Unique Problems and Diversity in American Immigration Debate


Unique Problems andDiversity in American Immigration Debate

Asa first world, the U.S has been a target for migrant workers from allover the world for many years. Initially, the slave trade resulted inthe proliferation of Africans in the country but later, other groupsfrom Europe and Asia also migrated into America in search of betterlife. To prevent the immigrants from displacing the natives,legislations that barred the granting of immigrant full citizenshipwere enacted. For example, the 1975 naturalization law that requiredthat immigrant spend at least 2 years in the country before applyingfor citizenship but the laws were amended to extend the period to 14years. However, with time the immigration policies have slowly gottenrelaxed and this has resulted in a surge in the number of peopleoriginally from other countries living and working in the country.For many years, there has been a dilemma when enacting immigrationlaws, for example, factoring in the relatively high unemploymentrate among the Native Americans, the displacement of U.S workers bythe migrant workers as well as the current terrorism threat and theneed to secure the country. The immigrant workers debate goes wellbeyond whether or not the utilization of a migrant work force isbeneficial to the U.S economy. It is my contention that the ethicaltreatments of workers in the United States and the unique problemsand diverse opinions that arise, from an ethical stand point, arewhat prevent the U.S from decisively forming a migrant worker programthat both ethically and economically benefit America.

The19thcentury saw many people particularly the European, Chinese, and theMexicans migrate to America, each with a specific reason for doing soand the government reacted differently to each group`s migration intothe country. Unlike the Europeans and the Chinese, the Mexicans werehighly welcomed into the country during the period 1900-1930 as thecountry was in need of cheap labor in the agriculture industry. TheSecond World War resulted in labor shortage in American and thus,the country encouraged immigration particularly from the Mexico, andthis led to the creation of the “Bracero” program (A NationalCatholic Social Justice Lobby). When President John Kennedy enteredto power, he saw the need for a reformed country’s immigration lawsto allow immigration only on special skill and the family ties basisand thus drafted the Hart-Cellar Act. In 1986 the Reform and ControlAct was passed and which held that all the undocumented immigrantswho had settled in America prior to 1982 as well as the agriculturalworkers to be legalized (A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby)

Theperiod after the Civil American experienced a huge expansion in herindustries as well as the agriculture. During this period, thepatents issued increased from 173 patents in 1815 to 7,653 in 1860This meant more industries(The Saylor Foundation, 1987). Theindustries created a need for means of transport, and this resultedin an increase in the railroad mileage which experienced a 50%increase from 1873-1881, and this resulted in a further expansion ofthe industries. The expanding industries and agriculture in thecountry called for a large workforce, and this resulted in increasedimmigration into the country. While during the civil war, the countryexperienced a reduction in the number of immigrants, the numbersurged in the period after the Civil with 1882 experiencing a nearly800,000 new arrivals annually (The Saylor Foundation, 1987).

Whilethe immigrants continued to flock the country and worked largely inthe industries and the farms, they were denied numerous rights. Forinstance, the immigrants were not to go on strike as this had severeconsequence and would lead to deportation. This resulted in theimmigrants working in dilapidated environments for fear of reprisalfrom the government. International Labor Organization asserts thatthe level of discrimination against the immigrant depended on thelevel of skills held with the skilled experiencing lessdiscrimination. However, Cesar Chavez born in 1927 in Arizona,sought to change the scenario by advocating for a better workingcondition for the farm workers. He is credited for forming theNational Farm Workers Association. Chavez used the non-violent meanssuch as hunger strikes, marches, and boycotts. Through his advocacyefforts, he managed to achieve some of the demands of the farmworkers such as the farm workers entering into a contract with thelabor movement and improved working condition. For the first time inAmerica, the immigrant workers who formed the large part of the farmworkers could enjoy almost privileges enjoyed by the U.S workers. Forexample, Cesar Chavez managed to secure a parental leave as well asunion medical benefits including the worker’s compensation,disability and the unemployment insurance for the farm workers (CesarChavez Foundation).

Whilemany American sees the issues of immigration as a reserve of theeconomist and policy makers, I happen to have several experienceswith the issues. First, in the last summer, I happened to visit myauntie who lives in Minneapolis one of the regions known toaccommodate a large number of the immigrant. During my visit, I fellill and had to be taken to a nearby government hospital where Iencountered face-to-face with the effect the immigration is causingto the health care sector. Unlike in areas with few immigrants, areaswith a large number of the immigrant have poor health carecharacterized by overcrowding in wards and few physicians, and thisis the case with the Minneapolis health care system as I had to waitfor a relatively long period to be served. Furthermore, every citizenhas to pay taxes either directly or indirectly to ensure theimmigrant children go to school. One the other hand, I attended ajunior school where my mathematics teacher in 4thgrade was a Mexican immigrant, and I must say that he is the reason Imade it to college as every student considered him to work almostdouble compared to our Native teachers.

Ascompared to the Native Americans, the immigrants have higherutilization of social services. For example, Carmorata (2011) says“57% of immigrant households used one or more welfare program in2009 compared to the natives.” Some of these services include theMedicaid and the food services. However, California Immigrant PolicyCenter argues that the immigrants have (55%) less health expenditurecompared to the native-born Americans. When assessing the issue ofcontract losses and turnover, there has been a view that immigranthas less access to opportunities for personal growth, and this givesrise to the affirmative action where many Americans have suffered asthe immigrants have been given opportunity which the former deserveand are more qualified. The same case has happened with thecontracts. Furthermore, the companies that fail to implement theaffirmative action are exempted from enjoying certain entitlementsuch as relaxed tax system. As a result of the high labor rates forthe natives, working with them results in a high cost of the producedgoods which in turn contribute to a poor competition environment.

Forthe last four decades, the country has witnessed a rapid surge in theimmigrant population from 4.8% of the total population in 1970 to12.5% in 2008 (Carmarota, 2009). This has triggered a debate on theimplication of the increasing immigrant, particularly to the U.Sworkers. According to Murray, et al., (2006) some people areconcerned that while the immigrants have played a major role in thecountry’s economy they have contributed immensely to the currentunemployment problem particularly for the less-educated U.S workers. Coming from either the developing countries to a developed countryand factoring in their political as well as economic situation intheir countries, immigrant are willing to work at the very low wages.According to Carmarota, this has resulted in a decrease in the wagesfor the less-education U.S workers. For instance, the hourly wagespaid to male workers who never went past high school has declined by10% since 1979 to 2007, while for the male workers with no highschool certificate their hourly wages has declined by 22% during thesame period (Carmarota, 2009). According to Dwoskin (2011), theAmericans, unlike the immigrants, have high expectation of themselvesand their job to work in areas the immigrants fight to be in.However, while the immigrant workers such as those working in thehealth care seek to help their source country through remittancewhich runs into billions, research has shown that this method doesnot compensate for their absence (Internet encyclopedia ofPhilosophy). This means that while they may be improving the Americahealth care systems and seeking to improve their mother country thesecond goal is not achieved.

Whilesome people accuse the immigrants of taking low wages resulting in adecrease in employment chance for the Native Americans, there is anargument that the immigrants tend to work harder and are thereforepreferred compared to the natives. For instance, Carmorata (2011)reports that a study conducted in 1995 revealed that while theimmigrants consisted of only 11% of the active job seekers, theycomprised of 26.4% of the newly hired.The other trend that hasbeen witnessed with the increase in the number of immigrants is theincrease in the number of Native-born Americans who have a highschool level education or less without a job. For instance, while in2007, the number was 22 million, the number was almost 26 million in2009 (Carmorata, 2009). On the other hand, for those who argue thatthe immigrants are not to blame for the current unemployment statefor the native-Americans argue that the immigrants do jobs thatAmericans are unwilling to take. However, Carmarota argues that thisis true citing statistics that reveals that some of these jobsthought to be held by immigrants are indeed held by the natives. Forexample, 75% of the janitors, 65% construction workers, 63% meatprocessors, 58% chauffeur and taxi drivers and 55% housekeepers arenative-born Americans (Carmorata, 2009).

Sincetime memorial, measures aimed at mitigating the country from theeffect of immigration has always existed. For instance, during thetime of John Kennedy’s presidency there existed measures thatrestricted the immigration to only individual with relatives inAmerica as well as the skilled one. These efforts were directed atsaving the country from the current situation where the less-educatedAmericans are having trouble securing jobs. With the country`sexperiencing terror threats after the 9/11 attack, this says theenactment of laws that allows more scrutiny of immigrants as a way ofputting the security of the country first (A National Catholic SocialJustice Lobby). Besides, an 850-mile fence was elected in theMexic0-American border to prevent illegal immigration. Currently,President Obama’s presidency has been considered to be lenient onthe immigrant workers and has concentrated more on the economicalbenefits they bring to the country. For example, the L-1bNonimmigrant Visas seeks to enable multinational companies to importskilled workforce from other countries into America, a move that hasbeen criticized for causing a further displacement of the U.S workers(May 2015).

Inconclusion, there is a heated debate over the issue of immigrants andtheir effects both positive and negative, and it is evident that thedebate is centered on certain issues that are unique to the countryand not on the economic benefits this group of people has to thecountry. The major issue is the displacement of the U.S citizens bythe immigrants as they tend to take low wages as well as theperception held by employers that they are better employees. Theissue of immigrants affects the already overstretched health caresystem and even if there are immigrant health care workers, thecontribution of this group to the growth of their country isquestioned. Lastly, currently, the country is facing terrorismthreat, and this is shaping the debate on whether to allow, deny orrestrict immigration. It is for this reasons that the paper arguethat is the country’s unique problems that is shaping the debate onimmigrant workers.


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CaliforniaImmigrant Policy Center. Immigration and the U.S Health Care system”http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/healthcare01-07.pdf

Carmarota,A. (2009). “Immigration’s Impacts on U.S workers.”http://www.cis.org/node/1582

Carmarota,A. (2011). Welfare Use by Immigrant Households with Children.&quothttp://cis.org/immigrant-welfare-use-2011

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