How Much Is Too Much?
One immigrant tries to reform the nations border policy
By Janet Dang

[This article presents the concerns of Yeh Ling-Ling (Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America) regarding mass immigration. This article appeared as the cover story of the February 17, 2000 issue of AsianWeek and is reprinted with permission.]



Its ironic that Yeh Ling-Ling picks her favorite place for dim sum located in Chinatown -- the port of entry for the thousands of immigrants in San Francisco -- to talk about limiting immigration.

Over dumplings and tea, the 47-year-old expounds her belief that unless the government limits immigrants from coming into this country, were going to see America become another China, she exclaims.

Immigration is not bad. Without it we wouldnt have this, she says,

gesturing at the dumplings on her plate. I love dim sum. But imagine having it only, every single day. Then she adds matter-of-factly: Too much of a good thing is bad.

As Yeh continues to plop dumplings on her plate, she argues that though immigration is not bad, the reason America has gone awry -- the traffic congestion, the sprawl, the overcrowded schools, the pollution, even the Los Angeles riots -- has been largely because of the countrys policy on immigration.

Now let me make this clear, she says, racial tensions have always existed in America, but mass immigration is going to make things worse.

Then she gives an example of children getting into fights. Is it easier to handle two or three kids who are fighting, or twelve or twenty kids who are fighting? she compares. Yeh then quickly qualifies her statement by saying, Thats not to say immigration is the cause of Americas problems.

But mass immigration, she emphasizes adamantly, is exacerbating many of Americas existing problems.

This is not the first time Yeh has talked about greatly limiting immigration. In fact, she has had similar conversation with scores of reporters from all over the country, trying to convince them that the nation is too crowded as it is, and with limited resources, legal and illegal immigrants -- which she estimates number 1.2 million per year -- should not be allowed to inundate the country.

To atone for her seemingly anti-immigrant sentiment, Yeh emphasizes to people that she herself is an immigrant. Furthermore, because she had worked ten years at an immigration law firm helping people settle in the United States, she can almost claim immunity to immigrant bashing.

And unlike some of her white counterparts who are also advocating for reform, it is unlikely anyone is going to accuse Yeh of being xenophobic, not if shes a foreigner herself.

Born in Vietnam to Chinese parents, the activist has become an unlikely immigration foe. Some of her worst critics have called her the Ward Connerly of immigration. But that doesnt phase her. Yeh is determined, committed even, to restrict the number of new immigrants from entering this country for the sake of Americans.

With fervor she demands: How many more should we take in? If we dont address immigration, one day were going to have Chinas current population. If we dont want this kind of America, lets come up with an alternative.

As executive director of a Bay Area group called Diversity Alliance for A Sustainable America, one of many population-control groups, Yeh is the only leader who is an immigrant. And that puts her in a convincing, if not credible position, capable of persuading the minds of Americans -- whites, minorities, conservatives, liberals, and even immigrants like herself -- about who should be let into this country, and how many there ought to be.



All causes are lost causes

Throughout the lunch meeting, Yeh was friendly, funny, engaging. She looks nothing like a hate-spouting, anti-immigrant zealot; shes a mom, and a wife, and her doctrine isnt necessarily inflammatory either.

Shes easy to understand because her arguments revolve around deducing the complex issue of immigration into simple comparisons.

Vitamin A, she points out, is a good thing. But too much of it is bad.

Dim sum is good. But for everyday? Bad.

Nobel laureates -- good to have around, arent they? she asks. But how about 1.2 million migrs coming to the country every year, even if they are prize-winning scientists? Bad thing.

Its all about the numbers, she insists.

Yehs major tenet is that continual mass immigration strains existing infrastructure, pollutes the environment, over-congests the streets, accelerates the housing shortage, crowds the schools, and overall deteriorates the quality of life for all Americans -- native-born and legal immigrants alike.

We are not saying once you stabilize U.S. population and well see paradise in America, she says. In other words, immigration is not causing Americas problems. But mass immigration is exacerbating many of our problems.

Like a politician, she delivers a rehearsed proclamation: All causes are lost causes unless we also stop the population growth. But in order to stabilize population in the U.S., we must address immigration, which is the main driving force behind U.S. population growth.

Though not everyone may agree with Yeh, the debate over repercussions of the nations population growth has been ongoing and has contributed to numerous opposing research.

Yeh, in fact, has encountered opposition on many occasions with immigrant advocates, such as executive director of San Franciscos Chinese Newcomers Service Center, Teresa Wu, with whom she has debated at a recently televised forum.

I feel personally there is natural law, says Wu. Wherever food exists or wherever there is prosperity, people will definitely go to that area.

People looking for a better life cannot be stopped, she adds. And why do they stay here? Because they are needed. Immigrants are eager to find work and are willing to do work that U.S.-born people dont want.

Recently, the Immigration and Naturalization Service released data showing that in 1998 the number of legal immigrants -- 660,477 -- was the lowest count since 1988, when 643,025 entered the United States. Even considering the backlog, which will add another 450,000 to 550,000 immigrants to the total, Yeh is convinced that the number of immigration is much greater, and its impact has been devastating.

Yeh makes it clear her group isnt anti-immigrant. Never once does she advocate for zero-immigration, a point that separates her group from other population-control organizations, she says with pride.

She adds that its crucial that she not come across as hostile, crass or mean spirited. And typically, people do warm up to her ideas, she says. The messenger must be credible, the delivery right, the message fair, objective and balanced.

Yehs group also advocates no more than two children per household as a way of limiting the population growth. Yeh has only one son.

The birthrate, however, isnt the a major factor for the alarming growth in the population, she says. And shes right.

According to the latest Census Bureau projections, immigration is the leading force behind an expected doubling of the nations population within a 100 years. The nations population of 273 million is projected to reach 404 million in another 50 years and 571 million in 2100.

Even though childbearing levels in the United States remain quite close to the level needed only to replace the population, the increasing number of potential parents and continued migration from abroad would be sufficient to add nearly 300 million people during the next century, Census Bureau analyst Frederick W. Hollmann said.

And API population is expected to increase from 4 percent to 9 percent in 50 years; Latino population is expected to double from 12 percent to 24 percent.

Though the numbers look daunting, this centurys projected population is actually in decline compared to growth from last century. According to Census analyst Tammany J. Mulder, in the next 100 years, population is expected to double, where as for last century the population almost quadrupled. Still, at this rate the U.S. population could grow to 553 million people in 50 years and 1.2 billion people in 2100, as estimated by the Census highest projections.



Health of a nation

Before Yeh became the unofficial spokesperson for immigration reform, she lived in Vietnam and Cambodia with her parents and siblings. She later moved to Taiwan and then to France to study law for five years, where she also taught French. She finally immigrated to the United States in 1980 and became a naturalized citizen.

Here, she worked as a paralegal for various immigration law firms and realized the extent of welfare abuses, prompting her to conclude, many immigrants simply do not pay enough [taxes] to cover the services provided to their family.

Then in 1994, Yeh had an epiphany. All of a sudden it dawned on me that this is a question of population growth, Yeh recalls. Excited, she continues, America has many problems and has had many problems and we dont have a chance to address existing problems by bringing well over 1.2 million people a year plus children born here of immigrants.

Since then, Yeh, who had been using her Christian name, Suzanne Feinberg, decided to refer to her birth name whenever speaking out for her cause.

Its important that they know I am a Chinese immigrant. Otherwise theyre going to say, Shes a racist Jewish woman.

Yeh contends that her arguments arent about race, or foreigners or immigrants per se. Rather, Yehs fight is for the health of a nation, she says.

In recent years, Yeh explains, whites in neighboring states of California have been reacting negatively to the whites in California who are increasingly moving into these other states. Again, you can see this is a discretion of people reacting to numbers, she says.

Yeh offers more examples to buttress her theory that its all about the numbers game, and that competition for limited resources will eventually drive all Americans to the conclusion that mass immigration harms all.

She says U.S. native born blacks feel out-competed by immigrants, even immigrants from Africa. Were talking blacks versus blacks, she says.

Look at Indonesia, she continues, Chinese in Indonesia are raped and killed. Its not about race. Its about competition for resources, and also differences in culture.

Whether or not youre the same race or not, youre still competing for the same resources,

Unless the United States addresses this ticking time bomb, Yeh fears that there will be violence against immigrants. This wont happen because of racism, though, she says. Overall, she doesnt believe most Americans are racist. I think that the anti-immigration reaction you see is because people are reacting to the numbers.

Lets say we live in a small house of two bedrooms and all of a sudden our best friends, our closest relatives that we love very much descended upon us, and want to live with us forever -- scores of them -- what do you think the reaction would be?



Converting America

The group that Yeh leads now is a nonprofit organization, therefore limiting drastically how much lobbying she and her group can do. Instead, Yeh has spent years being a controversial figure, expressing her strong and sweeping opinions on national and local newspaper, television and radio stations.

Previously, Yeh worked at the Carrying Capacity Network, a population and immigration control group, then she founded the Diversity Coalition for an Immigration Moratorium. For a time, she was also a consultant to Midwest Coalition to Reform Immigration and Project U.S.A., lead by Craig Nelson, who was responsible for putting up anti-immigration billboards in several states, which had messages like, 83 percent of Americans want less or NO MORE IMMIGRATION. Stop it, Congress. His campaign sparked outraged across the nation. Yeh eventually quit the group, however.

As well, her commentaries have been published in scores of newspapers, from the San Francisco Chronicle to the Philadelphia Inquirer to the New York Times.

Last month alone, she has done dozens of interviews in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, Colorado, Minneapolis, Rhode Island as well as for local Chinese radio and television programs, converting people as she calls it.

Overall, most people are extremely receptive, even the most liberals in the media who are negative towards immigration reform.

They were very receptive to my argument, she says proudly.

Many American dont realize the direct link between their concerns and mass immigration, Yeh insists. She is convinced that a good majority of people sees it her way, once they hear her logic.

For example, she says, most low-skilled, low-wage immigrant workers simply dont have a salary that is large enough to cover the cost of education [for their] own children, about $5,000 to $8,000 per child per a year, she points out.

So the more people, especially the low-skilled and low-income immigrants, you bring, the greater and more adverse an impact youre going to put on our funds. In the long run its going to be a very big problem for all Americans -- U.S. born and early immigrants as well.

When asked whether shes ever been criticized for being un-American, she shrugs it off, saying, There are bound to be some people who are bound to disagree with you.



Its a lot harder for people to say I want to close the door once Im in

Though Yeh is not a founder of her nonprofit group, she did organize the groups advisory board, purposely putting in place dozens of people with high credentials and diverse backgrounds. They include minorities, immigrants and Asian Americans, such as Maria Hsia Chang, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno; physician Clay Ching; and Rudolph Marshal, chairman of the Bay Area Black Media Coalition.

On the board of directors is professor Chair Frank L. Morris, who was executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and has testified before U.S. Congress on immigrations impact on blacks. The vice-chair, Indian American Vishwas More, is an expert on the impact of population growth on public education. U.C. Davis Professor Norman Matloff, who has been criticized for anti-immigrant stance, also sits on the board. His extensive study on elderly social security abuse and subsequent testimonies to Congress helped paved the way for 1996s welfare reform laws.

As for Yeh, she was asked to be executive director in part because, as she says, the fact that Ive done immigration work and helped people immigrate to the United States, makes it a lot harder for people to say I want to close the door once Im in.



Is immigration really good for immigrants?

Yeh wants immigration to be limited to 200,000 a year instead of the 1.2 million she estimated. And she believes only spouses, children of naturalized citizens who are under 18 years old and single, and truly persecuted refuges should be allowed in.

Now we grant asylum to people who claim they fled China because of its once child policy. We grant asylum to those who claim they are victims of genital mutilation. And now you see some cases where gays are trying to push for asylum, claiming that once they return to their own country, they will be persecuted.

If you add up all these categories, how many tens of millions of people are we talking about?

As for overseas talent, she wants only ones that are truly needed. There arent many. Were talking about outstanding minds -- meaning Einstein.

I believe we should invest in people who are here, before we keep importing more, she adds.

Yeh wants the government to encourage other countries to take care of their people as a way of discouraging immigration. She has concluded that the majority of existing immigrants in this country are having a hard time as it is finding the appropriate jobs and housing, sending their children to adequate schools.

When Yeh first came to America, she admitted that life was difficult for her. Now she is convinced that in order for native-born Americans and legal immigrants to sustain livable conditions, America has got to change its policies.

Yeh says her organization has gained mounting support over the years. Some forty national and local organizations -- many of them minority focused -- have lent her their support including Latino Americans for Immigration Reform, based in Salinas, Calif., and Asian Americans for Border Control.

Even more encouraging, she says, is how shes getting support from immigrants.

I had an immigrant who called me and congratulate me and urged me to even go to Washington, D.C., to urge Congress to pass some sort of moratorium. Either they themselves, or they knew of people who could not find work, she says.

Yeh is convinced that she has been successful in changing the majority of peoples attitudes about immigration. I have no problem converting 75 to 80 percent of people Ive dealt with.

And as for the non-followers, its just a matter of numerical logic: You cant expect to convert a hundred percent of people, she says.


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Yeh Ling-Ling, herself a Chinese immigrant, is the Executive Director of Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America, a national non-profit organization.