Immigration: Issues Of The 1920S And 1990S Essay, Research Paper
Although the United States has placed tougher restrictions and regulations on immigration, nevertheless, the American public is unsatisfied with the results because the entrance of immigrants has not been stopped completely or severely restricted. It is true that immigration laws need to be revised, but not by severely restricting or stopping it. Opening the floodgates of immigration will only benefit the United States.
The United States was and still is a nation of immigrants, and, by its very nature, it will always be one. The common failure to appreciate that fundamental fact, and the flawed assumption that one day the country will have assumed its fully developed state and will no longer need or want any more immigrants, are at the heart of many misunderstandings.
These misunderstandings have been present since people began to migrate. Misunderstandings rise and fall like sunsets, reaching a zenith inside and outside the borders of America and across the globe. They have intensified over the past century. Two significant periods, the 1920 s and the 1990 s, offer a unique perspective of issues, arguments and ethnic finger-pointing.
The American public believes that the current levels of immigration are too high and that illegal immigration is a serious problem. Author Maldwyn Jones describes the original premise of the Founding Fathers as:
The gradual expansion of the frontiers of immigration forced upon Americans the necessity of broadening the concept of equality to which the nation had been dedicated at birth. When the Founding Fathers subscribed to the doctrine that “all men are created equal,” they could not have envisaged that the infant republic would be invaded by the people from every corner of the earth anxious to test the truth of what they proclaimed. Americans are at times reluctant to grant equal rights to all men of whatever origins.
Public opinion cries out for tighter restrictions and tougher legislation, harsher enforcement, stiffer penalties for offenders and criminalizing the pursuit of work. If we are to examine immigration as a “problem” from a legislative standpoint, first consider a quote by world citizen and statesman, Thomas Paine:
Every age and generation must be free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generation which preceded it. The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave, is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies.
Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require. It is the living, not the dead, that are to be accommodated.
This quotation, in my opinion, exemplifies the belief that people are free to migrate and move, without interference or persecution, wherever and whenever he or she sees fit. Any governmental legislation concerning immigration (or anything else for that matter) places restrictions upon personal freedom and the right to pursue it. Restricting personal freedom places a burden upon the very people it is designed to protect.
Along with people flow goods, cultures, religions, ideas and knowledge. Government and legislators impose trade restrictions, tariffs, taxes and so on. It becomes a tangle of layer upon layer of bureaucratic legislation, throttling and strangling the economical progress of people. Ironically, the same people demand more legislation. In my opinion, it remains pointless to discuss actual enacted legislation because the argument could literally go on forever. What is more important are the issues that result from immigration and their implications on the societies involved.
I use myself as an example. My ancestors immigrated from Norway and England in the 1800 s to the U.S. They settled in South Dakota and were quite poor. Many of them were laborers that contributed to the construction of the Great Northern, the Milwaukee Road and CMST&P rail lines across the northern Great Plains.
From there my family emigrated from the rail depot of Madison, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Minnesota and eventually on to Wisconsin. I personally have emigrated from Wisconsin to Colorado, to California, to the Czech Republic, back to Wisconsin and soon to Arizona. Is there a difference between my migrations and that of a person immigrating from say, Thailand to the United States? No, I do not believe so.
Any government-imposed immigration policy should be universal and equal to all. I should have just as much right as the next person, to be able to migrate to any other country in the world and by utilizing the talents I possess-regardless of the particular style of government or tax structures present be left alone to prosper.
I certainly have the inalienable right to move freely, but unfortunately, governmental restrictions here and abroad prevent me from doing so. The United States government in the late 1920 s, and early 1930 s, moved to severely restrict immigration after World War I.
This coincides with welfare legislation created by Roosevelt during the New Deal period. An accident? To argue for more proactive legislation against immigration today is wrong.
As far as issues are concerned, two basic questions have emerged: What should be the number and characteristics of the immigrants to be admitted legally to the United States every year? And what should be done about illegal immigration to the United States?
Illegal immigration is proof that Americans sell their country hard through the Hollywood movies, television programs, music, clothing styles, soft drinks, and fast food that we export. We gloss over the violence and poverty and social strains in our midst and market our political and economic systems as if they were the best ever devised by humanity. Every day we send out the message, none to subtly, that anyone in the world in his or her right mind should want to live in America. It is hardly surprising, then, that so many people try to come.
That they sometimes receive such an ambivalent welcome is nothing new, even if it is often profoundly disturbing and disappointing. The fact that immigrants may be easier to pick out today than at some earlier time because of skin color, language, and various cultural features does not make them any less eligible to contribute to the country they have been persuaded to choose.
The current system of controlling and regulating illegal immigration clearly does not work, and therefore is easily and universally mocked and defied. The issue needs more thought and less rhetoric. While some agree that some form of credible enforcement is needed at the border of Mexico, others argue there should be no borders at all. By now, it should be obvious that bigger, taller, and more fences, or the introduction of more Border Patrol officers in a kind of human wall, is not the answer. Nor will it do the job.
The Immigration Naturalization Service or INS has repeatedly acknowledged that the majority of illegal immigrants enter routinely through airports and simply overstay their visas. The INS and everybody else knows that the INS does not have the manpower to track down and deport such people. Most lead normal lives until they can find a way to circumvent the system or legally become residents by way of marriage, special work arrangements or winning in one of the visa lotteries.
Worse yet, these illegal immigrants have to run a gamut of obstacles to stay clear of the law and current pending legislation. In a Milwaukee Journal/ Sentinel article last month, it was reported the House of Representatives had passed two landmark bills aimed at curbing immigration and allowing states to end free education to future illegal immigrants. The immigration bill would deny legal immigrants access to a variety of federal benefits. This is the crux of the issue. Freedom of movement does not mean free benefits once one arrives in the free[r] nation.
Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Texas), who sponsored one of the bills in the House said, “This bill will secure America s borders, penalizes alien smugglers, expedites the removal of criminal and illegal aliens, prevents illegal aliens from taking American jobs and ends non-citizens abuse of the welfare system.”
How handily political rhetoric solved the crisis. Does Smith actually believe this can be accomplished by simply passing a bill that penalizes the immigrants? Upon reading the above statement, he implies the bill will magically solve an enormous array of problems.
A lot of elected officials are desperately trying to maintain the same distinction, lauding legal immigrants as good and illegal immigrants as evil. Immigration by legal entry is celebrated, while illegal entry is seen as a direct attack on the United States.
It is also interesting to note the hype and hoopla surrounding the illegal entry of aliens from Mexico in the 1990 s. Comparatively, there was no such concern in the 1920 s. Even in the xenophobic 1920 s, the United States did not close its southern border. Until 1965, there was no numerical limit on immigration from the Western hemisphere. You can conclude that the ambivalence towards this group has grown up largely in the past 30 years. Once again, this coincides with welfare legislation enacted in the 1060s.
The era of drawing arbitrary lines in the sand are over. Arbitrary lines are even more arbitrary when they divide historically, geographically, and economically connected people. The United States is inextricably linked to Mexico and the rest of the globe, and vice versa.
Politicians and activists that demand we hermetically seal the borders and at the same time reduce the levels of immigrants, are being grandiose and dishonest. They are imagining that they can muster the pure force needed to completely restrain the free flow of labor, and they are pretending that such force will have little or no effect on the average American s life. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In the rush to repair all the supposed damage to our economy and culture done by those pernicious “accented” people, the haughty-taughty-well-to-do s have asked us to declare war on immigration. And to fight it, they are asking for some heavy new legal weaponry.
Hundreds of millions of dollars to build a giant wall along the border with Mexico? No problem. Pocket change. The ability to seize businesses and assets, and jail the owners, that employ the enemy? It s only fair. Forcing every American to carry a national ID card and submit to the whims of a computerized Federal Work Permit office, this harkens back to the Kipande system in Kenya or the work permit-strike plagued period of the 1920 s. True patriots will be proud to do it. And if some civilians get caught in the crossfire, well, war is hell. Remember what they used to say in Vietnam: Sometimes you have got to destroy the whole village in order to save it.
New laws have empowered government agencies, such as the INS, the Border Patrol and a multitude of law enforcement agencies, with outrageous power to confiscate property, divide families, incarcerate or deport individuals suspected of illegal activities and/or illegal smuggling of immigrants. That reads suspected, not convicted. In other words, might makes right.
Innocent until proven guilty, is quickly becoming a gray area in the U.S. court systems.
Because asset forfeiture laws are defined as civil, not criminal, penalties, the authorities can brush aside all the troublesome innocent-until-proven-guilty stuff. Seizures could be made on the mere suspicion that you hired Rosarita to tend your kids without checking her work papers; then, in court, it will be your job to prove that you did. And don t expect the judge to be sympathetic.
Small businesses have become a cash cow for the INS. INS officers raid restaurants, hotels, factories, sweatshops and the like, seizing and deporting the illegal workers. In Milwaukee and other U.S. cities, we read and hear about them all the time. Meanwhile, they are leveling outrageous fines against the owners, and as a coup de grace, seizing all of their assets and property, rendering them incapable of doing business or pay off the fines.
Employers are required by law not to knowingly hire people with fraudulent documents. On the other hand they have to be careful not to discriminate against anyone, or they re vulnerable to a lawsuit. They re told by INS to be careful, but not too particular don t discriminate.
It s a very thin line for employers to walk, because employers are not documentation specialists. Do you know what a Kentucky driver s license is supposed to look like? How about a South Dakota voter registration card? A Hopi Indian tribal card or a Virgin Islands birth certificate? And what color are they supposed to be?
This paper tower of Babel makes it easy for well-intentioned employers to find themselves mired in a legal mess and in need of the services of an immigration attorney. Because the victims of INS screw-ups are typically foreigners at the bottom of the economic food chain, we hear little about them.
The great political task in the next couple of decades will be reversing old legislation and ideas which don t apply to the new era of economic and social changes. Most important, is not repeating the mistakes of the past. To obtain the level of “safety” that politicians and activists desire, only a dictatorship could accomplish these goals.
This relates to something I stated earlier about the criminalization of immigrants seeking work. Most jobs currently occupied by illegal immigrants are low-paying, lack substantial benefits and involve back-breaking labor which a majority of Americans have no desire to fill. The argument that immigrants place a form of “deleterious economic consequences on the country as a whole” is ludicrous.
The Dillingham Commission of 1907 held the view that immigration had lowered wages, intensified unemployment, and displaced native workers from jobs. These allegations which have been repeated from colonial times to the present have been shown to be based on fallacies and misconceptions.
There is no evidence that the long range effect of immigration has been to lower the wage scale and depress the standard of living. Wage levels for immigrants were generally below those of native workers. It is also incorrect to assume that immigration has, over any prolonged period, added appreciably to the number of unemployed or deprived any appreciable number of native workers employment.
In fact, the usual kind of displacement that did occur was in an upward direction. Since immigrants tend to gravitate to the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, their coming enabled the native population and earlier immigrants either to rise to new or increased opportunities which economic expansion made possible.
So why penalize immigrants if Americans are too lazy to work or are disinterested in assuming their duties? Legal or not, immigrants tend to be the adventurers, the risk takers, the strong of mind and body who can cope with being uprooted and landing in a totally new environment. Some, especially those who arrive with familiar middle-class values and habits, settle into America quite smoothly; they are the models of entrepreneurship and vitality. Others, survivors of turmoil in societies of a distant land, arrive utterly bewildered and seem hopelessly dependent, and it can take years for them to get on their feet. Those in another category come to work but cross the border to go back home and share the limited wealth whenever they think they can get away with it. No matter whatever their adaptations may be, all of them bring us something.
There are differences between today s immigrants and earlier waves. The biggest is America is now a wealthy, fully developed, powerful country, unique in its hemisphere, if not the world. But does the size and wealth change the fundamental premise of immigration? America still feels like the most open place on earth, where anything is possible. It is more than ever a magnet for those who seek to improve their lives. This ultimately, has a huge impact on the lives of Americans.
Immigrants are an inexhaustible gift. As said before, immigrants bring with them more than just personal belongings. The most important item is ideas. The potential gain from the ideas immigrants bring with them can be measured as a larger-sized population having a doubled number of Edisons and Fords and the like.
Indeed, in a division-of-labor society, a doubled population even with just one-tenth more of such innovators would probably be easily capable of overcoming any problems of diminishing returns and poorer-quality land and mineral deposits, and of doing so by an ever widening margin. It would do so through the greater technological progress that the existence of a larger number of such outstanding individuals would make possible. For the existence of each additional productive genius serves to raise the productive power of the whole human race.
Under the above conditions, the freedom of immigration must ultimately prove economically beneficial to everyone. Among the immigrants and their descendants will be individuals of great talent and leadership, capable of achieving great things in a free country, but who would be stifled and be able to contribute little or nothing in their land of origin. The freedom to immigrate into a free country from countries that are less free is a vital means of unlocking human talent and increasing the gains for all.
Consider the effects if the ancestors of any American industrial or scientific innovator had had to remain in their native lands, and the person had been born and spent his entire life in a country such as Russia or China, instead of the United States. The fact is that the people of the United States had access to more business talent than people of any other country. This was due to America s policy of greater economic freedom combined with the policy of free immigration. Simply put, free immigration into a free country doesn t stifle an economy, it accelerates economic progress considerably. And if the economy is a capitalist one such as America s, the growth rate increases faster than a non-capitalist one, such as China s.
The effect of immigration on population growth in a division-of-labor society is different than is a non-division-of-labor society. With the number of productive immigrants rising in a larger population, so will the standard of living. This gives America the advantage that enables it to overcome any problems that would otherwise be associated with the need to produce more food and minerals for a larger population. Because America has homeless people, and people that go to bed hungry, this doesn t mean America lacks the sufficient housing and food supplies to accommodate the population.
When the government placed tighter restrictions on immigration after the first World War, the move was devastating to agriculture. The workforce on the farms was lured away to the cities by higher wages. This is the single most significant detail, often overlooked by today s economists, that contributed to the decline of the American farmer and permanently depressed agricultural profits.
There runs through American society, a whole gamut of opinion concerning the politically correct way to limit immigration levels. How to reach a point where society and immigrants are both treated fairly, is a solution that remains to be seen. The most important question for Washington is whether a continuous stream of foreign workers and dependents into the country over the next few years will make it more or less difficult to achieve the economic, social, or environmental goals of the American people.
For the first time in decades, Washington should consider basing its immigration policy on open borders. Officials should start the process either at the zero level and add only the number that actually help Americans, or open the borders with no limitations. This would be almost impossible to determine.
Existing law unduly restricts the supply of immigration from nations where the demand for immigrants to the United States is high. This situation causes illegal immigration, particularly from Mexico. The United States should expand the future possibilities for Mexicans and Canadians to live and work in the United States as “legal entrants.” This would allow an individual to live and work in the United States without access to means-tested entitlement programs such as Medicare, Social Security, and welfare programs. Free public education up through high school would still be available and emergency and pregnancy-related health care also. Native born children would continue to have all the rights of U.S. citizens. “Legal entrants” would be responsible to pay all U.S. taxes, but would not be required to register for military service.
The United States needs little change in the law with respect to refugees and should retain provisions in current law that give major power to the president in deciding refugee quotas. Improvements are needed to reduce the lengthy waiting period for those seeking asylum.
If the United States must drastically reform laws concerning immigration, who should be admitted to the country? The United States could set an annual quota for the number of entrants and then stick to it. The ideal number would be close to the annual net legal immigration of non-citizens of 700,000 to 1,000,000 peoples. Anyone that has continually resided in the United States illegally for at least two years should on a onetime basis only be allowed to change their status to that of a “legal entrant” for a fee of $400. The $400 fee would cover the cost of filing for status, a physical examination and inoculations against diseases. “Legal entrants” would have the right to reside and work for the rest of their lifetimes. These rights would be non-transferable. I believe the status of undocumented immigrants is the cause for many misunderstandings and unhappy events and this would help to alleviate some of the problems. By giving these individuals a chance at purchasing the right to work and live in the United States, this would eliminate the incentive for entering illegally, working and living and enjoying access to entitlement programs.
The United States could increase border enforcement and enforcement at points of entry into the country or eliminate it completely. The United States should eliminate employer sanctions completely. Even though employer sanctions have decreased illegal entry somewhat, there is too much evidence of additional discrimination against immigrants and employers alike. In addition, the paperwork shuffle required by law would be substantially reduced-saving the federal, state, local governments and employers-additional cost. These savings could be passed on to the people that eventually pay for these costs anyway the American public.
Lastly, to the Founding Fathers e pluribus unum meant the infusion of thirteen separate states into a single political unit; to the late-twentieth-century American it denotes the unity that has developed from the mingling of peoples diverse in origin but sharing a common devotion to liberty, democracy, diversity and tolerance. We need to keep looking forward to the future and not the past for our answers, and convince legislators of the same.