If there is a policy that is a bone of contention for politicians, it is the immigration reform policy. When Congress agrees to go to war or impose sanctions on dictators, they do so with one voice. This is however not the case with immigration. Today, we seek to understand why it has been a contentious issue, and why the debate on immigration will go nowhere soon.
A Quick Primer On Immigration In The United States
To understand this debate, we must first understand its origin. Before Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama or George W. Bush, there was Ronald Reagan. Despite famous scandals during his administration that rocked the nation such as the Iran-Contra affair, Housing and Urban Development grant rigging, and the scandals at the Environmental Protection Agency, Ronald Reagan is perhaps the only president to have successfully achieved major immigration reforms.
Decades later, George W. Bush advocated for an immigration policy that would have allowed immigrants to apply for citizenship if they met specific requirements. Unfortunately, his proposal was shot down by Congress. In 2014, President Barack Obama issued an executive order to protect illegal migrants from deportation. The courts later determined that the orders were unconstitutional and invalid.
President Donald J. Trump
President Donald Trump campaigned heavily on immigration reform. His rallying call was to build a wall on the border with Mexico to curb illegal immigration. He promised to deport millions of illegal immigrants whom he blamed for the rising crime levels in America and to ban Muslims from visiting America. Many believe his staunchly anti-immigrant and anti-refugee campaign promises led to his election and high voter support.
Though some of his controversial pledges were overturned by the judicial system, he has claimed that construction on the border wall has begun. After evaluating four 30 foot high and 30 foot long prototypes, the Trump administration has awarded a $145 million dollar contract to a Texas construction company, SLSCO, to build 6 miles of an 18-foot wall along the Rio Grande Valley border.
It's clear that his administration is determined to prevent immigrants from Honduras and Mexico from reaching the US by deploying thousands of troops on the American border. Only time will tell whether his controversial moves will be successful.
The Population Of Immigrants In America
According to the Census Bureau, immigrants comprise 14 percent of the entire American population. Because of intermarriage, immigrants and their American-born children are over 27 percent of the entire US Population. This number is expected to rise over the years.
The number of illegal immigrants could be higher as many of them stay off the grid to avoid detection by authorities. During the financial crisis of 2008, it was estimated that there were over 11 million illegal immigrants. In 2017, there was a jump of around 40% of undocumented immigrants trying to enter the US illegally.
Based on credible sources, the US granted legal residency to over 1.2 million people. In 2017, those granted residency based on H1B Visas were around 180,000; these are people with high-paying jobs. Temporary workers with visas were around 250,000.
Immigration Policies Under President Donald Trump
Since coming into power, President Trump has issued several executive orders on immigration reform. The first step was to instruct border agencies to design and construct a wall between America and Mexico. This change ended the “Catch and Release Policy.” This meant that they could not release captured immigrants while they waited for processing.
These policies made it mandatory for immigrants to be deported if they could not prove that they have stayed in America for than two years. The deportation effect was to be done without a court hearing or due process. This made it harder for immigrants to protect themselves.
Later, President Trump would use an executive order to ban immigrants from Muslim countries such as Iran, Yemen, Libya and Somalia from entering the US. He also suspended the refugee program for around 120 days. Under President Trump, the number of refugees who could seek asylum was reduced to 50,000. “Temporary protected status” was ended for Nicaraguans and Haitians.
American Views On Immigration
Though politicians are divided on immigration, 71% of Americans believe immigration reforms are unnecessary. In 2016, 84% of Americans did not mind the nationalization of immigrants as long as they met specific requirements.
Immigration Reform: Conservative Arguments
Conservative politicians spearhead the attack on wide-scale immigration. Though most of their arguments may sound valid, they are often not backed by scientific evidence. Many of these arguments instead take a political approach rather than an evidence-based approach. These arguments are:
More Immigrants, Fewer Jobs
This line of argument is based on the laws of supply and demand. The more immigrants there are in America, the more that pressure for existing jobs will increase. The argument is that this growth in the available labor pool reduces employment opportunities for American citizens. Conservative politicians feel that this will negatively affect the livelihood of Americans, especially those who do not have a university degree.
Growth Of Economic Inequality
Though economic equality has improved around the world due to economic growth, many conservatives argue that once immigrants enter the US, inequality will increase since they are entering a country with a high per capita income. This increases inequality and immigration reform is the only solution.
The Perceived Criminality Of Immigrants
This line of argument underlies the conservative urgency for building a wall between America and Mexico. Stricter immigration reform is seen as necessary to curb the entry of violent migrants from Mexican drug cartels. Gangs such as MS-13 are seen as a textbook example since they are perceived to have "taken over" the streets of many US cities.
Supposed Links Between Increased Immigration And Increased Terrorist Attacks
This line of thought resulted in the ban of people from Muslim countries like Iran, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. This is because much of the terrorism in Europe has escalated since the widespread influx of migrants.
Immigration Reforms Are Needed To Protect Wage Levels
Falls and rises in wages depend on the laws of demand and supply. The more available labor in the market, the lower the wages and vice versa. This reverses the rising wage levels that America has historically been accustomed to.
Immigration Reforms Will Stop Ethnic Tensions
This line of thought is propagated because many ethnic groups have their own cultures and languages. Instead of assimilating with the locals, they have grouped themselves into ethnic enclaves that have resulted in ethnic tensions in many cities in America. Mexicans, Spaniards and African Americans fight over territory, and this results in more violence. Statistics show that gang-related deaths are on the rise.
Losing The Benefits Of A Stable Population
Ideally, the population growth rate should reflect economic growth to create economic equilibrium. However, this is not the case due to the influx of immigrants in America. Immigration reform is needed to ensure there is no overuse of public utilities. To accommodate an expanding population, ecosystems are being destroyed, and this leads to environmental degradation. This also puts pressure on public facilities and infrastructure.
Immigration Reform: Liberal Arguments
This second line of thought is mostly propagated by Democratic politicians who believe immigrants are beneficial to the country. This line of thought is based on the following arguments:
Building A Border Wall Is too Expensive
Liberals believe building a border wall that will cost over 25 billion dollars is not worth it. They believe this money could rebuild much-needed infrastructure and be channeled to social welfare programs.
Immigrants Built America
Liberal believe that immigrants helped build America as we know it today. Immigrants from Europe opened shops and worked in factories spurring economic growth. Immigrants built railways and bridges. America would never have achieved the industrial, technological and economic superiority that it did without the (often forced) contributions of these individuals from far-off lands.
They Will Solve The Aging Crisis
Just like most other developed countries, America is suffering from an aging population. The birth rate is not as high as it should be and this is detrimental to sectors that rely on a young and energized labor such as the military and construction industry. One solution to this problem is to allow immigrants in the country to provide labor and help mitigate the aging crisis.
Reduced Wages Make America Competitive
Due to the law of demand and supply, the more laborers in the market, the better for business. This is because they will lower the cost of labor and this will make American products competitive in the international market.
It Is Good For Humanity
Usually, immigrants do not emigrate from their country when they live a luxurious life. They migrate because they are facing severe challenges such as political instability, lack of employment, high inflation levels and state-sponsored violence. Immigration helps America to stand in solidarity with the world. America should, therefore, be willing to accept refugees.
Though both sides of the aisle have valid arguments on the need for immigration reforms, they all want the best for America. However, it is prudent that both sides have scientific data to prove their case to make better-informed decisions on immigration. The issue is not a simple one to solve, but should be addressed.