Immigrationin the US
Today,one out of every six Americans believes that immigration is the mostpressing problem for the American government. This has uniquelyreplaced terrorism and even surpassed the supposed threat of China asa superpower, economic performance, and even global warming andclimate change.1 This was revealed in survey by the polling firm Gallup. Over theyears, different regimes have enacted a number of policies onimmigration. The public opinion towards these policies has differedand is also influenced by several factors. In the same manner, thechanging government policies in immigration are informed by severalfactors chief among them being the prevailing economic conditionsinternally and globally and the political impact of such policies.However, a review of the literature indicates that there are severalpressing issues in the immigration debate namely, economic factorsemployment/unemployment, terrorism, wage pressures, over dependencyon American social security/welfare system, crime, loss of Americanidentity and border control spending.
TheUS is basically an immigrant nation. All non-native Indian Americansare products of immigration notably from Britain and the rest ofEurope during American colonization era. The African Americanpopulation is largely ancestors to freed slaves brought to theAmericas by British colonizers to work in labor intensiveplantations. For the larger part of the Hispanic population, theoriginal and largest population of Hispanics came into Americathrough the annexation of states of California, Nevada, Utah,Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, and parts of several otherstates from Mexico in 1846-48 after the Mexican war. The estimated75000-100,000 Mexican citizens who lived in the ceded territory andwho chose to take up American citizenship were offered blanketnaturalized citizenship into the US.2
Thepopulation of the American Hispanic community has increased sincethen from just about six million in 1960 to over 50 million accordingto the 2010 census. This growth has mainly been achieved throughimmigration with the resident population also driving a significantpercentage of the growth through birth.3The majority of the growth in this number of has been from bothillegal and legal immigration from Latin America and mostly Mexico asa result of its common border with US in some southern states.4
Immigrationhas been noted as a threat to the American identity. America, a landof immigrants and built by immigrants is suddenly afraid of itsheritage. The influx of Asians more so Indians Chinese, Japanese andKoreans, Africans and Hispanics is slowly the shifting the ethnicitybalance in the US which has for the longest time been majority whitesof European ancestry. The Census bureau estimates that Hispanicpopulation shall have grown from the current 15% of the Americanpopulation to 25% by 2050 and is expected to contribute to highercrime and criminal gang activities common in Hispanic states on USsoil.5The views that immigration poses a threat to the American identitydominated by the ethnic whites have been questioned on the basis ofwhat constitutes the American identity.
TheFuture of American Democracy Foundation insists that the Americanidentity comprises of shared values and national unity built anddeveloped by the founding fathers.6This view that the American identity comprises of shared values isrepeated by Prof Patrick Allit who indicates that what reallyconstitutes American identity and the values espoused by beingAmerican are clearly visible through several American heroes overtime. He names several such as Puritan leader Cotton Mather,20th-century columnist William F. Buckley, Jr., 19th-centuryindustrialist Andrew Carnegie, Civil War-era landscape architectFrederick Law Olmsted and civil war heroes among others. He continuesto say that the characters of such people exemplify what constitutesof being an American. The common traits include faith in economicgrowth, lack of fatalism, energetic approach to problem solving,dedication to education, belief in equality, devotion to religiousliberty and general democratic values.7
Differentnations have different values. These societies have increasinglyfaced a dilemma of whether to assimilate or retain their nativecultures.8In most Asian societies such as the Chinese facility solidarity basedon Confucian teachings and Buddhism is very apparent. According toConfucianism, family comes first before the self and the state. Forthis reason such, communities have tended to place value on theextended family which differs from the American perception whichpraises individuality and a nuclear family. Among the Chinese such aview is largely blamed for nepotism and favoritism in public officesas families and extended families are given preference in governmentservices. Such a culture also affects the manner of doing business.When such cultures are allowed to be overly represented in American,the chances of assimilation to the American identity is simplyinhibited by their loyalty to their culture.
Empiricalobservations show that some of these communities rarely integrateinto the American system but instead tend to keep to themselvesdominating certain neighborhoods and towns. In so doing, they shunassimilation and create smaller version of their own countries andestablish their culture.9For instance, San Francisco has a neighborhood named Chinatownbecause of its domination by Chinese immigrants. Other cities havealso recorded Chinatowns of their own and even little Mexico andother little countries in the US. These communities are not lookingforward to integrate and assimilate into the American value systemswhich give them the America identity in exchange of their ownculture. They are eager to enjoy the American dream while stillretaining their native identities. This has greatly disapproved anearlier proposed melting pot theory that posited that such immigrantswould switch allegiance to their new host country.10
Oneof the core issues expressed by many American is that immigrants arecausing unemployment in America. There are several ways that this canbe explained. One of the ways is that American employers have beengoing for illegal or unregistered immigrants for employees. Themotivation behind it is that the unregistered immigrants are willingto take a lower wage compared to American citizens.11This therefore encourages employers to even actively seek immigrantsfrom foreign countries such as Mexico to come work in secrecy attheir premises.12Alternatively, it suppresses wage growth for regular Americans whichis detrimental to the economy and American citizens. Another methodthat the immigrants are causing unemployment in America is that theAmerican immigration policies give preference to highly skilledimmigrants. Immigrants from China, South Korea and other immigrantcommunities are in most cases qualified and thus compete forplacement among Americans. This way, less qualified American citizensare gradually pushed out of the job market give they have lesserskills than immigrants. This contrasts the previous approach whereAmerican employers sponsored their employees for further training toadvance their skills. Sponsoring employee training is arguably moreexpensive to employers than recruiting new employees already equippedwith the desired skills.13
Asignificant percentage of the immigrant population in America isdependent on welfare and social security support. The social securitytargets several groups of individuals including the disabled andelderly among others. The influx of elderly immigrants born abroadthat has made very little contribution to the US economy in form ofpaying tax through their working life gets to compete with retiredAmericans who have worked in the US and contributed towards thesocial security fund through taxation. While majority of theseimmigrants do not qualify for this programs, several of them haveused fraud and other illegal means to gain access to the service. Todetect such cases of fraud and avert them, the US invests a lot ofresources which could be utilized in others ways.14
Differentclasses of American have different views on immigration. In onestudy, both low income and high income earning Americans are equallyopposed to unskilled immigrants. However, in states with more fiscalexposure to immigration, the poor American natives are more opposedto low skilled immigration in the belief that the low skilledimmigration will suppress welfare benefits. Among high incomeearners, the opposition to low skill immigration is based on thefears of high taxation to cater to increased welfare demands. Thestudy indicates in general that non economic concerns such asemployment and taxation not as significant non-economic factors suchas sociotropic and ethnocentrism factors in influencing the Americanopposition to increased immigration. The sociotropic andethnocentrism factors generally capture issues raised in opposingimmigration on the basis of being a threat to the American identity.15The same views were also captured by another Gallup survey in Augustthat show political views/Governance and immigration as more pressingthat economic e performance.16
Fearsof terrorism have raised opposition to increased immigration. Theevents of September 11 serve as a constant reminder that the US needsto be more watchful over her borders. The event marked a period ofchange in several of American policies after terrorists infiltratedthe borders undetected and carried out terror attacks on US soilkilling over 3000 people by ramming hijacked plans to the World TradeCenter building. Despite the negative attitude most Arab and Muslimdominated nations have expressed towards the US over perceivedimperialism and interference with internal affairs in their country,the US remains the favorite destination for these people. As such,the US continues to receive numerous visa applications from perceivedterrorist hotspots from around the world such as Pakistan, Yemen,Iraq and Afghanistan. Potential terrorist have also sought to attemptentry into the US through other countries. A section of Americanshave tended to blame the increased population of Arabs and Muslims inthe country to later frequent terror attacks such as the one onBoston Marathon. This attitude towards Muslims as terrorists has alsoaffected American perceptions of immigrants in general viewing themlargely an unnecessary risk to the country.17
Americanis built on immigration. President Barrack Obama captured this in astatement he made on the 4thof July 2012 when he said “The lesson of these 236 years is clear –immigration makes America stronger. Immigration makes us moreprosperous. And immigration positions America to lead in the 21stcentury.”18In this regard, the Obama administration has proposed an amendment tothe immigration policy. The amendment is proposed have receiveddifferent responses from the American public. The Bush administrationalso made attempts to reform the immigration policy but was shot downin Congress. One editorial article in The Economist prophesied theproblem that President will face in reforming immigration. In thearticle, the author declares that America can never resolve itsimmigration policy. Attempts to effect voluntary deportation and turnback about the 56000 minors who arrive at American bordersunaccompanied have been met by public protests. However, the proposedamendments are yet to be made.19
Theproposed amendments are on four keys areas: strengthen bordersecurity, streamline legal immigration, allow illegal immigrants toearn citizenship and cracking down on employees hiring undocumentedworkers. On border control, the government proposes to update andimprove security and infrastructure at the ports and all points ofentry.20The current proposal to grant amnesty to deserving illegals have ledto upsurge in number of illegal immigrants arriving at the bordersand thus Republicans argue that any amnesty to illegals should begiven only after securing the borders. 21On streamlining legal immigration, the Obama administration isarguing that it desires to keep families together by easingimmigration procedures for citizens who currently have to waitseveral years for their families to join them. Entry caps foremployers will be removed so as to allow US employers to employ morehigh skilled immigrants to jumpstart the economy.
Americacurrently hosts approximately 11 million illegal immigrants. Theproposed amendments seek to provide a means that these people aregiven an opportunity to earn citizenship if they meet certainconditions. This move is geared towards encouraging illegalimmigrants to openly declare their status and be passed throughbackground and criminal checks to qualify for citizenship. By doingso, these people will be fully integrated into the economy as theywill be liable to pay taxes and also a fine for being in the countryillegally. The people will be also expected to learn English which isrecognized as one of the unifying factors of America and a key pillarof the American identity.22On curbing employers’ fraud, the government proposes to allowemployers to verify the legality of their employees. The move willalso address the issue of identity theft by illegal immigrants,streamlining these employers to play by the rules and alsoimmigrants, it allows the governments to earn more revenue n form oftax and also provide a fair competition business environment. 23
Fromthe discussion above, it is clear that immigration is one complexissue that needs to be addressed carefully to achieve desiredresults. The fact that the federal government is willing to integratequalified illegal immigrants into the American society iscommendable. However, it must be acknowledge that there are deeperunderlying issues that seem to vary with ethnicity, skill level,employment status and even the performance of regional stateeconomies. For this reason, the federal government should not seek toemploy a blanket immigration policy on all the states. Stategovernment should be incorporated in drafting the amendments andsome, especially those that host a significantly higher number ofimmigrants such as Texas, be given enough room for maneuver to suittheir pressing needs.
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1 Saad, Lydia, One in Six Say Immigration Most Important U.S. Problem. 2013. 26th Nov. 2014. Web.
2 Gutiérrez, David. An Historic Overview of Latino Immigration and the Demographic Transformation of the United States. National Park Service. Nov. 26, 2014. 2014.
3 Jordan, Miriam. Births Fuel Hispanic Growth. Walls Street Journal. July 15, 2011. Nov. 26, 2014.
4 Gutiérrez, 2014.
5 Alvarez-Rivera. Latino Immigrant Acculturation and Crime. American Journal of Criminal Justice 39(2) (2014): 315-330. Web. 317.
6 The Future of American Democracy Foundation. N.d. Web. Nov 26. 2014.
7 Allit,P. American identity. n.d. Web. Non 26. 2014.
8 McDonald, Hellen and Pallassana Bogpal. 1998. Conflicts of American immigrants: assimilate or retain ethnic identity. Migration World Magazine 26(4):14-19. (1998). Print.
9 Branigin, William. Immigrants Shunning Idea of Assimilation. Washington Post. May 25 1998. Web. Nov 29 2014
10 McDonald, and Bogpal, p. 16.
11 Scheve, Kenneth and Mathew Slaughter. Labor market competition and individual preferences
Over immigration policy. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 2001, 83(1): 133–145, p. 136
12 Whitehouse . Immigration. 2014. Web. Nov 24. 2014
13 Richard Alba, Rubén G. Rumbaut, Karen Marotz. A Distorted Nation: Perceptions of Racial/Ethnic Group Sizes and Attitudes toward Immigrants and Other Minorities. Social Forces, 84(2): 901-919 (2005). Print. P.911
14 Wikes, Rima and Catherine Corrigall-Brown. Explaining time trends in public opinion: Attitudes towards immigration and immigrants. International Journal of Comparative Sociology. 52(2): 79-99. (2011). Print. p.135
15 Hainmueller, Jens and Michael J. Hiscox. “Attitudes toward Highly Skilled and Low-skilled Immigration: Evidence from a Survey Experiment.” American Political Science Review 104 (1):61-84. (2010)
16 Riffkin, Rebecca. Government, Economy, Immigration Are Top U.S. Problems. Gallup.com. 2014. Web. Nov 26th 2014.
17 Panagopoulos, The Polls-Trends Arab and Muslim Americans and Islam in the aftermath of 9/11. Public Opinion Quarterly 70 (4): 608-624. 2006.p. 612
18 White House. Immigration and the Economy. 2014. Web Nov 26 2014
19 The Economist Explains. Why America can`t fix its immigration problem 2014. Web. Nov 26 2014.
20 White House. Immigration. 2014. Web. Nov 26 2014.
21 The Economist Explains. 2014
22 White House. Immigration