, and other information I have heard about immigration, I feel that it would be a good idea to slow down the intake of immigrants, as described. A big part of the reason I feel this way is to help the environment. We need to take care of the land and resources we use becuase people are not the only people who need to use it. I do believe we should take people into our country, but maybe not on such a large scale.

  12. Hello. Thank you for attending and reviewing this talk! This is so interesting in that I have not as much heard of immigration being spoken about with an environmental focus. This issue needs to be seen from many different lenses and I am so glad that environmentalism can be one of those. Thank you again.

  13. Ellen Hansen

    This is quite the complicated subject. While I can see where the speaker is coming from, it is difficult for me to fully empathize with his views: a skill we should all be looking to master. Ultimately, I find that these arguments don’t grant credit to the severity of the situations some people are coming from, where immigration is an escape from an immediately dangerous environment, and there is no time to stick around and wait for change. In terms of your coverage of the talk, I’m glad there was material you were able to pull from to shape your own opinions. We as people have tendencies to stubbornly stick to our views without question, which can be harmful to civil discussion and progress in the long run. To sit through lectures like these and get past emotional barriers, to think critically about a subject, is an exercise in patience and mental strength, so I applaud you!

  14. Hattie Meyer

    I am taking the class Voices In America and we read Dr. Cafaro’s book for class. When we were discussing his thoughts and ideas about immigration I had not thought of it in such was before the reading. Going deeper into the subject of immigration I agree something needs to change for America to sustain itself. Is all his ideas the correct answer? I am not sure. I liked how you had looked at all angels of the topic and did not rushed to conclusions like many people are doing in todays politics. Its important to take time and learn about the topic. Go to the source such as Dr. Cafaro and talk to the people caught in the middle of it all. This was a great article and I enjoyed hearing about his lecture again.

  15. Thomas Landgren

    Thank you for sharing your review on the Peace and Justice lecture on Immigration. I really like this idea of sharing lectures on NSR. I was not able to got to the lecture on campus but being able to read your review I feel like I know the basic key points of his argument. It is interesting that Cafaro looks at immigration being tied with environmentalism. When I hear about immigration the main argument is almost always about the economy and jobs not the environment. Like you I agreed with some of the points that Cafaro brought up around the issue of immigration but there were some that did not seem realistic when looking at it from the long term stand point. The issue of big corporations and immigrants is something that needs to be changed. It is a human right to be able to work and receive a live-able wage, most people should not be struggling. This is easier to say than to actually accomplish though. After reading this article I also started to look at immigration differently in a few places but overall my view stayed the same but I am glad that I had to think about it. Great Article!

  16. Avnish Miyangar

    This is an interesting and sensitive topic. I like the questions that you covered. Will his ideas be the best answer going forward? Thinking back to class and migration of people across the world just to survive. Trying to make ends meet however they could. Something needs to be done about those jobs people do not like doing. Is it fair they get paid less? Is it fair to not be treated equally if you are an immigrant. I am for diversity and adapting but people should be treated equally. These changes could end up being for the worse especially if relationships with other countries break down.

  17. Amanda Sullivan

    Well written post, and thank you for sharing. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend Cafaro’s talk. From your article and other’s comments, I really wish I would have attended. Overall, it seems as though he had points that were well backed-up, but had suggestions that would be difficult to implement. I am with you, on the fact that I have seen immigration through more of a “privilege” aspect. However, the points you addressed and the additional ones I have seen in the comments have me intrigued to how Cafaro views immigration. I have never seen it as something that could relate to the environment. It is definitely an interesting way to view it.

  18. Nicholas Burski

    This well written post provided a multitude of ideas about immigration that had never come to my mind when thinking about the subject. The impact that immigration has on the environment should be just as big of a concern as employment. Consequences on the environment will eventually lead to consequences on humans down the road and therefore needs equal attention. Immigration policy will never satisfy everyone, so policy should be made to ensure the longevity of our nation environmentally as well as economically. Cafaro utilizing some fresh points on a topic that often has the same arguments repeated made this post quite enjoyable to read. Thank you!

  19. Dylan Brovick

    I enjoyed reading your article and summary of the lecture given by Philip Cafaro. When the lecture took place I was not able to attend so I am happy that now sometime later I came across this and am able to read it. From what you wrote it sounds like he had some interesting opinions and ways to help with immigration to the United States. You addressed corporations and companies a little bit and as I read this I thought why doesn’t he just mention that corporations should take some of the blame for the worker issue. It seems silly to me to blame the immigrants for coming here and taking cheap paying labor jobs when the corporations so obviously should be paying everyone a fair wage. Also, on the environmental side I’m not sure how much immigration is the issue compared to the overall consumption of everyone, including corporations. Lastly, a thought I’ve always had on immigration is why don’t we as the USA do something about what is causing so many immigrants and or refugees. You mentioned this briefly in your article but it still is surprising to me that countries causing war and bombing areas creating refugees aren’t blamed for the refugees or aren’t held to a standard to take in more.

  20. Owen Granger

    I enjoyed reading your perspective on the lecture. I find it extremely interesting that Cafaro believes that we need to cut immigration of families so that we can preserve our environment. Everything in the United States is a consumer good, so even have 20% of water left over with immigration being cut, it will still be exploited for profit. I would like to ask Cafaro how he would explain his immigration policy to a family who’s country has been decimated by American foreign policy. I also think it would be a grave mistake to start making immigration deals with other countries while our heath care system is fractured and allows citizens to die who don’t have money for medication. In my opinion using immigrants as the scapegoat for our poor ecosystem is a stretch. Instead of cutting off immigration, why don’t we speak to immigrants from areas of the world where nature is valued more than it is here.

  21. Cassandra Mahlberg

    This article is really interesting to read at this point in the presidential administration. While the immigration policies have reduced the numbers of people let into the U.S. substantially, I feel as if it isn’t going to help in regard to Mr. Cafaro’s issues. I also couldn’t consider this argument to be progressive. While being progressive certainly means caring about the environment and the effects humans have on the planet and other lifeforms, it doesn’t mean that we should put more emphasis on those things than the lives of other humans. I understand the argument, economically and environmentally, but cutting immigration won’t help when the rest of the world is just as crowded. I also take issue with the overconsumption track, because if we reduce our consumption enough, there should be enough resources to share with those who need them most, with more to spare (that is of course, if it’s done correctly). I hope that we can come to a better understanding about the fluidity of migration that worked in history as it could be an option for the future. Despite the reality of borders, they are not fixed. I think this issue needs to be reconsidered in a global perspective in order to be effective.

  22. Ellery Bruns


    This article was fascinating to read. It clearly demonstrates the phenomenon that our world has sped up because of globalization, and our policies have not kept up the pace. This is something that we have been discussing in Human Rights this semester. Our policies because they have not adapted to the changing times often foster state-sponsored exploitations, such as companies exploiting immigrants for their own gain. I think it is important to recognize that our policies need reform. Often times this is not simple, as you have pointed out because reform doesn’t always work or is too idealistic; it doesn’t fix or help fix the problem. However, I think we should approach policy in a way that looks at the entirety of human beings as well as recognizing the need for environmental sustainability.

    Thank you for sharing this article.

  23. Kristeljei Baltazar

    Wow. That was a very powerful article to me being an immigrant myself. You provided a lot of good information from Mr. Cafaro’s presentation about the “other side” of immigration and I appreciate all of them. I do believe that a lot of people think that most immigration stories are mostly happy stories since America is so great right, which she is, but truthfully, immigration can be sad sometimes. It’s about being part of the minority group which some people may look at it as either good or bad. Immigration to me also means being able to work hard to be able to support your self and your family in your “home country” because they expect you to. After all, they think you are living the “American Dream” since you’re living in America. Most of the time, immigration to me is being lonely. Loney because, you know you have to work hard because even though your job might “suck” in America, it is way better than some low paying or dangerous job you can get in your home country.

    Overall, I agree with some of the information Mr. Cafaro presented especially when he pointed out the fallacy that U.S. citizens refuse to do hard labor, so immigrants are stepping up and doing those jobs. Also, when he said that “it isn’t that U.S. citizens are refusing the work, they are refusing the pay that goes along with the work.” I believe this might be true, but I think its more of a personal choice for the citizens. Some of his ideas for a solution are really good but I’m not sure if they’re realistic. In my opinion, if you need to survive, you need to be open to the job that’s available to you to support yourself and your family, just like how some immigrants who are taking those jobs are looking at it as.

    Amazing post! Thank you!!!


  24. Tanner Egelkraut

    This was a very interesting read. I was surprised by the large cut in immigration that he proposed. Losing 2/3 of our immigration each year would have a large impact on our society. Our immigration is already extremely competitive. I feel that this will make it even harder for families to get into our country. I worry that some people trying to escape drug cartels and war may find it even more hard to get into our country with new limits on it. I feel that this would also increase the number of people crossing the border illegally. The way that the US companies exploit immigrant workers made me think about the Neo-Assyrian Empire. They used upwards of 4 million people that they conquered over the years to work in agricultural and construction professions. They were not paid and did not have a say in whether they wanted to leave their homes to come work for the empire (Tignor, et al., 2018, p. 129). In a similar way large companies are doing the same. Taking advantage of a workforce that is there. I hope that we can find a better option that helps immigrants rather than making things worse.

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