With the world as we know it changing so rapidly through mass global movements of people, governments must do their best to protect the welfare and well being of their own country while trying to help others who wish to emigrate to their country. The United States being the world’s most prominent country and a global superpower, many see it as the land of opportunity – “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” While this may not always be the case with the United States controversial history, people nonetheless want to be a part of the great American dream. This large amount of immigration both legal and illegal is only leading to a strain on already overburdened welfare systems and institutions such as schools and hospitals who can barely provide for the native residents. Immigrant effects and policies must be carefully examined or the figures which are already quite high in a series of areas, will only increase.
Current Demographics for the United States
The United States is always at the centre of some controversy and as it turns out their immigrations policies and the reaction from the general population is as controversial as anything else it lays claim to. The immigration debate is one that rages in any country, particularly first world countries such as United States, Canada, Australia, regions of Europe who are worried the immigrant population will overrun them and destroy their precious way of life. As with any debate there is the positives and negatives which will be identified and discussed further on in limited but accurate detail.
The United States is currently home to 281,421,906 residents according to the 2000 census. Of this near 300 million people, 30,522,685 are foreign-born, which makes up 11.2% of the overall population. When put into context like that, the feared immigrant problem doesn’t seem as bad, until one adds another estimated 6,500,000-7,000,000 illegal immigrants. Over the period from 1991-1998 the Immigration Naturalisation Services (INS) has registered 7,605,068 resident visas to the country. That is to say, approximately 1 million people a year. (FAIR archive)
Colonial History of the United States
Settled approximately 1565 in the early stages by countries such as Spain and England the onset of immigrants seemed quite endless after that. The building of colonies could barely keep up with the population influx. Of course
“Colonial families were generally large, often with 10 to 12 children. At the same time settlers from Europe continued to find homes in the New World.” (Compton) The prominent countries of emigration after that were “Scotland, Ireland, Germany and France. By 1690 there were about 250,000 people in the 13 colonies. By 1776, when independence was declared, the population had increased to about 2,500,000.” (Compton)
America was the ‘new country’ with new opportunities. Up until the 1880’s, “most of the newcomers were from such northwestern European countries as Ireland, Germany, Sweden and Norway.” (ibid) Then at that time the majority of the one million “immigrants that were arriving were from southern and eastern Europe–largely Italy, Poland, Greece, and Russia.” (ibid) So one could see the shifting European influences that were being had on the United States in one century alone. Work was readily available in city factories and mostly the living conditions were abhorrent, but this led to strikes and the labor movement later on in order to improve these conditions.
There was also a large flow of immigrants in the mid and late 18th century and very early 19th century from the England/Ireland region. This was largely due to the Irish potato famine that had destroyed much of Ireland in 1845 from blight a potato fungus that had ironically enough spread from the United States to the United Kingdom. A short timeline illustrates the general flow from the United Kingdom.
“First came the people of the British Isles after the downfall of Napoleon, 2000 in 1815 and 35,000 in 1819. Thereafter the numbers remain about 75,000 yearly, until the Irish famine, when, in 1852, 368,000 immigrants from the British Isles landed on our (their) shores. They were succeeded by the Germans, largely moved at first by the political events of 1848. By 1854 a million and a half Teutons, mainly from northern Germany, had settled in America….The Swedes began to come after the Civil War. Their immigration culminated in 1882 with the influx of about 50,000 in that year. More recent still are the Italians, beginning with a modest 20,000 in 1876, rising to over 200,000 arrivals in 1888, and constituting an army of 300,000 in the single year of 1907; and accompanying the Italian has come the great horde of Slavs, Huns, and Jews.” (Zipley)
This brief timeline illustrates the traditional and early influences on the American way of life – but as one can see later, there have been some quite dramatic changes in where the mass of immigrants are coming from.
During the commercial depression of 1908 much of the immigration came to a halt and there was some considerable emigration back to Europe as a direct result. It was however no more than breathing space between the previous and ensuring years.
Social Problems of Immigration
– Religious Impacts
Religious conflicts are prominently seen in any culture and given the media attention it usually gets, everybody seems to be able to name at least one in recent years that has occurred. There are sufficient and stable arguments in countries such as Australia and the United States as to why these create social problems. Perhaps the most prominent argument against the practicing religious beliefs of immigrants is for those cases whereby individuals are penalised by members of other religions because of possible wars or disagreements that have followed them from their originating country.
Most argue on this issue that when an immigrant departs from their old country they are usually seeking refuge from persecution or an opportunity for a better life and prosperity – for this to be enabled their conflicts should be colloquially ‘left at home’.
– Cultural Impacts
Some say the assimilation process or ‘melting pot’ as the policy is called in the United States is completely ineffective in itself, as most are reluctant to give up their country of origins cultural styles such as religious or living practices. This can be both a positive and a negative (as with any issue associated with immigration.) For the United States and with many other countries, immigration has brought about an integrated change in culture. From the very early days of settlement immigrants brought different foods and dress (materials, styles etc) to their new country and were willing to share it both with other immigrants of the same origin or with others who were interested.
Now undeniably there is possibly no American who hasn’t eaten pizza (thank you Italy), pasta (thank you again – also Italian), burritos, nachos and tacos (thank you very much Mexico), stir fries and rice (thank you China), fine pastries and French fries (thank you France) and many, many more from all around the world. These are now such an integral part of American lifestyles (e.g. the chain Taco Bell) that people forget that these foods originated somewhere else other than their great country that get bragged about so often. Without these outside influences they would more than likely still be living on plain vegetables and meat. They have a lot to thank the immigrant for culturally – particularly in the food department.
Social Stability and Impacts on Society
Arguably with any change of population, whether they be from inside or outside a country there is an impact on society as a whole and particularly the poor. As afore mentioned many of the poor factory jobs that workers were seeking, they lived in poor conditions with little money.
“Political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset (1959) has pointed out, democracy can only really work in societies that are not beset by widespread poverty and deprivation…(he) has found a strong correlation between the level of wealth and income enjoyed by society’s members and democratic stability….With more poverty comes less trust and a greater suspicion of others. In addition to social science research, common sense suggests that greater disparities in income create greater social distance between society’s members and thus will have a negative impact on political and social harmony.” (Camarota -Care)
Exacerbation of Social and Economic Problems
Arguably there are both positives and negatives to the immigration debate and the economic influence they have on a society as a whole. This particularly is where the social and economic cross-over and become one. Quite simply if economic conditions are poor, social conditions are poor also – they go hand in hand.
Statistically though a variety of societal problems are closely linked to poverty and poverty is a major issue concerning many immigrants and definitely an issue of concern for taxpayers watching their every dollar.
Already there is a mostly unfounded by continuing stereotyped list of societal problems attached to immigrants – which are just as easily definable to ‘ordinary America citizens’. “It is well established that children who grow up in poverty are more likely to be involved in illicit activity, have higher teenage pregnancy rates, exhibit lower academic achievement, and suffer from a host of other social problems.” (Camarota -Care)
The relatively low educated and unskilled therefore aren’t able to compete in a rapidly expanding global market and input on the overall economy in a measurable manner. As a result of this also immigrants account for a large increase in the poor population of America. Statistically between 1979 and 1989, “2 million or 53 percent of the 3.8 million increase in the number of people living in poverty was attributable to the growth of poverty among persons in immigrant households.” (Camarota – Findings) In the 1990’s an even more dramatic effect can be seen with “the growth in immigrant-related poverty accounting for three million or 75 percent of the increase in the size of the poor population in the United States.” (ibid) This now means that immigrant households comprise such a large percentage of the poor that they have an impact on the nation’s overall poverty rate. In the form of impacting on policy the Government must explore the poverty numbers when deciding how many and who to let in future immigration intakes.
According to the Alexis de Tocqueville Institution in the United States, “economic conditions tend to be better in cities with large proportions of immigrants.” (NCPA archive) Earlier this year it performed a study into the 85 most populated U.S. “then compared the economic performance since 1980 of those cities with the largest number of immigrants to those with the lowest numbers.” (ibid)
These were some of the findings and conclusions reached based on the 1980’s data:
* “Cities with high immigration rates created jobs at twice the rate of cities with low immigration.
* Residents of high-immigration cities are, on average, 15 percent wealthier than those in low-immigration cities.
* Cities with large shares of immigrants experienced a 95 percent growth in per-capita income — compared to 88 percent in those with low immigrant populations.
* Poverty rates were 17 percent higher in low-immigrant cities and grew twice as fast as in cities with lots of immigrants.
Moreover, the tax burden is 9 percent lower in cities with the highest numbers of immigrants.” (ibid)
Some economists also speculate that immigrant labor has kept certain industries going and created a solid work base in others – such as the garment industry. They also suggest that many immigrants become great entrepreneurs with the will to ‘make it’. “In Los Angeles County during the period 1972 to 1992, the number of licensed Hispanic-owned firms grew 700 percent –even though the Hispanic population grew by only 200 percent. (ibid)
Impact Immigrants Have on the Existing Poor
The existing immigration policy has a high influence on the perpetuation and growth of poverty in the US. Both immigrant and native poverty is an important social and economic issue as the cost of anti-poverty programs depends for the most part on how many people are eligible for benefits and assistance services. The motivation behind the idea to change policies on immigration and so forth is that the increasing number of immigrants and natives living in poverty will lead to a public backlash on programs that are already unpopular. The government must also keep the outlays on such programs steady, but with the vastly increasing population that means each recipient will receive less so that the overall cost of the program remains the same. This clearly is not in the interest of the poor that already exist. Other institutions such as hospitals, schools and charities also become immensely overstretched taking care of low-income or at-risk children from an increasing number of poor immigrant families. “Increasing the number of people below or near poverty through immigration is clearly counter-productive.” (Camarota -Care)
Poverty Due to Race
Among other indicators race is an important factor in examining the poverty status of households. Reports show that the Hispanic origin (being so close geographically) have the highest rate of poverty with white and Asian immigrant households have the lowest. “Poverty among immigrants increased in the 1990s for all major racial groups except Asians. Moreover, with the exception of blacks, persons in immigrant households have higher poverty rates than persons of the same race living in a native household. This gap widened in the 1990’s for all racial groups with the exception of Asians.” (Camarota – Findings)
Speculatively speaking, the high poverty rate in the Hispanic community may be of concern to studies because the group is very large (as afore mentioned probably due to the close geographical positioning) and it may take three or four generations for the descendants of these immigrants to reach a standard and equal economic correlation with natives. “The very high poverty rate associated with native-born Hispanics suggests that this is the case. Current immigration may well be creating a new underclass of Hispanics in America. At the very least, immigration policy may be setting the stage for sizeable ethnic differentials in economic outcomes that are likely to play an important, social, economic, and political role throughout the next century.” (Camarota – Findings)
Poverty by Education Levels/Standards
Regardless of where an immigrant comes from, there is a universal propensity to be living in poverty is the education level of an individual or group of individuals.
“In 1997, the poverty rate for dropouts, regardless of the household in which they reside, was 24.5 percent. For those with a high school degree it was 9.9 percent, and for persons with some college or a four-year college degree it was 6.5 percent and 3.1 percent respectively. Since adults in immigrant households are much more likely than those in native households to lack a high school education (34 percent compared to 15 percent), the high poverty rate among persons in immigrant households is partly explained by the high proportion with few years of schooling. Of adults in immigrant households in poverty, 58 percent lacked a high school education in 1997.” (Camarota – Findings)
Economic – Positives and Negatives
Figures indicated that immigrants both legal and illegal make up 13% of the nation’s workers, the highest percentage since the 1930s. “They dominate job categories at both ends of the economic spectrum. Immigrants hold 35% of the unskilled jobs, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank in Washington, D.C. They also command a significant share of highly skilled technology jobs. At the height of the dot-com boom, as many as a third of the techies working in California’s Silicon Valley were from Asia.”
Many of the jobs however, that are being unfilled by native-born Americans who refuse to participate in the ‘lower class’ jobs are now being shown up by the nation’s 17.7 million immigrant workers. These workers work hard in jobs such as “meatpackers, hotel maids, hamburger flippers, waiters, gardeners, seamstresses, fruit and vegetable pickers, and construction hands.” (Parker)
There have also been subsequent changes in which immigrants dominate which job areas. Poultry plants in the South were once held almost exclusively by black African-Americans but has changed to Mexican immigrants. Textile plants are also run on the hard labor of the Hispanic workers. Kentucky coal field mining companies were considering recruiting miners from the Ukraine because of their experience in the field. (Parker)
Many nurses from the Philippines have also been recruited to fill the nursing shortage on a scale that has never been seen before. There is an industry in itself recruiting the nurses from around the world. Included in the public sector is the school environment. Increasingly school administrators are finding holes in their staff and are looking overseas to fill teaching jobs. “This year a Chicago school system signed 110 teachers from 31 countries, including Nepal, Hungary and France,” to fill these shortages. (Parker)
America was built on the backs of immigrants as the saying goes. Perhaps one should also remember that “America’s reliance on immigrant labor is as old as the country. European immigrants built, under perilous and often fatal conditions, the Brooklyn Bridge and other New York landmarks. Chinese labor gangs, paid what were perjoratively called ‘coolie wages,’ built the railroads that connected the Atlantic with the Pacific.” (ibid)
So while the immigrants who work hard are showing up the lazy American native-borns there is still a downside to this seemingly positive upside and one is as fiercely debated as the other.
For the most part Americans are realising the immense cost of hosting immigrants both legal and illegal and these figures are huge. “The Center for Immigration Studies estimated in 1995 that immigration costs us a net $29 billion a year — more than the combined budgets of the Departments of State, Justice and Interior. These costs include both programs targeted towards immigrants, as well as the increased costs of education, health care, and welfare programs that are used by immigrants.” (FAIR archive)
Illegal Immigrants / Aliens
A mass problem for the American immigration situation is the Mexicans. With the two land masses being joined by only one single relatively unprotected border for its sheer size. Most of the illegal (and legal) immigrants come from the socially repressed and economically poor parts of Mexico and South America. Many of the residents of Cuba and Haiti take the dangerous boat rides into Florida primarily just like the Timorise often do to Australia being labelled as ‘boat people’ as they’re commonly called.
The table below shows the change in immigration over a period of 16 years from 1980 to 1996. It shows distinctively that since the 80s Mexico has always had the highest born immigrant population to the United States. While there has been a movement in the 80s from Europe and a few from Asia to a much higher population from the Indo-Asia region and the South Americas.
Foreign-Born Change: Top Twelve Countries 1980-1996* (Thousands)
1980 Census 1990 Census 1996 CPS*
1 Mexico 2,199 Mexico 4,298 Mexico 6,679
2 Germany 849 Philip. 913 Philip. 1,164
3 Canada 843 Canada 745 China 801
4 Italy 832 Cuba 737 Cuba 772
5 U.K. 669 Germany 712 India 757
6 Cuba 608 U.K. 640 Vietnam 740
7 Philip. 501 Italy 581 El Sal. 701
8 Poland 418 Korea 568 Canada 660
9 Sov.Un. 406 Vietnam 543 Korea 550
10 Korea 290 China 530 Germany 523
11 China 286 El Sal. 465 Dom.Rep. 515
12 Vietnam 231 India 450 Jamaica 506
All Others 5,949 All Others 8,585 All Others 10,189
Total 14,080 Total 19,767 Total 24,557
* Current Population Survey data is subject to sampling error.
Texas being just over the border is a ‘breeding ground’ for illegal immigrants with in the year 1999, being graced with an approximated 700,000 illegal immigrants while the other border states, New Mexico (37,000), Arizona (115,000) and California (2,000,000) are also being forced to carry a much higher load. The other state receiving a high amount is of course Florida with 350,000 from mostly Cuba, Haiti and Jamaica. Sometimes further but that journey is much more hazardous.
As to the definition of alien or illegal immigrant itself, this is a vast area of grey. “A large percentage of those in the country ‘illegally’ actually have the permission of the federal government. Many are asylum applicants awaiting the outcome of their petition to stay in the country. Others enjoy Temporary Protected Status (TPS) because, although they do not qualify for asylum, the federal government will not deport them or require them to leave because it is thought conditions in their home countries are such that they cannot return. In addition, there are several hundred thousand persons who are the spouses and children of amnesty beneficiaries from the 1980s who are also allowed to stay in the country.
If these “semi-legal” immigrants are excluded, then illegal aliens would account for an even smaller share of immigrant-related poverty. Second, it is also worth noting that many illegal aliens come to the United States to join friends and family members who are legal residents. Communities of recent legal immigrants serve as magnets for illegal immigration by providing housing, jobs and entree to America. Additionally, about one out of four legal immigrants who receive green cards in any given year are in fact illegal aliens already living here (INS press release, January 1999). Thus, it is probably more accurate to view illegal immigration as a direct consequence of large scale legal immigration and not as a distinct phenomenon that should be thought of separately.” (Camarota – Findings)
While this is a lengthy quote is shows that illegal immigration often has to do with a lot of legal immigration. People have a need to stick together and there is a lot of illegal doings in the hiding of other illegal immigrants and often providing for them. There has been varying figures in the speculation of illegal immigrants and because for the most part the government agencies can’t pinpoint their whereabouts they can’t be included on a census, or even counted.
“The Immigration and Naturalization Service estimated the size of the nation’s illegal immigration problem at five million residents (in the country for at least a year) as of 1996. The INS also estimated that the illegal immigrant population was rising a net amount of 275,000 per year, i.e., adding up to about 6.1 million in 2000. The Census Bureau, on the other hand, in its most recent population projection used an estimate of 225,000 per year as the amount of new illegal aliens joining the country’s population.
Neither estimate includes the illegal alien transient population that may come in for seasonal crop or other work and then returns abroad. However, the 2000 Census revealed a larger population than suspected by the Census Bureau, with a greater number of illegal aliens the most likely explanation (see below). As a result, the INS has now increased its estimate of the illegal alien population to 6.5 to 7.5 million.” (FAIR archive)
There is also a percentage of the population who foolishly enough are well on their way to gaining legal citizenship but through breaking the terms and conditions of US Residency laws and get caught, lose any chance of citizenship. The INS estimated “in 1998 that about two-fifths of the resident illegal alien population entered legally and then lost their legal status by overstaying their authorized visit and/or by illegally taking jobs. The other three-fifths sneaked into the country illegally across land or coastal borders.” (ibid)
Children as Immigrants
Another relatively unrecognised but notable percentage of immigrants to the country per year are orphans coming to the United States. Records have been kept over the last 12 years by the International Adoption Agency which shows that in 1989 there were 8,102 visas distributed to this population. This number in years since has been increasing by an average of 1 to 2 thousand children per year until the last recorded figure in 1999 reached 16,369 worldwide. (Adoption archive) The predominant countries of ‘export’ are former Soviet Union states and Asia predominantly. Russia, China, Korea and Romania have always been the highest contributors usually for successive years on end. (Appendix A – shows the detailed list of contributors.)
While often these children are being adopted into ‘white’ families that are relatively well off, for the time that they are perhaps not adopted, they are still people that need to be taken care of, possibly with the use of state funds which provides yet another small, but definitely increased burden to an already overstrained, overused system.
As can be seen from statistical figures an study reports, or a simple walk through most large American capitals – immigration is causing quite a high burden on the social and economic welfare system. While it is believed to have a part in the crime rate (as any low socio-economic grouping is) it stretches further with cultural differences and the formation of gang groups and so forth. The American population is footing the bill for programs which are far exceeding the cost of many other programs which are highly unpopular thus far.
Overall, America needs to examine the effects more closely and decide what can be done with the poor and the street people of American society both native and immigrant before any change can occur.