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6 Population Issues and Reproductive Politicslocked

6 Population Issues and Reproductive Politicslocked

  • Rickie Solinger
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What p. 41is the state of population growth in the United States today, and how is it affected by immigration?

According to the 2010 census, the US population has grown 9.7 percent (adding about 27 million people, including about 13 million immigrants) during the past decade, the slowest growth rate since the Great Depression. The birth rate, 13.5 births for every 1,000 people in 2009, is down from 14.3 in 2007; in 1909, the rate was 30. Despite these slower growth rates, the United States remains one of the fastest growing industrialized countries, accounting for 4.6 percent of the world’s population and 33 percent of global consumption. Most environmentalists predict catastrophic depletion of natural resources and despoliation of the natural environment if the United States doesn’t achieve negative population growth and curtail consumption soon. On the other hand, many economists discuss the challenges of an aging workforce, including the dramatic spike in Social Security outlays that will not be replenished by the contributions of a large enough cohort of younger workers if birth rates remain low. Some demographers point out that the immigrant population is the only sector reproducing itself sufficiently to boost the workforce, protect the future of Social Security, and generally create an age-balanced population. p. 42In short, debates about whether the United States is facing a “population crisis” are ongoing and continue to shape initiatives concerning immigration policy today.1

Just as in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth century, immigration currently has a direct effect on reproductive politics. Immigration promotes a healthy birthrate, but some Americans express strong feelings about according partial or full citizenship rights to illegal immigrants. In 2011, nearly one in four Americans favored ending birthright citizenship, that is, supported changing the Constitution to bar citizenship for children born in the United States to undocumented parents.2 Polls also show that after years of congressional inaction, and especially during times of economic stress, most Americans believe that the immigration system is broken. Arizona has led other states, passing popular legislation that makes the presence and hiring of undocumented persons in the state a crime. Concerns have focused on the changes in the makeup of the population: in 1970, 6 percent of the US population was Hispanic or Asian; today these groups equal 20 percent. Demographers predict that by 2050, the non-Hispanic white population will have fallen to 50 percent of the total population, with Hispanics and Asians accounting for one-third. Even more alarming to some whites is that while the 2010 census showed that the majority of children in the country were white in the year of the census, the Census Bureau reported that on July 1, 2011, “minorities,” that is, anyone who is not a single-race non-Hispanic white, made up 50.4 percent of the nation’s population younger than age one, a development that occurred sooner than demographers had expected.3

Many Americans oppose immigration because they believe that immigrants—and their many children—will take jobs from American citizens and depress wages, although economic studies have not conclusively affirmed or denied these claims. In addition, while immigrants pay property and sales taxes, and an estimated two-thirds of unauthorized immigrants pay Social Security and Medicare taxes—benefits they p. 43are generally unable to access in most states—their families can access tax-supported services such as K-12 schools and emergency medical care, contributing to the widespread perception that immigrant populations are straining municipal and state budgets, a belief based largely on the high birthrates of immigrant women. Some Americans tie their opposition to immigration specifically to the high Hispanic birthrate, even while the most recent information suggests that immigration from Mexico has plummeted.4 Nevertheless, between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic birthrate climbed by 14 percent, with concentrations in the West and South, while overall the US rate declined, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, a development that has significant implications for apportioning congressional representation.

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What is the link between citizenship and reproductive politics?

The Fourteenth Amendment, passed in the aftermath of the Civil War and designed to affirm the citizenship status of ­formerly enslaved persons, conferred the rights of citizenship, including the guarantee of equal protection under the law, on everyone born in the United States. This is generally referred to as “birthright citizenship.” In 1898, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the fundamental principle that children born on US soil are automatically citizens without regard to their parents’ status; this principle has been settled law for more than a century.

Some state legislators have proposed requiring states to deny standard birth certificates to children born to undocumented immigrant parents as part of an effort to eliminate an alleged incentive for illegal immigration. Immigrant rights groups say that most immigrants come to the United States looking for work and to join their families, not to give birth. According to rights groups, since a high percentage of immigrants are of childbearing age and have children after they immigrate, removing birthright citizenship would simply create a larger p. 44pool of undocumented, stateless ­persons ­without solving the immigration problems the country faces. In addition, changes to the Constitution must occur via prescribed, nationwide processes and cannot be accomplished by singular state legislatures.

Reproductive rights advocates argue that, in part because of anti-immigrant and “population crisis” sentiments, the reproductive rights of immigrant women are often trammeled, on the one hand, by Medicaid rules that deny coverage to low-income women, including coverage for maternity services for those who have been US residents for fewer than five years, and on the other hand, by the Hyde Amendment. Also, even when reproductive and maternity services are available, immigrant women are too often unable to find linguistically and culturally compatible providers.5