This article presents an overview of the issue of immigration. The United States is in a largely unique position in the global marketplace for the purposes of its immigration policies: Its expansive economic and geographic boundaries allow for and even encourage a very high rate of immigration. Unskilled immigrant workers, particularly guest workers, have long been considered an essentially temporary labor pool. The long-term presence of this apparently temporary labor pool, however, has resulted in a visa-distribution program that strongly favors family preference rather than skill preference. Although considerable effort has been made to achieve comprehensive immigration reform in recent decades, perhaps the most notable identifiable trend is that little has changed since around 1965.
Keywords Amnesty; Department of Homeland Security (DHS); Family Preference; Guest Worker; Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS); Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA); Legal Permanent Resident (LPR); Marginal Production; Population Density; Sanctuary Policy; Simon Principle; Skill Preference; Social Capital; Unauthorized Immigrant; Visa (H-1/H-2)
The overall rate of legal and illegal immigration in the 2000s was almost as high as it was between 1905 and 1915, the peak decade of immigration in American history. 13.9 million immigrants arrived in the 2000s, bringing the national total to forty million; the number of illegal immigrants in the country continued to grow during the decade (Camarota, 2011). The proportion of immigrants in relation to natives (or American-born citizens), however, was significantly lower in the 2000s because the overall population more than doubled in the twentieth century. Until 1965, most immigrants had been from the United Kingdom or northern Europe. At that time, the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 opened the application process to those from Asia, Africa, South America, and elsewhere and also placed a new emphasis on family reunification in the United States. This legislation had the somewhat unintended effect of increasing the number of unskilled immigrants entering the country (Donovan, 2005, pp. 35-36; Press, 2006).
The record levels of immigration during the 1990s and 2000s were partially the result of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which legalized (or "amnestied") 2.7 million undocumented immigrants; however, that legislation also attempted to tighten law-enforcement measures for following waves of undocumented workers. The distinction between an undocumented (or illegal) immigrant and a guest worker can be a little blurry. About half of the illegal immigrants in the United States in the 1980s were those who had exceeded the time period a temporary work visa had granted them (Simon, 1995). Recent but incomplete attempts to reform immigration laws have included a similar amnesty measure for undocumented immigrants already established in the country, attempts to tighten the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as severe criminal sanctions for undocumented immigrants in the future.
During the early 1990s over 120,000 refugees fleeing oppressive conditions in their home nations were admitted into the United States annually; that number diminished significantly in the 2000s, with an annual average just over 50,000 (2011 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 2011). These new residents are granted rights of access to public assistance (or welfare) programs for which most immigrants do not qualify, particularly after the extensive welfare reforms that were enacted in 1996 (Jefferys & Monger, 2008). Applicants from countries that have been considered national political enemies have usually only qualified for admission as refugees. The number of refugees the United States admits, however, is extremely high by international standards (Donovan, 2005).
The population of the United States is expanding more quickly than that of most other Western nations, which are attempting to stabilize their population and predicting population declines over the next several decades. Canada has the highest rate of immigrant absorption in the world in terms of the proportion of immigrants to natives, but the sheer number of immigrants that enter the United States (about a million annually) is much higher.
After World War II, European countries encouraged immigration due to a lack of unskilled labor. When the oil crisis arrived in the 1970s, those immigrants were essentially expected to return to their home nations or simply leave. The immigrants themselves had a very different idea: many of them encouraged family members, particularly female relatives, to join them in the host country. In short, "immigration tends to breed more immigration" rather than the temporary work force the policy makers had planned on (Massey, 1990, p.70-71). Mexican immigration to the United States is largely analogous to this scenario.
Competition for Jobs
The one broadly detrimental element of a high immigration rate that many commentators tend to agree upon is that the relative success of immigrants in the blue-collar job market is achieved partially at the expense of native workers, either in terms of a depression in wages for all workers in comparable jobs or in terms of competition for the same job openings. This situation has also been described as "marginal production": the wages an immigrant receives reflect only an additional contribution to the economy rather than to the overall economic condition of natives (Krugman, 2006). However, the old cliché that immigrants often take (and excel at) the jobs that natives are unwilling to take (or keep) contains a good deal of truth.
According to 2010 census data, the average household income was 50,541 for natives and 46,224 for immigrants (Grieco, E.M., Acosta, Y.D., de la Cruz, G.P., Gambino, C., Gryn, T. …Walters, N.P., 2012). One study concluded that it usually takes 15-17 years for the income of immigrants to match socially corresponding native levels (DeVortez, 2004).
Entry-Level Entrepreneurial Activity
Immigrants are frequently credited with possessing both more tolerance for difficult industrial jobs and a greater entrepreneurial quality in entry-level businesses than natives. According to the Urban Institute, a liberal think-tank, almost half of entry-level workers in the nation are immigrants, and immigrants are viewed as valuable workers by industrial employers in the sense that they usually hold jobs that require fairly lengthy training longer than natives ("Issues in focus," 2008).
Undocumented immigrants comprise about 5 percent of the workforce, but they hold about a quarter of the jobs in dangerous and physically demanding fields such as construction, cleaning, and meat-packing operations (Preston, 2011). Following the detention of undocumented meat-packing workers in Iowa, many of the native employees that were subsequently hired soon quit those positions due to the physical strain and repetitiousness of assembly-line style work (Preston, 2007). Immigrants also often create new jobs in urban areas more than natives and generally help to maintain urban areas that would otherwise deteriorate socially and economically (Rohter, 1993). It is less clear, however, that the second and third-generation children of immigrant families possess these or parallel beneficial qualities.
Most economists in recent decades have argued that both legal and illegal immigrants are more beneficial to the economy than they are a burden to society in terms of the taxes they pay, the public assistance benefits they receive, and other factors such as criminal activity — or the lack thereof (Simon, 2005). Undocumented immigrants may pay more than $10 billion annually in Social Security payroll taxes, in addition to the usual federal taxes (Lantigua, 2013). Those workers seldom reap the benefits that those taxes are designed to provide as much as natives. They also tend to be eager to file tax returns in the hope that doing so will enhance their chances of securing status as legal permanent residents (LPR) (Preston, 2007).
Some dangerous landscaping and construction jobs issue payment to undocumented immigrants off-the-books and no payroll taxes are deducted, which increases their income but also renders dangerous work even more financially risky (Preston, 2007). Massey (1998) concludes that wages for illegal immigrants are 28 percent lower than those of legal workers and are especially low for agricultural and subcontractor workers; as such, illegal immigrants essentially occupy a "black market" of sold labor. And yet, the employment rate for undocumented male immigrants is about 90 percent, which is higher than the national average of male employment. Illegal female immigrants are only employed at a rate of about 66 percent, which is lower than the national average for female workers ("Issues in focus," 2008).
Department of Homeland Security Involvement
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the newly-established Department of Homeland Security (DHS) replaced Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) and assimilated more than twenty other government agencies. Immigration issues had traditionally been controlled by the Treasury Department because they were primarily considered an economic issue. More recently, responsibility for immigration-related issues had been transferred to the departments of Commerce and Labor, Justice, and finally to the DHS. Many civilians were appalled that the individuals who perpetrated the terrorist attacks in September 2001 found it relatively easy to move in and out of the country, and security measures have been bolstered substantially.
The relatively lenient stance of the administration of George W. Bush on guest workers resulted in a new level of Hispanic voter support for Republicans in some southwestern states during the Bush years. Numerous temporary green cards were distributed circa 2004 in order to stabilize the labor-based workforce. The strong family ties that Mexican immigrants frequently exhibit, furthermore, are compatible with the Bush administration's efforts to promote two-parent families (or "traditional values") (Donovan, 2005; Press, 2006). Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has designated immigration reform as one of the primary goals he would like to accomplish during his second term.
The Simon Principle
Julian L. Simon was known for his general optimism and for debunking pessimistic predictions about immigration, population growth, and the exhaustion of non-renewable natural resources. Most of the predictions Simon made in the 1970s about non-immigration related issues have proven to be accurate. The so-called "Simon Principle" essentially asserts that the high rate of immigration should be maintained as long as it provides at least a marginally beneficial impact on the economy. Simon, however, made a stronger specific case for the benefits of immigration: the average immigrant family contributed $2500 to public funds that were used by (or available to) native families according to 1975 statistics. Later data, however, are largely inconclusive on this issue.
George Borjas is the best-known proponent of the dissenting emphasis on skill preference over family preference. He also argues against the conventional logic that immigrants are less of a burden than a boon to host-nations. Borjas argues that only a handful of...
International migration has always existed. Since the current theory is that human beings originated in East Africa, every other part of the world is the product of immigration. All of us are either immigrants or descended from immigrants. The United States is a nation of immigrants, as reflected in its motto e pluribus unum—from many, one. American forefathers left another country to begin anew in the United States.
Why People Immigrate?
Migrations are such a part of history that the need to move must be ingrained in the human condition. People frequently believe that life must be better somewhere other than in their native land. Sometimes it is ambition, at times adventure, often simply desperation. But, as current events indicate, it is the injustice, poverty, and violence in their own lands that generally make people move to save themselves and to ensure a better future for their children. One need only look at the situations in Haiti, Cambodia, Croatia, or Cuba to understand this. For humanitarian reasons immigration should not be restricted. The United States was founded on Christian beliefs. Christianity demands hospitality to the alien or stranger.
A policy of open immigration will advance the economic well-being of all Americans. Immigration is vital to American economic growth. The theory is simple: energetic workers increase the supply of goods and services with their labor, and increase the demand for other goods and services by spending their wages. A circle of growth occurs. The immigrants’ new spending creates demand for housing, groceries and other necessities, and their employers invest their expanding profits in new machinery and jobs. “It is called competitive capitalism,” says Tony Carnevale of the American Society for Training and Development, “and it works. It’s how America got rich.” Two hundred years of U.S. history seem to confirm this theory. All major recent studies of immigrants indicate that they have a high labor force participation, are entrepreneurial, and tend to have specialized skills that allow them to enter under-served markets. Studies have also shown that the main benefits to the economy come at both ends of the labour market–at the bottom as well as the top. In America’s top six immigration states, not only were three-quarters of all the tailors and more than half the cooks, taxi drivers and farm workers born overseas, but so were 40% of the physics and political-science teachers and more than a quarter of the physicians, chemists and economists.
Foreigners determined to achieve the American dream often leave their corporate jobs to start companies. That creates wealth and thousands of jobs for the less venturesome. There are numerous examples of Immigrants playing an important role in starting great American businesses. Scotsman Andrew Carnegie did it in steel more than a century ago. Frenchman du Pont founded a family fortune that exists to this day. More recently, immigrants have made their mark in high tech. Hungarian-born Andrew Grove started Intel Corp. Immigrant engineers founded or co-founded Sun Microsystems, Cirrus Logic, Oracle, Solectron and Lam Research. Together these five immigrant companies alone have created some $45 billion in wealth and 32,000 jobs. Immigrant-run companies account for 23 of this year’s 200 Best Small Companies. For example, German-born H. Tom Buelter of On Assignment, a $174 million (market cap) temporary agency for scientists; Israeli Dan Avida of $1.8 billion Electronics for Imaging, which makes computer servers for color printing; British-born Christopher Conway of $671 million medical equipment maker Mentor; and Shanghai native Cyrus Tsui of $673 million Lattice Semiconductor. One in four new businesses in Silicon Valley is started by someone of Indian or Chinese origin. There are more than enough high-tech jobs to go around–some 346,000 positions are open today, according to the Information Technology Association of America. There will be an additional 1.3 million such jobs to fill during the next decade–enough for foreign-born as well as American-born talent.
Immigration brings brainpower that enriches the whole society. Almost one-third of all Americans who hold advanced engineering or computer sciences degrees are immigrant. According to the National Science Foundation, non-U.S. citizens currently account for 42%, or about 30,000, of all engineering graduate students at U.S. schools and almost half of all electrical engineering and computer science grad students. Are they crowding out Native-born Americans? That’s doubtful. If a qualified native-born American wants an engineering degree, he can get it.
By and large, the foreign students end up enriching the pool of American engineers. Surveys have found that almost half of the foreigners who earn doctorates in science and engineering at American universities stay in the U.S. to work. A good number eventually become citizens.
A common misconception that immigrants “take jobs away from native-born Americans,” this does not appear to be true. The U.S. Department of Labor reviewed nearly 100 studies on the relationship between immigration and unemployment and concluded that “neither U.S. workers nor most minority workers appear adversely affected by immigration.”
Indeed, most studies show that immigrants actually lead to an increase in the number of jobs available.
Immigrants produce jobs in several ways:
- They expand the demand for goods and services through their own consumption;
- They bring savings with them that contribute to overall investment and productivity;
- They are more highly entrepreneurial than native-born Americans and create jobs through the businesses they start;
- They fill gaps in the low and high ends of the labor markets, producing subsidiary jobs for American workers;
- Low-wage immigrants may enable threatened American businesses to survive competition from low-wage businesses abroad.
Contrary to stereotypes, there is no evidence that immigrants come to this country to receive welfare. Indeed, most studies show that immigrants actually use welfare at lower rates than do native-born Americans. For example, a study of welfare recipients in New York City found that only 7.7% of immigrants were receiving welfare compared to 13.3% for the population as a whole. Likewise, a nationwide study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that 12.8% of immigrants were receiving welfare benefits, compared to 13.9% of the general population. Some recent studies indicate that the rate of welfare usage may now be equalizing between immigrants and native-born Americans, but, clearly, most immigrants are not on welfare. Some fear that immigration is a drag on the economy. Though there are short-term costs of immigration, Michael Boskin, formerly chief economist to George Bush, states “but in the long run, immigrants are still great news for our economy.” In the long run, the recent immigrants are expected to contribute more in taxes to the federal government than they receive in services.
Freedom of movement should be the new common sense. People are not goods or capital and they should be free to move. The attempt to limit this basic freedom leads to some of the worst abuses of human rights which exist in the world today. The abolition of immigration controls would mean a vast increase in freedom and prosperity for all of us.
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