The US has an attitude to immigration that is vastly different from that found in other nations. In most European countries, for example, there are nationals whose ancestry had lived there for centuries and newcomers that happen to enter a well-established and until recently a more or less mono-cultural society. In America, except a small group of Native Americans, anybody’s ancestry was made up of immigrants at some point of national history. This makes attitude toward immigration more relaxed; however, the history of the US including notorious provisions like the Chinese Exclusion Acts demonstrates that the attitude toward immigrants was not always exemplary. The history of the US is a history of inflow of immigrants, embodied in Ellis Island, and the history of adverse reaction to the newcomers on the part of the current population.
Recent decades witnessed a dramatic surge in immigration. According to the US Census Bureau, immigrant populations rose 57.4% in the period from 1990 from 2000 (Wikipedia, 2003). The southern states were the greatest recipients of immigrant flows, mostly Hispanics. This increase in foreign-born population that in many cases experiences difficulties learning English and assimilating in the new motherland caused further tensions that partly found reflection in the proposal to legitimize the status of English as the official language of the nation.
Current policies allowing reunification of relatives have brought into the country streams of people who do not quickly learn English and fail to get quickly absorbed into the society, allegedly «reversing the history of upward mobility in previous waves of immigration» (Zuckerman 2002). The Administration reacted by proposing a bill that includes another amnesty of illegal immigrants going as far as propose citizenship to those who have been working in the US for five years.
This resolution was contained in the Senate Bill that also discussed the temporary worker program. On the contrary, the bill passed by the House of Representatives “focuses on border security and interior enforcement” (Bush, 2006). No matter how the two chambers reconcile this debate, it is already clear that America is on the verge of a large-scale reform and this reform is already evoking concerns and protests among many people including those that are themselves immigrants.
It is obvious that America faces several challenges with respect to immigration. The first one is effective control of borders in order to prevent illegal migration that currently occurs mostly on the southern borders, since it leads to increases in undesirable immigrant populations and sometimes even deaths of those who try to cross the border illegally. In addition to controls, the nation has to decide what to do with those who are inside the nation already. The choice is either to deport them to their home countries or find options to legalise them.
Legal immigrants can also be a problem because so-called ‘chain immigration’ as well as other types bring into the US large numbers of immigrants who cannot always assimilate very well in their new motherland and sometimes face the challenge of asserting themselves in the new nation professionally. Isolation from the mainstream community, low socioeconomic status, and accompanying problems like high crime rate often plague immigrant communities. Besides, the policy-makers should make it imperative that US citizens do not feel disadvantaged because of the influx of immigrants and suppress the fear that immigrants will take away good jobs. Simultaneously, there should be possibilities for talented foreign nationals eager to come to the US to do so in legal immigrant status.
The resolution of immigrant problems will require coordinated effort of both the immigrant community and the government. Foreign-born populations with low socioeconomic status are often interested in the closing of the border so as to avert the influx of illegal migrants who will compete with them for low-paid, low-skills jobs that do not require knowledge of English. In fact, recent immigrants, such as Latino Americans or Chinese are among those least interested in promoting immigration and in fact in many cases support anti-immigration regulations and measures.
This is confirmed by the remarks made by Antonia Hernandez, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), who cited “wage depression, as in the garment industry, which is predominantly immigrant” as a result of “competition within the Latino community” (Matloff, 1995). However, strengthening the border remains the task of the federal government. George Bush notes that since he became President, the administration “increased funding for border security by 66 percent” and “expanded the Border Patrol from about 9,000 to 12,000 agents” (Bush, 2006). This helped vitalize the security; however, it did not prevent the influx of immigrants.
In order to prevent the stream of poor people from Mexico that the southern states cannot fully absorb, it makes sense to develop this country economically. Strengthening cooperation within the limits of the NAFTA partnership can be a response to the challenge. In fact, until Mexico’s income levels become comparable to at least US low-wage jobs, the stream of immigrants is bound to be high.
The government should also crack down on organized criminal groups that take advantage of human misfortune, transporting immigrants across the border, often in inhuman conditions and subjecting them to abuse. More attention has to be paid to migrants’ testimony concerning their abusers. On the other hand, the regulations against employers who knowingly hire illegal migrants have to be toughened and more strongly enforced. Penalties for hiring illegal migrants have to be raised to levels where employers’ profits will really take a hit from such a practice.
To address the problems of immigrants that have already arrived, the US can do more to integrate them into communities. Efforts should perhaps be made at the level of the communities. For example, local community centers can make implementation of programs aimed at promoting the well-being of immigrants their priority. Courses of English as a Foreign Language can be offered at no or low cost funded with local donations. Educational materials concerning the basics of living in the US and introduction to American culture can also be distributed in places where immigrant populations prevail.
Festivals and other kinds of events can be helpful in order to help newcomers integrate into communities. These efforts could include investments in the construction of more high-quality educational establishments for recent immigrants. These institutions, needed especially on the secondary level, could proceed in two ways. First, they could give the children of new entrants a good education in their mother tongue, and second, offer enhanced programs on developing their English skills.
These initiatives need not be limited to those without appropriate knowledge of English or low professional skills. At the corporate level, executives of companies that employ large numbers of immigrants can institute special orientation sessions helping them adjust to the US culture. These events can possibly be integrated with cross-cultural trainings for American employees so that both categories can learn each other’s perspective. Thus, people from both sides can share their view of cultural differences, what strikes as unusual (both positive and negative) in the immigrant groups and vice versa. These perspectives can both help immigrants better adapt to the new reality and leave Americans better prepared to handle cultural differences when they encounter them elsewhere.
Inviting temporary guest workers to work in the US should also be better regulated. The government can establish priorities as to the spheres in which it is willing to attract foreign potential. Migrants invited to work in the temporary worker program have to pass through rigorous background checks and pass a test of the knowledge of English. Doing so will enable the government to ascertain that companies indeed invite those who will make a valuable contribution to the national well-being.
Increasing the number of temporary workers can be a viable way to prevent outsourcing; its advantage is that “foreign national workers living in the United States would at least spend money in the United States, while the multi-national corporations that would purportedly export the jobs to overseas locations would probably not pass down as much of the savings to the U.S. consumer who purchased for them” (Wikipedia, 2006). In fact, Zuckerman (2002) puts forth a valuable proposal to «rebalance the number of visas provided for extended-family programs and add more to attract immigrants with skills transferable to the information economy». This proposal seems feasible as it can improve the potential of the immigrant pool to contribute to the economy.
Amnesties of illegal migrants are perhaps unavoidable. It makes sense to demand from those who entered illegally the payment of sizeable fees for their legalisation so as to compensate for the violation of the law and make such arrival less desirable. Employers who have hired such immigrants should be found and made pay serious fines in order to prevent them from repeating such practice. Besides, they, too, should be made accountable for the bureaucratic expense of the legalization process.
The future of the immigration debate will be shaped by the current views on immigration as well as potential growth of the immigrant community. The relative size of the immigrant community and their status in the economy, as well as the success of the government’s efforts at their integration are likely to affect the process. Most probably, illegal migrants will be granted the desired legalisation, and borders will have to be strengthened. However, the main problems will remain and will persist as long as discrepancies in living standards drive people from poor to more affluent nations.
Bush, G. (2006, June 1). President Discusses Comprehensive Immigration Reform, United States Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C.
Wikipedia. (2006). Immigration to the United States. Retrieved on June 6, 2006, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immigration_to_the_United_States
Zuckerman, M. B. (2002, September 23) Our rainbow underclass. US News.