There has always been a deep seated ambivalence about the issue of immigration in America. On one hand people celebrate their identity as a nation of immigrants but on the other hand a huge number of Americans who have been and are opposed to a continuation of large-scale immigration. The process of immigration is vital for economic growth and an essential element of a cosmopolitan society in any developed country especially in the US. The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave is host to an astounding 60 million immigrants or the children of immigrants which constitutes over one-fifth of the total population. On Lady Liberty, the famous sonnet penned by Emma Lazarus says:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
The immigrant community in America doesn’t view immigration policy as simply an ideology but as a clear path to family reunification and an affirmation of their American dream. Although it may not be possible to predict the role of immigration in America’s future, it always helps to study the past. The hostility towards immigrants that we see in this day and age is not new. Debates about the pros and cons of immigration echo throughout American history. The majority of people that oppose immigration are old stock people that have forgotten or have chosen to forget about their own immigrant ancestors. Such people generally reside in small towns or suburban areas having relatively minor to no contact whatsoever with the immigrant communities that generally inhabit metropolitan cities.
It is not only the economic consequences that causes negative reactions towards immigration, there is also an emotional dimension that shapes sentiment about this issue. Many Americans are not comfortable with the prospect of widespread change due to immigration. Newcomers speaking different languages, having different religions and cultures are sometimes reluctant to assimilate into American society. Some immigrants don’t speak English. It’s safe to say that the majority of fears that old stock Americans have of immigrants and immigration are rooted in ignorance and prejudice. So called experts that have ranted about the negative consequences of immigration have all been proven false by history. It is a fact that most immigrants assimilate over time and serve to broaden American Society as a whole. However, not all misgivings or apprehensions that people have about the impact of immigration are entirely irrational.
In the digital era of today, globalization and industrial restructuring dominates traditional sources of employment and therefore native born citizens feel threatened regarding the future of their children. Examples of industries that seek low cost immigrants to replace the native born workforce have been cited in the local and national media. Sectors such as agriculture generally don’t attract many native born workers therefore this sector attracts a large portion of the immigrant workforce. Immigrants have also been disproportionately employed throughout the country in sectors such as meatpacking plants, construction industry, hospitals, and even in areas of advanced study in universities. Unscrupulous politicians may and often do choose to exploit popular fears about immigration to their own ends.
Immigration in the continent of North America was initiated by Spanish settlers in the 16th century, followed by French and English settlers in the 17th century. Prior to the American Revolution, a major wave of free and indentured labor from England and Europe as well as large-scale importation of slaves from Africa and the Caribbean occurred. On some level, immigration has been continuous throughout American history, however there have been 2 periods especially worth mention. The first is in the era between 1880 to 1924 which primarily consisted of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the second is the post-1965 wave of immigration from Latin America and Asia. Over 25 million immigrants entered the US in both of these eras. So, is immigration good or bad? How can we know? Opponents argue that immigrants illegally cross borders, steal their jobs and become a burden on taxpayers. They view immigrants as a threat to the indigenous culture.
Proponents, however, argue that immigration boosts economic growth and creates an influx of skilled labor thereby helping to create a more dynamic society. Although immigrants provide significant economic benefits, there are short-term economic and social costs associated with immigration. The protectionist instincts of the native populace often tends to overwhelm the long term need for an open society which is vital for the healthy development of that society. The need for the role that the immigrant workforce plays in economic development is often overwhelmed by defensive measures taken to keep immigrants out. An estimated 230 million migrants all over the world constitute almost 3% of the global population and this percentage has not changed much in the past century.
Over a third of the documented immigrant workforce in the US are skilled and similar statistics exist in European countries. This high percentage of immigrant workers reflects the requirements for an advancing economy. However it should be kept in mind that skilled migrants are not the only ones that are important in American economy, unskilled migrant labor constitute a large share of the construction, agriculture and services sectors. Recent studies conducted in the US have shown that immigrants contribute significantly more in taxes than the accumulated benefits that they receive. The need for a developing economy requires a strong labor supply augmented by foreign workers.
Legitimate concerns such as social dislocation due to large-scale migration are a source of concern. However such negative aspects may be managed. It should be kept in mind that migration has been a catalyst for progress and dynamism. In the age of globalization, barriers to migration pose a threat to economic growth. Immigrants and their children have played an important role in the development of American society as we know it. Although we may be skeptical of migrants, upon inspection of history it is clear that fears about immigrants in the early twentieth century were completely proven wrong. Most elites and social scientists of the day feared that immigrants were overrunning American society.
If you wish to know more about evolving laws in this realm and think that you or a loved one would like to migrate to the US, it is advisable to seek the services of a competent and qualified immigration attorney to advise you of your rights and chalk out a plan for your future.
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