On September 13, 2006, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was introduced in the US Senate and was passed in the US House of Representatives on September 14, 2006, with a majority of vote of 283-138. The multibillion-dollar long-term program consists of a plan to build secure fencing across the US –Mexican border, which is also referred to as the “Great Wall of America” between the US and Mexico (“H.R. 6061 (109th): Secure Fence Act of 2006”). Since the presentation of the program, it has become a hotly debated topic on the political and social levels in the country. The necessity of raising such expensive and complicated fencing reflects the seriousness of illegal immigration in the US. The US has a long history of immigration. In comparison with the other migration issues, illegal immigration from Central America, especially from Mexico to the United States, has always remained the topmost concern for the US economy. Today, besides the United States, most of the developed countries in the world are facing the issue of illegal immigration, which is causing immense pressure on the economy, health welfare, societal stability, peace, and security of these countries. The purpose of this essay is to study the issue of illegal immigration in the US and analyze its prevalence, causes, and overall consequences. Based on the studies of various research and reports, the paper tries to suggest possible solutions and policies regarding the issue.
The American dream has been attracting immigrants from all parts of the world to the US for many years. Nevertheless, the requirements for legal permits and citizenship have become stricter, and the incidence of illegal immigration, especially across the US-Mexican border, has increased immensely. Since the last four decades, the flow of migration to the United States from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico has accelerated. It has been mainly triggered by massive opportunity divergence throughout the region and other strong push-and-pull migration policies. It has been estimated that currently, 14 million immigrants from these countries are living in the United States as compared to fewer than 1 million in the 1970s. According to the official reports, the migrants from Central America have made up 36% of all US immigrants. This phenomenal increase is driven by economic opportunities and supported by social networks of family and friends in the US (Rosenblum & Brick 1).
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According to the data presented by US Census Bureau, in 2009, around 75% of Mexican immigrants settled in California, Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, and Arizona, out of which California has the maximum number of Mexican immigrants - around 38%. Illegal immigration and migrants from Central America are highly associated. According to the official reports, about 60% of all unauthorized migration to the US comes from Mexico, around 6.7 million people in 2009. Besides Mexico, other states of Central America also make up a similar proportion of the illegal immigrants in the US. According to the DHS reports of January 2009, about 68% of Hondurans, 60% of Guatemalans, and 46% of Salvadorans were illegal immigrants in the US (Rosenblum & Brick 15-21). America, which is known as a “nation of immigrants,” has witnessed one of the largest immigrants flows in the twentieth century. Approximately 45 million, that is 20 percent of the worldwide immigrants, live in the U.S., making up 13 percent of its population. According to the University of Chicago, 70 percent of the population of Chicago consisted of immigrants and their children. Almost 60 million people, more than one-fifth of the total population of the U.S., are immigrants or their children (Liang 488-489). According to the official reports of the Center for American Progress, in 2013, there were more than 11 million illegal immigrants in the US. 86 percent of illegal immigrants have been residing in the US for more than 7 years. 80 percent of illegal immigrants are from Central and Latin America, 11 percent from Africa, Canada, and Europe, and 9 percent from Asia (Mackey n. p.).
The number of illegal immigrants in the US is growing day by day. In addition, the increasing rate of illegal immigrants is triggering various issues, including poverty, crimes, and discrimination towards immigrants in the country.
Poverty and Other Associated Issues
According to the DHS reports of January 2009, about 68% of Hondurans, 60% of Guatemalans, and 46% of Salvadorans were illegal immigrants in the US. Most migrants from Central America to the United States come from poor families and for education purposes. In 2008, about 62% of Mexican immigrants aged 24 years and older had an education level lower than the high school degree. However, the rate of education changes drastically according to their age of migration to the US. Mexican who migrated to the US between the ages of 14 to 22 has only 28% of a high school completion rate while those who arrived between ages 5 to 14 have 78% of a high school completion rate (Rosenblum & Brick 15-21).
In addition to the low levels of education among illegal immigrants in the US, a second major factor contributing to poverty among illegal immigrants is the high level of family disintegration. It has been found out that out-of-wedlock childbearing and teenage pregnancies are common among Hispanic both legal and illegal immigrants. In 2003, around 42 percent of children of Hispanic immigrant mothers were born outside marriage. Among black illegal immigrant mothers, the rate was 39.5 percent, among white non-Hispanic illegal immigrants, 11.2 percent, and among Asian illegal immigrants, 11.6 percent. It has been reported that children born and raised in disturbed families, or outside marriage are seven times more likely to live in poverty as compared to children from common families. Such children are also more likely to be dependent on welfare, prone to psychological disorders, to fail in school, involved in crimes, and get addicted to alcohol and drugs (Rector n. p.).
Because of poverty and low education, high rates of illegal activities and crimes are reported among the migrants from Central America. The Governor’s Crime Commission report suggests that Hispanics are involved in 49% of all criminal gangs and violent crimes in the US. The majority of them are illegal immigrants. According to the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center, Mexican drug cartels are actively operating in more than 1,286 cities in the US. These Mexican drug cartels make almost $6.6 billion a year through drug trafficking in the US. They are also involved in violent and illegal activities. Besides drug trafficking and violent crimes, Mexican illegal immigrants have higher rates of drunk driving and sexual deviancy. A 2006 report by the UNC Highway Safety Research Center confirmed that Mexican drivers involved in road accidents are more than twice likely to be intoxicated than whites and three times more likely than blacks are. A study by Dr. Schurman-Kauflin showed that there are almost 240,000 illegal immigrant sex offenders in the country (Taylor n. p.). One out of every five children living in Los Angeles County has an illegal immigrant parent. It has been calculated that US taxpayers spend $12,000,000,000 on education for children of illegal immigrants. According to the reports, illegal immigrants would be creating the burden of the cost of around $6.3 trillion to the US taxpayers over the next 50 years. Approximately 30% of the population in local, state, and federal prisons is made up of illegal immigrants, and the total cost of incarcerating them is more than $1.6 billion annually (Snyder n. p.).
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Economics and Politics of Illegal Immigration
Most Americans believe that illegal immigrants are the root cause of poverty and unemployment in the country. Moreover, illegal immigrants are blamed for the depressing wages of the low-skilled workers. However, various economical studies and research reflect different facts. First-generation immigrants in the US, who account for around one-sixth of the US population, cause one-fourth of the overall poverty percentage in the country. However, it has been seen that immigrants’ poverty is a short-term phenomenon. The poverty rate among the second-generation immigrants in the US is much lower than among the previous-generation immigrants. Moreover, second-generation immigrants are as well off as the average native American. The survey about wages of the low-skilled workers in different states shows that immigration merely affects the wages of the low-skilled workers. According to the established assumption, high rates of immigrants put enormous pressure on the wages of unskilled native workers, in a way. Consequently, one would expect that a state with a large number of immigrants will offer very low salaries for unskilled labor. However, the report shows that in states like Nevada and California, where the overall rate of the illegal population is about 7.5 percent and 6.9 percent respectively, provide an average hourly wage for high school dropout around $10.5 and $8.7, as compared to other states like Ohio, where illegal immigrants population is merely 1 percent, but average hourly wage for the low-skilled workers is around $8.3 (“Statistics on Poverty and Immigration”).
Politics plays a critical role in issues related to illegal immigration. Rep. Tom Tancredo, a leading anti-immigration advocate in Congress, claims that the US government purposely chooses not to secure the border despite the ability because most leaders of the Democratic Party see a massive number of legal and illegal immigrants as a great source of secure votes. In addition, the Republic Party treats the issue as the beneficial flow of much cheaper labor in the country. Brendan Flanagan, the director of legal affairs for the National Restaurant Association, explains that some economical sectors would collapse without cheap illegal workers. He further insists that most illegal immigrants do the jobs, which Native Americans do not want to do. Hotels, restaurants, agriculture, nursing homes, and construction fields always look for a regular supply of productive, cheap labor, which is provided by illegal immigrants. According to microeconomics, illegal immigrants indirectly bolster the economy of the country (Katel n. p.).
Possible Policy Recommendation
After analyzing various reports and studies, there are some policies which the US can adopt to tackle the issues of illegal immigrants such as, poverty, unfair treatment, and discrimination in society.
Improvement of the US Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
Various studies have shown that the complicated structure of visa procedures and limited channels of legal entry into the US are triggering illegal immigration. The functioning model of the USCIS needs to be reformed entirely. Improved USCIS programs with the combination of enforcement of border control systems can provide positive results. In addition, the USCIS needs to develop current visa programs such as those for seasonal agricultural and other temporary workers (“Immigration”).
Encouraging Legal Migration and Avoiding “Push-pull Effect”
Instead of backing illegal migrants, Congress and the federal administration should encourage the migrants who wish to migrate to the US using legal procedures. Legal migration can be increased by promoting the market-based seasonal or temporary work programs, which can give the US businesses and industries access to a dynamic, reliable, and varying temporary labor force. Such programs can divert the migrant from illegal migration and allow the migrants to enter the US legally, work, earn money, and return home. It will be also beneficial for the US economy as such programs will not snatch jobs from the locals, and provide a regular flow of new, enthusiastic, and efficient workforce (“Immigration”).
The research has shown that illegal migration from Central America to the US is caused by the “push-pull effect”, the combination of the struggling economies in Central America and huge labor demand in the United States. Supporting the governments in Central America to enhance local economic opportunities by adopting free-market economic development, and lowering the need for citizens to seek employment out of the country to support their families, can reduce the rate of migrants to the US from Central America. In a way, it will help tackle the issue of poverty among illegal immigrants in the country (“Immigration”).
The illegal migration from Central America and other parts of the world to the US is significantly damaging the societal and economic structure of the country. Most of the issues related to illegal immigration, such as poverty, unfair treatment, and discrimination can be tackled. Present migration-related policies of the US are not effective to manage the issue. To restrict further damage and improve the situation, the US administration needs to take some revolutionary steps and adopt some practical, effective, and reliable policies and programs focused on illegal immigration.