How does illegal immigration affect a country?


Philip L. Martin
US immigration policy: goals, experiences and criticism[1]

1. Preliminary remarks

The USA is a classic immigration country, but it is facing a new phase of immigration experience. First, more immigrants are coming than ever before - and no end is in sight. Second, the multiple changes to immigration laws in the US over the past three decades have made it increasingly difficult to control the influx. Third, the hope of many opinion leaders for a central compromise between supporters of immigration restrictions (via more immigration controls) and supporters of immigration facilitation (and more integration measures) will be difficult to achieve.

This article presents the most important aspects of the current discussion in the United States on immigration.[2]

2. Facts and opinions on immigration

The US is currently accepting more immigrants than ever before. In the last 10 years (1983-1992) nine million legal immigrants came, one third of them from Mexico. One third of these immigrants (two thirds of Mexicans) received an amnesty in 1987-1988. There are also illegal immigrants. Current estimates say that there are two to four million illegals living in the US, and that theirs

Number increases by 300,000 per year. There are also two to three million temporary illegals who come and go every year.

Americans want less immigration. Opinion polls show that two-thirds of all Americans, and 85% of all Californians, want less immigration, and especially fewer illegal immigrants. But three factors make immigration reform difficult.

First: Opinion polls are not taken seriously by all politicians. Americans were and always are against additional immigration. Only once in the last 50 years, in 1953, did more than 10% of Americans say in opinion polls that they were more in favor of immigration.

Secondly: The US is celebrating its immigration history. Time and again, all presidents stress that almost all Americans have experienced immigration. The USA emphasizes the principle of "e pluribus unum" (from many nationalities one emerges), that is, the idea that Americans have left other countries and are building a new country together. This is an important part of the American myth and identity. There is also a general belief that immigration has brought and will bring economic benefits to the United States.

Third: Reform is difficult because the arguments against immigration are old and because the experience has been that most of the fears were wrong. For example, President Benjamin Franklin claimed that the 1750 German immigrants in Pennsylvania would never learn English and that they would not assimilate for that reason. That prediction was wrong. Two hundred years later, a descendant of these German immigrants, Dwight Eisenhower, became President of the United States.

The immigration reform debate today rests between two extremes. On the one hand, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) calls for an immigration freeze in order to

to be able to integrate those who have traveled. On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal calls for an amendment to the constitution with the following content: "The US should have open borders."

It is these extreme positions in particular that attract media attention. For this reason, many fear that it will be difficult to find sensible solutions to immigration issues.

3. Short and long term aspects of the current immigration discussion

The best way to understand the current state of the United States is to break it down into short-term and long-term issues.

There are four short-term aspects:

  • Asylum abuse: There were 104,000 asylum seekers in 1992, double that in 1991. About 15% of these asylum seekers come through airports, mostly without papers. Most can move around freely until their hearing. This means that very often they actually do not come to the hearing. The relevant asylum regulations will therefore be changed to close asylum as a side entrance for illegal immigrants.
  • Illegal immigrants: the majority are from Mexico. 1.2 million were caught in the United States in 1991 and 1992, respectively. Many proposals are therefore aimed at employing even more border police. Today there are around 5000 members of this police force. It is demanded that every 200 million people, Americans and foreigners, who cross the US-Mexican border each year, should each pay one dollar in order to help finance the better equipment of the border police.
  • NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement / North American Free Trade Area): From January 1, 1994, the customs tariffs will be gradually reduced or even completely abolished. It is hoped that Mexico will be this way

    in the long run will be able to export more goods and fewer workers. But in the short term there is likely to be a leap in migration in NAFTA, i.e. immigration will initially increase significantly and only decline after 10 to 15 years ("migration hump"). Thus, due to the NAFTA effects, the USA needs more and not less measures against illegals in the near future.

  • Integration assistance: Legal and illegal immigrants are concentrated in six states; 40% of all legal immigrants and 50% of all illegal immigrants live or work in California. The tax income from this flows into the federal budget; However, services - e.g. for education and health - are mainly paid for by the states and cities. The states and cities are therefore demanding more federal funds for integration aid.

On the other hand, there are the following long-term questions, some of which have been under discussion for a long time:

  • Does the US have the right balance between refugees (15% of 800,000 so-called expected immigrants annually), economically desirable immigrants or labor immigrants (currently 18% of all immigrants) and immigrants for reasons of family reunification (65% of all immigrants).
  • What more can the US do about illegal immigration? Does the US need a federal work permit? Or will the planned health insurance card be the new form of immigration control at the federal level? (The President has stressed several times that illegal immigrants will not receive such a card!).
  • Should or must the US do more for immigrants after they arrive? Does the USA need an immigrant or integration policy? And if so, should the Americans or the immigrants, or the cities and states, or should all be supported?

4. Experience since 1965

After 200 years of American immigration experience, US government predictions about the effects of changes in immigration laws have been mostly wrong. Because of this, there is little public trust in the government on immigration issues.

The US has made four major changes to its immigration policy over the past three decades. With every change, the unexpected actual effects were far more important than the expected ones.

  • The changes made in 1965:

US immigration policy had three phases prior to 1965. Until 1882 there were no qualitative or quantitative restrictions on immigrants in the USA. In 1882 qualitative restrictions are introduced (e.g. no more immigration permits for the Chinese). In 1921, quantitative restrictions were added (immigration of a maximum of one percent of the stock of nationalities who lived in the USA in 1890).

In 1965 these quantitative restrictions were changed to a quota per country. The system, which was introduced in 1965, had three levels: First, immigrants were assigned six different priorities. The first priority was for foreign family members of US citizens, the second for family members of already immigrants, etc. Second, they were then quantitatively assigned to a quota of a maximum of 20,000 immigrants per country. Third, a worldwide quota of 290,000 per year was introduced.

The purpose of this new system was to end the preference given to Europeans. At the same time, it was expected that there would be no major changes in the composition of the countries of origin. But it actually changed significantly: in the 1950s two thirds of all immigrants came from Europe and Canada, in the 1970s a quarter and in the 1980s only an eighth. In the

at the same time, the proportion of immigrants from Latin America and Asia rose to eighty percent in the 1980s.

This change in the composition according to the countries of origin of the immigrants was mainly due to the fact that highly qualified Asians came first, who were later followed by their family members in the form of chain migration. After 1975, more than a million refugees immigrated from Asia, who later also gradually brought their family members to catch up. And instead of guest workers from Mexico, legal and illegal immigrants came from there, these too, ultimately followed by their families. The result of developments after 1965 was that the countries of origin changed and that family reunification became a major reason for immigration.

  • The changes from 1980:

After the first waves of refugees from Asia, the US changed its definition of refugees. Instead of making purely political decisions about who a refugee is, the US introduced the UN definition: Refugees are those who are persecuted because of their nationality, belief, etc.

The United States introduced a refugee support system in 1980 in which churches and charities were involved. As a result, for the first time in their history, these institutions became dependent on funds from the federal budget for part of their activities.

It was estimated that the US would take in about 50,000 refugees per year. In fact, the numbers were much higher, between 120,000 and 130,000 each year.

Whoever was recognized as a political refugee was ultimately a political decision. For example, almost all Cubans were accepted as refugees, while the Boat People were sent back from Haiti. Refugees from El Salvador were only granted temporary status. Refugees from the People's Republic of China could be recognized

when they claim they fled the "baby policy".

Instead of a final solution, the refugee reform of 1980 was only a first step. In connection with the asylum reform, the US changed the system again later.

  • The 1986 changes:

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was the result of a great deal of trade between politicians and opinion leaders on immigration policy. The opinion leaders had described the entrances for immigrants as doors: the front door for legal immigrants, the back door for the illegal ones. The deal consisted of restrictive measures being taken to close the back door so that the front door could be left open.

Politicians and academics agree that illegals only come because they are looking for jobs. The door to the American labor market is to be closed with sanctions (fines). Employers who hire illegals with knowledge of their status are fined up to $ 10,000 per employee. All employers are required to fill out a form for each newly hired person to prove that the worker has presented documents showing that he or she has the right to work in the United States. In extreme cases, employers face jail for employing illegal workers.

The sanctions were one side of the trade. The other side consisted of an amnesty for 2.7 million illegals if they had lived in the USA since 1/1/82 or if they had worked illegally as farm workers for at least 90 days in 1985/86. The amnesty should clean the table: it should no longer be necessary to track down the illegals and deport them; on the other hand, employers should have enough legal workers available.

The expectation was that the number of illegals would decrease. In fact, this number is now estimated at up to four million (1980: two million). There is a debate going on in the United States today about how the great gap between expectation and reality came about. On the one hand, observers claim that the blame lies with the immigration authorities for failing to enforce the reform. On the other hand, there are complaints that the system cannot function properly because employers have to inspect up to 28 different identity papers. At the same time, they should not check these papers too critically, because otherwise the workers could file a discrimination complaint against the employer.

IRCA ultimately made it easier rather than harder for illegals to find jobs in the US. Before the IRCA, the illegals were often called "undocumented workers". Since the IRCA, counterfeit identity papers have become so cheap that these people are now being described as "documented illegals".

  • The changes made in 1990:

In 1990 the Immigration Act (IMMACT) was passed. The reason for this was that eight million new jobs were created on the US labor market in the second half of the 1980s. There were fears that there would be a labor shortage in the US. In this general discussion about current and future labor shortages, it was universities and large corporations who complained that without immigration reform the USA would lose in the global competition for particularly highly qualified workers.

Other indications were also interpreted in such a way that more immigration could make sense. For example, scientists came to the conclusion that immigrants earn more than comparable Americans within 10 to 20 years. At the same time, however, less than 20% of the US "quota immigrants" came via the criterion "qualified immigrants".

Wanderer ", that is, as highly qualified people that the economy needs. And there was still no completely open door for family members.

As a result, and in response to these discussions, the new Immigration Act offers everyone something like under a Christmas tree:

  • employers to double the number of highly skilled immigrants to 140,000 per year (including their family members);
  • the economy in general, up to 10,000 "financially strong" immigrants investing at least a million dollars and creating ten jobs in the process;
  • Churches and ethnic groups have more immigration places for family members (unlimited for US citizens; at least 226,000 per year for family members of already immigrants); 55,000 places for "other" immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland, etc .; and up to 5,000 pastors and other church / religious officials.

Some things are not yet clear in the assessment of IMMACT. So there are problems with the business-oriented criteria. Only 100 investors have come so far because, as US immigrants, they have to pay taxes on their worldwide income. Or, as far as the guest worker regulations are concerned, there are Indians and Pakistanis, for example, as qualified computer programmers - 700 in 1992 - who work on a salary of only $ 24,000 a year, with the effect that US programmers are already complaining about this US wages would be depressed. Or another question is currently being discussed: What is a religion, what is a pastor, or which religious communities have the right to access from foreign officials?

Conclusion 1:

Past experience has not always been a good teacher of changes in immigration policy. So after 1965 number

and origins of the immigrants changed significantly. The major agreements of 1986 and 1990 had unexpected effects that were far more significant than those originally anticipated.

5. The impact of today's immigration on the economy and society

The USA and the other industrialized countries show a so-called diamond shape in terms of the structure of the population according to qualifications and income. That is, the largest part is in the middle of the distribution. For example, 160 million Americans are over 25 years old - 20% have four years or more of college education, 60% have intermediate school diploma or less than four years of college education, and 20% have no intermediate school diploma.

The immigrants, on the other hand, have an "hourglass shape". Out of 20 million immigrants, 30% have a university education, 20% have an intermediate education and 50% have no school leaving certificate. So immigration means that there are fewer middle-class populations. This means that, at least in the short term, immigration - in large numbers and in the "hourglass shape" - directly and indirectly causes more inequality. This is justified with the following arguments:

  • First part of the immigrants receive social assistance.The new waves of immigrants are much more likely to receive welfare than Americans. There are fears that Hispanic immigrants in particular will make use of the social network to the same extent as blacks, initially relatively little according to an S-curve, but after a short time more and more. (Among poor black women with children, the proportion of recipients of social assistance rose from 10% to 70% between 1960 and 1980.)
  • Secondly immigrants make it harder for low-skilled Americans to move up in the job market. In California there is currently a development that people mean

    Levels are leaving the country while semi-skilled and unskilled people move in. This means that California is slipping from its former US top position in terms of income levels to midfield.

  • Third immigrants mostly belong to minorities. But you come to a clearly active society. Some Conservatives are therefore in favor of more immigration because they believe that the US cannot always consider people illegal, but can legalize them the next day and then put them in a special group. The consequences can be observed in schools, for example: The right to bilingual education applies to all children in the USA, including children of families who have entered the country legally and illegally. This makes the education system very expensive. Education through twelfth grade alone takes up 60 percent of the total California budget. In California, voters tend to be older, white, and conservative on average - students are more likely to be children of young, often minority families. However, these do not take part in the elections, so that future voting decisions cannot be assessed.

Conclusion 2:

Immigration accelerates the trend towards inequality in the US economy. Immigration is also fueling other tendencies: between 2000 and 2010 there will be more Hispanics than blacks, and by 2050 one in nine Americans will be of Asian origin.

6. Options for further development of immigration policy

Immigrants keep coming in waves, i.e. the immigration numbers fluctuate very strongly. There were two peaks in immigration in the United States: 1840-1850 and 1900-1914. In both periods, immigration was halted by war, law, and depression.

Today, however, there is no "natural" flattening in immigration in sight. Because of the strong population development in Mexico in connection with NAFTA, Mexican emigration will initially increase significantly and only decrease again after up to 156 years.

Americans agree that the number of immigrants should be reduced. But there is no consensus as to which groups this reduction should be at the expense of and how the reduction can be enforced.

The following options are available at short notice:

First: Asylum abuse is made more difficult. The attack on the World Trade Center, the CIA attack and the Chinese illegals seeking asylum will bring new laws and regulations.

Secondly there will be more border controls. The U.S.-American-Mexican border town of El Paso recently demonstrated how, with the right financial effort, a border blockade could be achieved in an area through which a quarter of all illegal immigrants pass. As mentioned above, the introduction of a general border crossing fee is under discussion, which is intended to finance better equipment for the border police.

Third there will be some legal measures in the near future that are directed directly against illegals. In California and Washington D.C. various special bills. For example, there is a new regulation that from 1994 in California one must prove that one is legally resident in the USA in order to be able to get a driver's license. Other proposals are concerned with introducing tougher penalties for immigrants who use forged identity cards to get a job or to get welfare.

What are the long-term options?

The immigration country USA is about its immigration policy

have to think. It has already proven that it can be very restrictive in this respect ("Operation Wetback" 1993 on the Mexican border). The alternative is: Either the immigration numbers will be reduced and at the same time more will be done for immigrants, or the numbers will remain as high as before and the inequality between developed and developing countries will increase inequality within the US. In the USA, the intensification of this internal inequality can already be seen.

A short digression on the relationship between Mexico and the USA:

40% of all US immigrants come from Mexico and Latin America, and another 40% from Asia. Mexico has a population of around 90 million. The average income per capita is $ 2,700, eight times that in the US. Some migration researchers believe that while the US has some other migration problems, the main problem is immigration from Mexico. Developments over the past ten years confirm that Mexican immigrants have contributed significantly to the surge in immigration to the United States.

What solution is possible? An improvement of the situation is only conceivable in the long term, namely through strong economic growth and thus through the creation of sufficient jobs for the additional labor supply due to the population development and due to the development in agriculture. Most of the Mexican immigrants come from agriculture. A third of Mexicans live and work in the country. The per capita income there is only $ 900 per year, but in Mexico City it is $ 5,000. This difference in income is the main reason Mexico City has become the largest city in the world through internal immigration.

The great hope for promoting economic growth and thus jobs is the NAFTA free trade area, which has now been adopted. The original proposal for this agreement came from Mexico. This new free trade area is bigger than the European Community.

The immigration issue had originally not played a major role in the NAFTA negotiations. But migration researchers predicted that NAFTA will lead to more immigration from Mexico in the short and medium term. What are the reasons for this?

  1. Demand pull: The wage gap between the US and Mexico will certainly create new jobs as a result of US investments in Mexico. However, these will not go to the areas where the poor Mexicans live, but rather to areas with better infrastructure, i.e. above all to the border areas and the already existing economic centers. This will trigger additional internal migratory movements, which will ultimately also increase movements northwards, across the border into the USA.
  2. Boost in supply: Due to the Mexican population development and the restructuring in agriculture, many additional people will need jobs in the next few years that they will not have sufficiently available in Mexico. Because of the NAFTA developments, their routes to the north, to the USA, will be mapped out.
  3. Communication and transport networks between Mexico and the USA: In the past, there were often only narrow paths and hardly any telephone connections between the USA and Mexico. Today it is well-developed motorways, telephone and television networks, often wireless, through which people, goods and information can be exchanged without great difficulty. For example, there are already toll-free telephone lines set up by US employers in Mexico, which workers can use to find out whether jobs are available in the USA.

These statements from the scientific side had led to considerable resistance to the conclusion of the NAFTA agreement, especially from the Californian side. California makes up 11% of all MPs in the US House of Representatives. Almost everyone was against NAFTA. Some of them were only willing to agree if, on the one hand, Me-

xiko makes emigration more difficult, and if, on the other hand, the US federal government pays the cost of immigration. (It is estimated that 10% of the California budget is spent on immigrants, or 5% on illegals alone.) Overall, the Clinton administration could only win congressional approval of NAFTA through substantial financial concessions.

For economic reasons it certainly made sense to adopt NAFTA. But NAFTA must be used more intensively today in order to establish better immigration controls in cooperation with Mexico.

Conclusion 3:

Politicians are more oriented towards current problems, e.g. asylum seekers arriving via airports. But the long-term problem remains immigration from Mexico. Mexico has a population of 90 million, about a third of the US population; however, Mexico's gross domestic product is only one twentieth of US GDP. One third of all immigrants come from Mexico, but two thirds of them come as illegals. For these reasons, economic and legal measures against further immigration on the current scale must be introduced together with Mexico.

7. The prospects for a new major immigration policy agreement in the US

Some opinion leaders in the field of immigration policy suggest that the number of immigrants should be reduced significantly while at the same time strengthening integration measures. But the partners for a new big social agreement have very different views on future immigration. Environmental groups, trade unions, some conservatives (who oppose bilingual education and the right to vote for immigrants) and some liberals (because of the impact of immigration on the labor market) want less immigration. Churches, ethnic groups, some employers,

various lawyers and the Mexican government want more or at least no less immigration. These two sides are unlikely to reach a consensus. Because of this, for most, the status quo is the second best solution. Each side has its own ulterior motive: The so-called "restrictionists" think that - the longer the USA waits to make decisions about immigration policy - the stricter the control measures will be. The so-called "admissionists" assume that all immigrants who are already in the USA will also stay here.

Both sides are partly right about the status quo effects. Experts expect that more controls will be introduced in the USA and that there will be amnesties again. But while waiting for the big new social agreement, some rights for immigrants are likely to be lost. Legal immigrants today have to wait three years before they are entitled to social assistance. And recently the American Parliament increased this waiting period to five years in order to have more scope for increasing unemployment benefits.

Other measures are also under discussion:

  • no longer automatic citizenship for children born in the United States;
  • Abolition of the right to participate in statutory health insurance;
  • Abolition of the right to free primary education for children of illegals;
  • Establish prisons in Mexico for illegal immigrant Mexicans committed in California (15% to 20% of criminals in California prisons are illegal immigrants; the cost of a prison spot in Mexico is only one-tenth of the $ 25,000 per year per prisoner in California).

Something must be done in the USA to counteract massive immigration. Unless the current immigration situation changes, inequality between developed and developing countries will create greater inequality within developed countries.

[Footnote references]

Fn.1: Editing of the German version of the contract: Elmar Hönekopp, Nuremberg.

Footnote 2: A comprehensive brochure with dates and details is published under the title "Immigration to the United States: Journey to an Uncertain Destination", Population Reference Bureau, Washington 1994.

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | June 2003