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Illegal Immigration and Its Economic Impact, Research Paper Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1691

Research Paper

Overview

There is an irony in that a nation virtually founded through immigration and sustained by it in its most formative, industrial years should have serious, ongoing issues with the issue of illegal entry into the country. That is and has been for sometime a major controversy within the United States, and the factor of illegal immigration, chiefly through the Mexican Border and from Latin American island nations, is consistently a point of intense debate in presidential campaigns dating back decades.

The issue remains controversial because it is a two-edged sword, and because it intrinsically goes to the economic condition of the US, particularly in regard to housing and employment. In a country where menial jobs are disdained by the majority of the population, employers find it convenient to turn to those who will do most any job for a small amount of money: illegal immigrants. This would appear to be a solution, not a problem. However, other considerations are manifested. There is no protection for the illegal immigrant from dangerous or discriminatory practices in the workplace, and a nation holding itself as exemplary with regard to human rights cannot turn a blind eye to this.

Moreover, issues of lack of education, lack of opportunities for the second and third generations of the illegal immigrants, and crime associated with communities as economically deprived as the immigrant bases are all conspire to brand the illegal immigrant a pariah. Statistics frighten the nation: “In Los Angeles, ninety-five percent of all outstanding homicide warrants are for illegal aliens” (Kenney 45). In a sense we take illegal immigrants in, employ them as we desire, and simultaneously restrict them to environments and an ensuing financial deprivation which can only generate despair, anger, and crime.

Historical Differences in Economic Impact from Immigration

The nationally cherished view of New York’s Ellis Island as the great gateway for European immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries is valid, but only up to a point. Destitute immigrants were often let in legally but by no means was it an open gate; those deemed unhealthy were denied, chiefly because the infirm could not be expected to enter the work force and sustain themselves. “The inspectors checked the newly-arrived for their physical and mental conditions. Many were rejected for reasons of illness” (Podgorski 5).

The importance of this factor of physical well-being cannot be overstated, as the rise of the industrial age of the time created a huge demand for fresh labor. Irish, Italian, Polish and other immigrants were victims of the cultural bias that Mexican and Cuban immigrants today face, yet the bias was not an actual hindrance to legal entry. What mattered was strength and an ability to work, which would translate to a mutually advantageous circumstance: the growing nation required workers and the workers were desperate for opportunity.

The tides of European immigration famously recalled in the early days of the 20th century were prompted, by and large, by what is known as ‘push’. Quite simply, survival meant going to a new land: “Most Italian immigrants were peasants without much education. They were pushed from their homeland by extreme poverty, while the promise of jobs and a better life pulled them to America” (Burgan, Asher 12). So it becomes evident that, certainly in years past, economic considerations were not merely a legacy of immigration, restricted to the destination; they were the reason for it, almost exclusively.

With employment available and plentiful, this wave of Europeans adapted, and this points to a singular difference between the economic realities of modern immigration issues and those of the past. The mindset was different. It wasn’t necessarily that immigrants of earlier times were better people; it was more that expectations, and from both sides of the equation, were different. America was more prosperous than the European nations being fled from, certainly, but there was as well no understanding of provisional agencies in waiting for the arrivals. The immigrant passing through Ellis Island was in a sense at a starting gate, ready to launch an independent life based on hard work because this was what they had come for, and because there were no other options. The illegal immigrant today, as we will see, comes from a different place and comes as well with different expectations, all of which crucially impact American economics.

Modern Issues

Firstly, that factor of ‘push’ is not what it was, nor is it arriving from the same points of origin. Proximity plays a huge role in this as well; the US/Mexican border is a land link and, as dire as circumstances have been for Mexicans in their home country, this nearness has consistently altered the agenda of the immigration. “The motivations of the earliest Mexican migrants were generally not to relocate permanently north of the border for a lifetime of US work and earnings” (Massey, Durand, Malone 31). The situation is not much changed today, and for many illegal immigrants from Mexico, the US is viewed almost as a rather distant and inconvenient job site. They must come, stay a while and earn what they can, and then return home. There is no pervasive desire for a new life forever away from the home nation.

This inevitably and drastically affects how this population plays into American economics. This motivation carries with it no expectation or desire for advancement or ‘career’ goals, for that would mean adopting the nation as home. It follows then that a desire to be ‘legal’, or authorized, is not pressing; time here will be only as long as is needed to acquire income, and taking the steps to obtain citizenship is seen as more of an impediment to this goal for many immigrants. Any job at all will do, provided it supplies a paycheck which can be cashed somewhere, and this in turn maintains a low wage stratum desirable to employers. For the immigrant in this case, the appeal is nonetheless strong: “A study of Mexican illegal aliens working in the 1978 harvest season in Oregon estimated that they earned six times what they could have earned in Mexico…” (Chiswick 288).

Another obvious issue is that of the illegal status itself. As the immigrant chooses to remain unauthorized, he is as well accepting a great vulnerability. He cannot fight for better wages or working conditions because his employment is intrinsically unprotected on every level. There is, sadly, no shortage of American employers who would not take advantage of such a financially beneficial arrangement to themselves.

Status and Economics

Linked to these economic factors of illegal immigration, and by no means restricted to Mexican aliens, is that of status as either a goal of the immigrant and/or a desired allowance from the nation entered. Turning again to early 20th century waves of immigration, a determination to advance was part and parcel of the immigrants ambition. A job must be had, yet the job would not be an end unto itself, and Irish and Italian immigrants fiercely sought rises in social standing through higher wages and better jobs. Moreover, there was no ceiling on this ambition: “Shrewd Irish-American businessmen such as John Paul Getty, who became the richest man in the world, would become living symbols of American innovation and wealth” (Paulson, Asher 15).

To these immigrants money was synonymous with social standing and power, and this was the long-term goal. In a sense there was nothing beyond what could be had in America to achieve. Today, however, reveals a world more globally focused and far less inclined to assimilate into any single national identity. This shows us a pattern of cause and effect which has as its root, always, the economic factor. A disinclination to do anything more than what can be secured as an illegal alien is just as pivotal to the economy as an influx of immigrants desiring legal standing and with expectations of accumulating wealth.

Conclusion

One thing remains evident as a constant, in any examination of how immigration can impact a national economy: illegal immigration can never be anything but problematic to an economy because it is an inherent contradiction in action: it is a case of people needing to survive in a foreign country who are not legally employable, and who therefore must earn money for survival illegally, no matter what form that earning takes. Criminality lies at the center of it, be it the blind eye turned by the employer, the acceptance of this by the immigrant, or the more overt illegal actions taken by the immigrants in criminal spheres.

Added to this is the more modern and prevalent feeling within the US to protect itself, which translate to greater difficulties in legal immigration and, consequently, greater numbers of illegal entries. “The USA Patriot Act…most characterizes the ‘storm door era’ of immigration policy and symbolizes ‘Fortress America’” (LeMay 21). The days of the warm welcome to the immigrant are long gone, an absence fueled by economic fears as well as political concerns.

Ultimately, to establish a unity between economics and immigration, it is incumbent upon the government to see how vitally these factors interact. If illegal immigration is not to be sanctioned, then severe penalties must be put into force on those who would employ this work force. If the more rational goal is to better secure a situation long in effect, then an easing into citizenship for those working while legally unauthorized must be set into motion. That illegal immigrants are working everywhere in the US is a fact. We are obligated to address it, and in doing so enhance economic opportunities for both immigrant and his community within the nation.

Works Cited

Burgan, Michael, and Asher, Robert. Italian Immigrants. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2004. Print.

Chiswick, Barry R. The Economics of Immigration. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing, Inc., 2005. Print.

Kenney, Karen. Illegal Immigration. Edina, MN: ABDO Publishing Company, 2008. Print.

LeMay, Michael C.  Illegal Immigration: A Reference Handbook. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2007. Print.

Massey, Douglas S., Durand, Jorge, and Malone, Nolan J. Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration. New York, NY: Russell Sage   Foundation, 2003. Print.

Paulson, Timothy J., and Asher, Robert. Irish Immigrants. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing, 2004. Print.

Podgorski, Eveline. Polish Immigration in the USA. Norderstedt, Germany: GRIN Verlag, 2008. Print.

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