Early results of the 2020 U.S. Census suggest that the United States’ population is growing at its slowest pace since the 1930s. U.S. birth rates were down by 4% in 2020, declining for the sixth consecutive year. Offsetting an ongoing decline in birthrates, immigration has been a consistent source of population growth for our nation — until the number of legal immigrants admitted to the U.S. annually was cut nearly in half during the Trump administration.
This population stagnation is the dream come true — and the fruit of the labor — of the population control movement, which, as a recent ad from an organization called “Negative Population Growth” proclaimed in the National Review, focuses on “drastically reducing legal immigration, enforcing all immigration laws to completely end illegal immigration, and encouraging smaller family sizes.”
This ad in a longstanding conservative publication puts out in the open a reality that has long been true but not often understood by pro-life conservatives: the movements to decrease family sizes (population control) and to restrict immigration are rooted in the same worldview that fundamentally sees human beings as a problem. The pro-abortion Left has long proposed that the solution to human suffering is fewer humans, as we’ve seen through recent efforts to repeal the Hyde Amendment, sadly now championed by even President Biden.
Behind the guise of advocacy on behalf of poor women, the utilitarian argument to use taxpayer dollars to reduce poverty by reducing human lives through abortion is not far behind. Anti-immigration advocates on the Right follow largely the same ethos, though expressed differently in a desire to restrict immigration of people groups they likewise deem “undesirable.” Despite being situated at opposite ends of our current political spectrum, what these movements have in common is at best a misunderstanding of, and worst, disregard for, human dignity.
Pro-life Christians who rightly dissent from a philosophy that would sanction abortion so as to restrict population growth should likewise reject arguments in favor of dramatically reducing legal immigration, because a biblical view of the human person sees all human life — born or unborn, native-born or immigrant — as made in God’s image with dignity and potential.
Whatever the motive, efforts to reduce human life are at odds with this ethic. The hard truth is this: anti-natalist and anti-immigrant views spring from the same ideological foundation, from — to borrow a phrase from an eviscerating, decades-old column by Tucker Carlson — the same “intellectual roots.” And pro-life Christians may not realize how those views have infiltrated our debate around immigration policy.
Though not a household name, few have been more effective in advancing population control goals than the late John Tanton, whose influence on American politics over the past half-century was profound. He was closely involved in the founding of several of the most prominent organizations advocating for reduced immigration levels in the United States — NumbersUSA, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) and the Center for Immigration Studies.
These organizations have been remarkably effective at advancing the narrative (contrary to the view of most economists) that immigrants present a drain on the U.S. economy and the view (contrary to publicly available crime data) that immigrants are disproportionately a threat to public safety. They have been known to shut down congressional switchboards with oppositional phone calls when Congress has debated immigration reforms.
Progressives have been quick to label Tanton as a racist, citing evidence such as memos warning of a “Latin onslaught” and the need to retain “a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” But pro-choice liberals rarely mention that Tanton founded not just groups designed to restrict immigration, but also a Planned Parenthood chapter. Likewise, conservatives don’t appear to understand the connection. While there is evidence that Tanton held animus toward people of particular backgrounds, his overarching concern was U.S. population growth in general: he believed there were simply too many human beings in this country. He in fact went so far as to describe as “unfortunate” that India had not halted population growth as effectively as China did with its drastic one-child forced abortion policy.
Pro-life conservatives would rightly be repulsed by these views, but when the arguments are today echoed by conservative politicians who have adopted extreme positions on immigration, many conservatives have uncritically, if unwittingly, accepted Tanton’s philosophy on immigration. This is not to dismiss immigration policy as simple or diminish the obligation of our country to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of its citizens. But the language used to strip immigrants of their humanity is not unlike language used to rob the unborn of theirs.
Immigrants do not just “take” jobs, they create them. A human being in utero is not analogous to a “parasite” as some pro-choicers flippantly assert but a separate, distinct human life growing and developing exactly where it biologically should. Policy does not need to be a zero-sum game: we do not have to destroy the humanity of another to secure our own. Rather we can support improved immigration processes that would keep families together while still honoring the law, just as we can support policies that protect both vulnerable women and their unborn children.
My plea to fellow pro-life Christians is to acknowledge that efforts to deprive others of recognition of their full humanity, whether based on their country of origin, skin color or location inside the womb, creates policy antithetical to a belief in human dignity. When we begin to see other humans as a threat merely for existing, we ought to pause and question our own motivations and the motivations of others.
Anti-immigrant rhetoric should be treated with the same skepticism we would apply to Planned Parenthood’s references to pregnancy “options,” mindful of a darker subtext that may be incompatible with a biblical view of the human person. Most importantly, let us ensure that the ways we speak about human beings made in God’s image — unborn or undocumented, retirees or refugees — reflect the dignity and potential that God has placed in each of them.
Stephanie Ranade Krider is the former vice president and executive director of Ohio Right to Life. She owns a consulting firm and co-hosts the politics and culture podcast, "So What Do We Have?".