Immigration Debate: The Immigration Issues in the US

Immigration issues have become the center of attention in recent times in the US. With 12.6 % of the US population being immigrants, both legal and illegal, and undocumented workers going beyond the traditional states which usually receive them, the issue has generated a lot of heat in public arenas (CQ Researcher, 2008). America is a nation that was created by immigrants from Europe and from the mid-1800s to the present, immigrants from other parts of the world have reached American soil. They have contributed to the economic growth of the superpower from the construction of the railroads to agricultural production and other sectors of the economy in the present day. Over the years tougher legislation has been enacted to restrict immigration and the current debate urging for stricter restrictions, yet the immigrant population has continued to grow. This demonstrated that the increased debate is just another campaign tactic as the country prepares for presidential elections.

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Americans have for a very long time advocated for immigration enforcement where employers of illegal immigrants would be prosecuted and stricter border security measures employed. This means that illegal immigrants and their employers will be treated as criminals. This however has been shown to be contrary to the poll opinions of the US public which showed that 60-70 percent supports a path that will lead to citizenship of the immigrants and 20-25 percent favoring wholesale deportation. This shows that increased debate on the matter is fueled by campaigns as opposed to the national crisis status it has been made to look like (Dowell, 2007).

The labor needs of the country will continue to rely on immigrants. Senator Kennedy was quoted in the National Public Radio in 2006 saying that, for the US to be energized economically, socially, culturally, and politically, it needs new and young workers with skills that the immigration brings (Weisman, 2008). This is because America cannot provide its economy with the amount it requires and therefore has to rely on immigrants for labor. There is legislation that requires that employers verify the legal status of their workers. Under the law business using illegal workers risks losing its license entirely or for ten days yet they continue to use undocumented workers. Growers groups have complained of labor shortages due to strict immigration and employer laws. This has led some growers in Northwest last fall to lose a lot of investment due to a lack of labor to harvest cherries and apples. Others in North Carolina did not plant cucumbers of fear they wouldn’t find workers (CQ Researcher, 2008).

The issue of immigration, currently being given a lot of attention, is a campaign issue as the American public has demonstrated in the ballot boxes. The public is occupied with more pressing issues such as health care, the war in Iraq, and the economy. This is demonstrated in the 2006 house elections. The candidates who made tough immigration policies their campaign focus was defeated such as J.D Hayworth of Arizona and Jim Ryun of Kansas. Presidential candidate Tom Tancredo supported tougher immigration measures which saw him fall in the polls and consequently drop out of the race. Candidates such as Len Munsil of Arizona; Ernest Istook of Oklahoma; and Jim Barnet of Kansas ran against democratic candidates with no tough stands on immigration and the fact that Democrats are sympathetic to immigrants. They won their seats with less than 41% of the votes. This clearly demonstrated the public’s opinion of the immigration issue (Dowell, 2007).

The US has over the years signed trade agreements with countries such as Mexico, which will see greater economic integration. Under these agreements, cross-border movement of goods and services and people have increased. An example is an agreement between the US and Mexico in 1986. This has seen business visitors quadruple and exchange visitors triple and a 5.5 increase of intra-company transferees (CQ Researcher, 2008). These agreements are supposed to open the participating countries’ borders more for fairness in trade. US policymakers have however sought to prohibit the cross-border movement of workers from Mexico. This has led the US to militarize its borders with a friendly country they have an economic agreement with. The 1986 Immigration Control Act committed $400 million to expand its border patrol and a similar one in 1990 authorized hiring of other border personnel and the 1996 Illegal Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act provided funds to hire additional 1,000 Border Patrol officers per year up to 2001 (Portes & Rumbaut, 2006). This shows how domestic politics have played a major role in the issue of immigration even with countries that pose no threat to it.

The argument the proponents of tougher immigration restrictions have put forward is that immigrants are a burden to the American taxpayers. States have passed legislation to restrict illegal immigrants’ access to public services. One such state is Oklahoma which passed House Bill 1804 which was enacted in December 2007 (CQ Researcher, 2008). The state’s governor Randy Terrill was quoted saying that working families should not be forced to subsidize illegal immigrants. This does not make sense since American taxpayers have financed costly measures to curb illegal immigration which have not prevented their rise. President Bush in December 2007 signed a bill, which authorized spending of millions of dollars for “reinforced fencing” of 700 miles along the U.S-Mexico border while between 1986 and 1996 various bills have been enacted to increase personnel for the same border patrol which sucks in millions of dollars from the taxpayers’ coffers (Weisman, 2008). All this is used on immigrants who in many ways contribute to the US economy.

However, illegal immigration should be discouraged by tackling the issue not politically, but by considering the circumstances around it. Immigration restrictions that everybody seems to be advocating will require a package that imposes practical limits to the flow of illegal immigration while balancing the economic interests that the US economy derives from immigration labor without appearing selfish to the trade agreements partners. After the September 2001 bomb attacks in New York, the US can not be too careful to restrict immigration in the interest of its national security. The attackers were hidden in the American society with thirteen of the nineteen hijackers being holders of valid driver’s licenses (Dowell, 2007).

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Increased debate on the issue of immigration is just another campaign tactic. Over the years legislation has been enacted to restrict immigration, and the current debate is urging for stricter restrictions, yet the immigrant population has continued to grow. This is because the labor needs of the country will continue to rely on immigrants; Americans do not support immigrants being treated as criminals and emigrants contributes to reenergizing the country politically, socially, economically, and culturally. It is however important for the US to draft immigration laws that impose practical limits to the flow of illegal immigration population while balancing the economic interests that the US economy derives from its labor without appearing selfish to the trade agreements partners.


CQ Researcher. (2008). Immigration Debate: Can Politicians Find a Way to Curb Illegal Immigration? CQ Press.

Dowell, M. (2007). Immigrants and Boomes: Forging a New Social Contract for the Future of America. Russel Sage Foundation.

Portes, A. & Rumbaut, R. G. (2006). Immigration America: A Portrait. University of Califonia Press.

Weisman, J. (2008). “For Republicans, Contest’s Hallmark is Immigration”. The Washington Post, Jan. 2, pg. A1

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