The onset of immigration had long been a part of American history since its discovery in the 1600s and had shaped the country’s society and government throughout the years. In the early years, America had gladly opened its doors to the world without restrictions and some aided in the liberation of the country from English rule and into independence. However, as the years progressed, restrictions were imposed by the government due to the fear of these immigrants and eventually, due to the onset of illegal immigration. Reforms left and right were implemented to sustain America’s security, economy and society from suspected immigrants, and trying new ways to improve immigration laws for those who wish to visit or work in the country. This paper discusses the history, impacts and the controversies regarding immigration in the United States, including the laws directed to the country’s reform agenda.
Immigration in the United States
Since the ancient times, migrating from one country to the other has been common in many societies due to the political and economic situation of their home country. Some would migrate because of the onset of war and disease while others would move to find a new life or opportunity abroad. Immigrants often have their preferences as to which country they would immigrate, and most of them would often select countries known for their economic and political dominance in the international scene. With this criteria in mind, many opt to migrate to the United States for the promise of new opportunities and better work or living conditions. Although the United States has accepted these new immigrants since the nation’s founding, illegal immigration and immigration-related crimes have drastically increased and causes troubles for the country as it affects their security, economy and society for all those lost in this illegal trade.
The history of immigration in the United States can be considered a crucial factor in establishing American society and influencing America’s national interest. Immigrants started flocking America in 1607 as the first English settlers arrived in Jamestown. According to Barkan (2013), these settlers found it very difficult at first to remain in the country because of the onset of disease and the lack of infrastructure. By 1610,,,, the survivors from the Starving Time of 1608 almost attempted to leave the colonies until they met the supplies from their homeland that would sustain the colonies. England slowly established laws for colonies to allow them autonomy and self-government throughout the region, enabling the steady flow of settlers to move across the country. Regardless of some setbacks, the population of migrants to Colonial America – German, Irish, English and Chinese to cite some groups- had increased to 700,000 by 1760 with almost 221,500 arrivals each year – from religious groups to slaves, making the country powered by an international labor force and improved America’s overall way of life.
As the immigrants continue to increase for the desire for more work and be freed from their political and social restrictions from their native lands, there were movements aiming for the independence of America from the English rule. Thomas Paine’s book ‘Common Sense (1776)’ influenced the perception of the public regarding moving away from England. Paine’s book had been crucial at that period because the delegates to the Second Continental Congress in 1775-1776 favored for America’s independence and questioned the English intentions as Paine, an English, implied that Britain has turned corruptly and may cause the same problem to America. Almost 20% of the population of the colonies had gotten a copy of the book and rallied the people against the English forces in the Revolutionary War. After the American Revolution, immigration had complicated the law making process as the federal government did not act immediately on the issue due to the lack of agreement as to how immigrants can become a U.S. Citizen. The Congress passed an Act on March 26, 1790 that sets a national standard of two years residency before naturalization is approved. Later on, this requirement was raised to five years in 1975. The country then passed the Alien Enemy Act of 1978 to allow the president to deport a non-US citizen who is considered a threat to the peace of the country or aims to dismantle the government.
Throughout the 1800s, immigrants increased to almost 234,968 by 1847 with only the Civil War influencing the immigration levels to dwindle slightly. Most of the immigrants around the 19th century were Irish and Germans due to the growing European wars that triggered the First World War. Around 1889, the Germans question the Americans due to their high German population, especially their loyalties to America. There were also immigrants coming from the UK, Canada, Russia, Italy and some from Austria-Hungary to escape the war, even enlisting in the American war effort in order to save their fellow Jews and free Europe . Anderson (2010) cited that while America was still fixing the European issue, there were growing problems in terms of discrimination especially to the Chinese. The War had also brought in the intent of regulating immigration and ushered a long list of restrictions that halted immigration flows. In February 1921, for example, President Woodrow Wilson had to veto a bill that establishes immigration quotas on Jews, Italians and Europeans for the possibility of going back to war. The Congress and the Senate revised the bills and caused the Immigration Act of 1924, the act that restricted the immigrant population drastically for each group. Since America had applied the usage of a “visa” for all travelers in the First World War, the Congress made it a permanent requirement in 1924, dividing it into two types: non-immigrant visas for work, study, or travel and the immigrant visas for permanent residents. The visa requirement had cut off America’s immigrant count to 23,068 immigrants per year by 1933. After the Second World War, the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 was enacted to support refugees and grant them access to America, easily increasing the immigration rates of the country back to 249,187 in 1950. Under the Truman Administration, the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act was established to place restrictions to anarchists and communists .
The problem of illegal immigration has immense impacts to the country, especially on security, society and economy. In terms of security, Harris (2011) stressed that the country is vulnerable to illegal immigration because of the country’s porous borders with Mexico and the capability of illegal immigrants (especially members of terrorist and crime organizations) to utilize other visas (such as student or non-immigrant visa) as a means to enter the country. The September 11 attacks, for example, were conducted by non-immigrants or people with a temporary visa that allowed them to scout the locations without being suspected of a possible crime or illegal intent. Some criminal organizations, such as the Mexican cartels, also take into consideration the use of immigrants to the country to transport their goods or bribe their way in the country’s borders for access. As a result, attacks can easily be done in rapid precision – as seen in 9/11 – and allow crimes – such as drug, gun and human trafficking – to continue despite efforts for strengthening the country’s borders and policies . In terms of society and economy, Ruark and Graham (2011) and Hanson (2007) stated that the American public has to content with both legal and illegal immigrants for the hundred thousand slots of new jobs opened in the country each year, especially for those requiring only limited skills. Native-born Americans who originally filled low-ranking jobs find themselves more educated, but limits the country’s economy for the lack of job applicants in these jobs and for the American to gain job experience. It is observed by experts that while the country has a system for high skilled immigrant workers, the country remains unable to provide immigration procedures to lower-skilled foreign workers that hampers the economy. There is also the unwanted burden brought by illegal immigrants as the country would have to create welfare programs to cater to these illegal immigrants that regular taxpayers would have to shoulder. Both legal and illegal immigration also usher the growth of poverty as many of these immigrants are either refugees, asylum-seekers, and low-skilled employees. Since the country has yet to have health care insurances and benefits for immigrants, it is likely that poverty would increase especially for children of these immigrants .
Critics to reform have cited that reform and legislation are not suited to one another as far as immigration is concerned. According to Griswold, the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act has been unable to regulate the country’s labor market as illegal workers continued to increase each year. Expansion would also lead to high welfare costs, higher crime rate, lower wages and compromise security as seen in the high rates of illegal immigration at the present. Legislators also fear the possibility of chain migration, which would trigger continuous applications of immigrants sponsored by US citizens . Greenstone, Looney and Marks (2012), however, cited that reform is essential to maintain the country’s overall security, economy and society especially for those who had to contend to the long hours of paper processing and applications to get into the country. Revamping the immigration policy of the country would allow high skilled immigrants to contribute to the country’s overall development as they can introduce new methods and techniques not normally practiced or specialized by native Americans. Reform can also advocate the improvement of visa applications – especially the identification of suitable visa categories and understanding of the country quotas by the country. Experts such as Giovanni Peri of the University of California-Davis suggested that the country utilize market-based auction systems to revise the employment-based visa applications and allow employers to hire foreign-workers and guarantee their sponsorship. He also suggested of increasing enforcement and monitoring efforts, especially in the country’s borders, to ensure the safety and security of the people and deal with threats to national security .
Currently, the country had also imposed stronger border security measures after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks through the USA Patriot Act, and the Enhanced Border
Security and Visa Entry Reform Act that revised visa application processes and stronger border and detention powers for the country. The US government had also established the Homeland Security Act of 2002, which abolished the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and transferred its immigration and enforcement action to the Department of Homeland Security. The DHS also handles the activities of the US Customs and Border Protection and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, which contacts applicants and prospect migrants for their applications and inquiries regarding immigrating to the United States .
Today, America at the forefront as the top destination for migrants due to the belief the country has a lot of hidden opportunities for a better life. The country’s vast industries and flourishing way of living continue to entice migrants to consider the country as the best place to relocate and find much more competitive life as compared to their home countries. Since the country’s discovery by the first migrants, immigrants have been the country’s constant and diversified its society and policy in more ways than one. With the desire of a new life and for some, opportunities to commit illegal crime and violence, some would be forced to immigrate illegally to the country and others would need to wait for clearance for months due to America’s difficult immigration process. It is crucial for the government to ensure immigration policy reforms because the more difficult it is to get access to an otherwise “open” country and maintain strong monitoring policies, the more people would resort to illegal means to enter the country and endanger America’s overall image to the world as a top destination for those looking for new opportunities.
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