In one of his most recent posts for the NumbersUSA blog, founder Roy Beck asks his readers to “get personal” about “a treasured place of quaintness” that has “been dramatically changed” thanks to an influx of immigrants and the pressures of population growth. He wonders what we have lost along the way, as the United States rapidly becomes a country of congested traffic lanes and disappearing wild spaces, and he asks readers to submit their own stories of a paradise lost.
Beck seems to be most concerned about urban sprawl and congestion, so it seems fitting to take time and examine just what exactly spurs that kind of growth. In the United States, the forces of growth and sprawl have historically been intertwined with race and racism. Zoning laws and development projects have been (and are) used to prevent different groups of people from interacting. This, combined with the concept of “suburbia” invented solely to give a name and destination to postwar white-flight, makes it hard to find Beck’s argument convincing.
The expansion of tract housing, freeways and strip-malls that we witness today is not a function of immigration, nor is it particularly new to our time and place. Contrary to what Beck implies in his blog post, it was the cultural shift during the postwar years that we might thank for our nation’s obsession with expansion. Eager to display its global superiority, the United States binged on far-flung suburban communities and big cars to traverse the newly unfolding national highway system.
Most notably, the official view of NumbersUSA is that immigration into the United States should be limited to “traditional” pre-1965 levels; that is, no more than 250,000 people per year. If we look at the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 as a perfect example of the construction boom that swept the U.S. in the postwar years, we can see that rapid suburban sprawl and metropolitan expansion (and the cultural shift that accompanied it) predated an increase in immigration levels.
It is essential to keep in mind that wild places are destroyed by the scale of the consumption demands places upon them. Prairie is plowed under, mountains are blown apart and lakes are polluted because of the way in which the United States consumes as a whole. The destruction of Beck’s “bucolic farmland” of yesteryear has little to do with the needs of individual families and much to do with corporate production and the overall consumption patterns of the United States (in which, by the way, the wealthiest quintile receives and spends more than half of the income generated by all Americans. The wealthiest quintile rarely includes immigrants).
Preserving wild spaces is a relevant issue, and is being addressed as communities across the nation come together to find ways to maintain their natural spaces. Unfortunately Beck prompts his readers to blame ill-defined “population pressures” as the cause of their personal losses. He winds up scapegoating immigrants rather than placing the blame squarely with corporate production and its wealthy enablers.