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How Many Is Too Many?

The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration into the United States

From the stony streets of Boston to the rail lines of California, from General Relativity to Google, one of the surest truths of our history is the fact that America has been built by immigrants. The phrase itself has become a steadfast campaign line, a motto of optimism and good will, and indeed it is the rallying cry for progressives today who fight against tightening our borders. This is all well and good, Philip Cafaro thinks, for the America of the past—teeming with resources, opportunities, and wide open spaces—but America isn’t as young as it used to be, and the fact of the matter is we can’t afford to take in millions of people anymore. We’ve all heard this argument before, and one might think Cafaro is toeing the conservative line, but here’s the thing: he’s not conservative, not by a long shot. He’s as progressive as they come, and it’s progressives at whom he aims with this book’s startling message: massive immigration simply isn’t consistent with progressive ideals.
Cafaro roots his argument in human rights, equality, economic security, and environmental sustainability—hallmark progressive values. He shows us the undeniable realities of mass migration to which we have turned a blind eye: how flooded labor markets in sectors such as meatpacking and construction have driven down workers’ wages and driven up inequality; how excessive immigration has fostered unsafe working conditions and political disempowerment; how it has stalled our economic maturity by keeping us ever-focused on increasing consumption and growth; and how it has caused our cities and suburbs to sprawl far and wide, destroying natural habitats, driving other species from the landscape, and cutting us off from nature.

In response to these hard-hitting truths, Cafaro lays out a comprehensive plan for immigration reform that is squarely in line with progressive political goals. He suggests that we shift enforcement efforts away from border control and toward the employers who knowingly hire illegal workers. He proposes aid and foreign policies that will help people create better lives where they are. And indeed he supports amnesty for those who have, at tremendous risk, already built their lives here. Above all, Cafaro attacks our obsession with endless material growth, offering in its place a mature vision of America, not brimming but balanced, where all the different people who constitute this great nation of immigrants can live sustainably and well, sheltered by a prudence currently in short supply in American politics.

336 pages | 2 halftones, 21 line drawings, 7 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2014

Economics and Business: Economics--Development, Growth, Planning

Philosophy: Ethics

Political Science: American Government and Politics, Public Policy


“Immigration remains a vital domestic issue in the US and appears poised to play a prominent role in the 2016 presidential elections. With concerns about population control reaching the forefront of national debate, Cafaro bucks traditional ideological trends and strongly urges fellow progressives to note that mass immigration no longer aligns with progressive ideals. Chapters are dedicated to critical examinations of the unseen impact mass immigration has on labor inequality, working conditions, national economic maturity, and society’s relationship with nature. After presenting strong arguments as to why mass immigration must cease in the US if the country wishes to be truly progressive, Cafaro presents a detailed seven-point plan on how to best accomplish this goal. Included are suggestions for ending birthright citizenship, tying immigration allowances to the national unemployment rate, cutting immigration rates back to standards from 1965, and mandating a national employee verification program. Equally important to the policy proposals put forth are the efforts to dispel many of the anticipated challenges to the proposals, treated in the following chapter. A great addition to collections on American political issues and public policy. . . . Highly recommended.”


“Cafaro’s work is highly original, focusing on a question that most liberals, as well as libertarians, studiously avoid, and showing that it is the key question that they must be pushed to consider. At the same time it is balanced, drawing on the work of both supporters and detractors. Indeed, Cafaro’s treatment of this controversial subject is calm and even-tempered, deploying his few barbs only where they are truly justified.”

Herman E. Daly, author of Steady-State Economics

“An articulate and readable book about a subject too long ignored, even considered taboo, in American public policy: overpopulation. Cafaro provides convincing arguments that Americans cannot create an ecologically sustainable society with twice as many people, or successfully combat growing economic inequality while flooding labor markets with millions of poor and desperate job seekers. A wake-up call for progressives to rethink immigration matters and support policies that further the common good.”

Richard D. Lamm, former Governor of Colorado and author of Condition Critical

“Dealing with immigration to the United States—legal and illegal—is of the utmost importance, because immigration is the biggest driver of our explosive population growth, which is the biggest plight we face. Cafaro is our most trustworthy thinker and writer about immigration matters, because he does not demonize immigrants but rather sympathizes with them, while clearly showing that continued high immigration will be deadly to American wildlands and wildlife, as well as to our culture of liberty and tolerance. Read How Many Is Too Many? to understand the tangled problem of immigration.”

Dave Foreman, author of Take Back Conservation

Table of Contents

Chapter One. Good People, Hard Choices, and an Inescapable Question

Chapter Two. Immigration by the Numbers

Chapter Three. The Wages of Mass Immigration

Chapter Four. Winners and Losers

Chapter Five. Growth, or What Is an Economy For?

Chapter Six. Population Matters

Chapter Seven. Environmentalists’ Retreat from Demography

Chapter Eight. Defusing America’s Population Bomb—or Cooking the Earth

Chapter Nine. Solutions

Chapter Ten. Objections

Chapter Eleven. Conclusion


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