Illegal Immigration in America

Undergraduate Studies Essay for ETH 100: Ethnic Studies (4/30/2007)

ImmigrationIllegal immigration into America is presently one of the most controversial topics being debated in the United States. Some argue that illegal immigrants are an economic and social burden on society, while others claim they are actually a blessing in disguise. Many propositions have been suggested, and even put in place, to lessen the amount of illegal immigrants entering into America, and also to expel the ones that are already in the United States. It seems no one can agree on what the solution for illegal immigration is. Is it stricter laws, stronger border patrol, or should the illegal immigrants just be given amnesty?

The United States is the most racially and ethnically diverse country in the world. Besides the descendants of Native Americans and of Africans brought to America enslaved, today’s United States population is entirely the product of people who chose to leave familiar places to a new country. There are a number of reasons that cause people to want to emigrate into a new country. However, throughout history, the most important reasons have been economic ones. For example, financial failure in the old country and expectations of higher incomes and better standards of living in the new land have caused, and continue to cause, many people to take the chance of leaving their homeland to come to America (Schaefer 93). The United States was founded by immigrants and, throughout most of its history, has been very liberal in letting immigrants enter into America. Nevertheless, there have been instances when the United States made strong efforts to ensure certain immigrants did not make it into America, and if they did, they had a tough time in doing so. For instance, through the anti-Catholic crusade of the middle 1800s there was much discrimination and hatred shown towards the Roman-Catholics, specifically the Irish. Many of these immigrants came to America after the 1845-1848 potato famine in Ireland in search for a better life, only to face more hardships in America. From 1834-1854, mob violence against Catholics across the country led to death, the burning of a Boston convent, the destruction of a Catholic church and the homes of Catholics, and the use of Marines and state militia to bring peace to American cities as far west as St. Louis (Schaefer 96). There was also the anti-Chinese movement throughout the late 1800s. Overcrowding, drought, and warfare in China, along with job opportunities in the West, caused hundreds of thousands of Chinese to immigrate to America during the mid-to-late 1800s. Railroad work provided the greatest demand for Chinese labor. The Chinese were exploited for cheap labor, which resulted in fewer jobs for the White settlers, causing much animosity. In 1882, Congress enacted the Chinese Exclusion Act, which outlawed Chinese immigration into America for 10 years. It also denied naturalization rights to the Chinese already in the United States, not allowing them to become citizens. This act was extended for several decades and effectively ended all Chinese immigration into the United States for more than sixty years (Schaefer 98). Some other notable immigration policies were the National origin system, enacted in 1921, which reduced overall immigration, and significantly reduced immigration from Greece and Italy. Also, the Naturalization Act of 1965 targeted to reduce the immigration of the less skilled. It facilitated the entry of skilled workers and relatives of United States residents (Schaefer 105). In recent years, the topic of immigration has again become a popular one to debate, this time focusing on illegal immigrants, specifically from Mexico.

Illegal immigration into America has a number of affects, the ones most focused on being economic ones. According to the PEW Hispanic Center, there are currently 10.3 million illegal immigrants residing in the United States (Unauthorized Migrants 5). Of these illegal immigrants, 5.9 million, roughly 56%, are from Mexico (Unauthorized Migrants 11). Those opposing these illegal immigrants focus mainly on the costs that they have on the United States economy. A recent study was done by the Center for Immigration Studies, and the following were among the findings: households headed by illegal aliens imposed more than $26.3 billion in costs on the federal government in 2002 and paid only $16 billion in taxes, creating a net fiscal deficit of almost $10.4 billion, or $2,700 per illegal household. Among the largest costs are Medicaid ($2.5 billion), treatment for the uninsured ($2.2 billion), food assistance programs such as food stamps, WIC, and free school lunches ($1.9 billion), the federal prison and court systems ($1.6 billion), and federal aid to schools ($1.4 billion). With nearly two-thirds of illegal aliens lacking a high school degree, the primary reason they create a fiscal deficit is their low education levels and resulting low incomes and tax payments, not their legal status or heavy use of most social services. Many of the costs associated with illegal immigrants are due to their American-born children, who are awarded United States citizenship at birth. Thus, greater efforts at barring illegal immigrants from federal programs will not reduce costs because their citizen children can continue to access them. If illegal aliens were given amnesty and began to pay taxes and use services like households headed by legal immigrants with the same education levels, the estimated annual net fiscal deficit would increase from $2,700 per household to nearly $7,700, for a total net cost of $29 billion. The vast majority of illegal immigrants hold jobs, thus the fiscal deficit they create for the federal government is not the result of an unwillingness to work (Camarota 1).

Many others, such as Dean A. Murphy of the New York Times, argue that the benefits of illegal immigration outweigh the costs. Murphy asks, “Would the grass really be greener without illegal immigrants? Without the people who flip the burgers, clean the toilets, watch the kids, and send their children to public schools?” Murphy doesn’t seem to think so. The PEW Hispanic Center estimated in 2001 that the unauthorized labor force in the United States totaled 5.3 million workers, including 700,000 restaurant workers, 250,000 household employees, and 620,000 construction workers. In addition, about 1.2 million of the 2.5 million farm workers in America are illegal immigrants. Murphy goes on to state about the illegal immigrants, “That is a whole lot of cheap labor. Without it, fruit and vegetables would rot in fields. Toddlers in Manhattan would be without nannies. Towels in hotels in states like Florida, Texas, and California would go unlaundered. Commuters at airports from Miami to Newark would be stranded as taxi cabs sat driverless. Home improvement projects across the Sun Belt would grind to a halt. And bedpans and lunch trays at nursing homes in Chicago, New York, Houston, and Los Angeles would go uncollected (Murphy 1).” Murphy also goes on to the show the positive impact illegal immigrants have on the United States economy. In his article, Murphy quotes Raul Yzaguirre, the president of the National Council of La Raza, a Latino civil rights organization. Yzaguirre says that while America bears huge costs from illegal immigrants, such as health care to the uninsured, the federal government also enjoys a “bonanza” from many illegal immigrants who pay federal taxes but receive no benefits in return. He also states that, “Social security would go broke without the payments of undocumented workers, many of whom, contrary to popular perception, do have regular payroll taxes deducted from their paychecks by employers.” Yzaguirre also rejects the suggestion that Americans would maintain their standard of living without low-wage contributions from these workers. While some Americans would enjoy bigger paychecks, America as a whole would suffer by having to pay higher prices for everything from a McDonald’s hamburger to a new home (Murphy 2).

Nonetheless, because so many Americans feel illegal immigration is a problem, many solutions have been proposed to put a stop to it. Some feel that it is as simple as building a wall across the United States-Mexico border. Others think that we should spend more money on border security and hire more employees to keep illegal immigrants out. Another suggestion is to keep a close eye on the companies that are most likely to hire illegal immigrants for work, and charge a hefty fine to those employers that do. Or maybe America should create identification cards for foreign workers that illegal immigrants would not be able to fake. United States President, George Bush, seems to think it is a combination of these suggestions that will be the solution. He has laid out five clear objectives that he feels must be accomplished through a comprehensive immigration reform in order to address the problem of illegal immigration. The first objective is securing the border by increasing manpower and improving infrastructure and technology at the border. Since President Bush took office in 2001, funding for border security has risen from $4.6 billion in 2001 to $10.4 billion in 2007. The amount of agents for border patrol has expanded from about 9,000 agents in 2001 to about 13,000 agents today. By the end of 2008, it is planned to have a total of more than 18,000 agents, doubling the size of the Border Patrol under the President’s leadership. The second objective is creating a temporary worker program. Bush feels that the United States cannot fully secure the border unless pressure is taken off the border. This kind of program would allow foreign workers to come into America on a temporary basis, and would most likely reduce the amount of people trying to sneak past the border patrol to get into the United States. The third objective is to hold employers more accountable for the workers they hire. Bush feels that enforcing immigration laws at the worksite is a fundamental component in reducing the amount of businesses who hire illegal immigrants for work. To make worksite enforcement practical on a large scale, the President has called for the creation of a tamper-proof identification card for legal foreign workers and a better system for businesses to verify the legal status of their workers. By taking these steps, it will leave no excuses for a company to hire an illegal immigrant. The fourth objective, which seems to be one of the most highly debated ones, is resolving the status of the millions of illegal immigrants already in the country.  The view of the Republican Party varies drastically from that of the Democrat’s. President Bush, a Republican, strongly opposes amnesty, the forgiveness of an offense without penalty. He feels that it should not be given to people who entered America illegally. Bush claims that his administration is working with both Democrats and Republicans to find a practical solution that lies somewhere between granting amnesty and American citizenship to every illegal immigrant, and deporting every illegal immigrant. Bush believes that illegal immigrants who have roots in the United States and want to stay in the country should have to pay a penalty for breaking the law, pay their taxes, learn English, and work in a job for a number of years in order to be able to apply for citizenship. However, approval would not be automatic; they would have to wait in line behind those who are attempting to immigrate legally. The fifth and final objective is finding new ways to help newcomers assimilate into society. Bush thinks this is best done by helping immigrants learn American history, American values, and the English language. In June of 2006, President Bush created a task force on new Americans to look for ways to help new immigrants assimilate and succeed in America. Many organizations, ranging from businesses to churches to civic associations are already working to help carry out this goal (White House 1).

Many others feel that even with all of President Bush’s objectives in place, illegal immigration will still be a prominent problem. They feel that the major cause of illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States is the imbalance in the two countries’ economies. The fact is Mexico’s economy is weak compared to that of the United States, which is the main reason that Mexicans have the motivation to come to America. If it weren’t for the higher wages, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans would not come to the United States and send money back to their families in Mexico. Many economists would argue that if these two countries’ economies and income levels were to balance out there would be much less immigration because people would have little incentive to leave their home country. So the main issue is how and when the economic differences between the United States and Mexico will be acknowledged and resolved.

There are a wide variety of reasons for why someone would chose to immigrate to another country, but most often it seems the reason is for a better life. Because America is the “land of opportunity,” more and more immigrants, legal and illegal, are making the move to the United States. The amount of foreigners attempting to immigrate to America shows no signs of slowing down. Will President Bush’s plan be successful in reducing the amount of illegal immigrants in America, or does it all rest on the global economy? Only time will tell.

Works Cited

Camarota, Steven A. “The High Cost of Cheap Labor.” Center for Immigration Studies. Aug. 2004. 29 Apr. 2007 <http://www.cis.org/articles/2004/fiscalexec.html&gt;.

“Immigration.” The White House. 09 Apr. 2007. 29 Apr. 2007 <http://www.whitehouse.gov/infocus/immigration/&gt;.

Murphy, Dean A. “Imagining Life Without Illegal Immigrants.” New York Times 11 Jan. 2004: 1.

Schaefer, Richard T. Tenth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2006.

“Unauthorized Migrants: Numbers and Characteristics.” PEW Hispanic Center. June 2005. 29 Apr. 2007 <www.pewhispanic.org>.

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